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A Night in Emergency

A Night in Emergency

I want to tell the story of the horrible night I spent waiting in emergency last night, but first I think I need to give a little context.

I’ve mentioned before that my youngest two kids have pretty well cornered the market on dental problems. The two of them have combined to lose a more than dozen teeth through various unnatural disasters, including falling face first onto tile while playing tag, smacking heads while jumping on a trampoline, getting abscesses from past tooth trauma, catching a tooth on a parent’s shirt button while goofing off, and so forth.

The problem with losing these teeth at a young age is that it results in spacing issues, so the adult teeth don’t have surrounding teeth to keep them in the proper place, and then later adult teeth don’t have enough room, and the remaining baby teeth are much more vulnerable to abscess and to being knocked out themselves. So, at this point, between their two mouths, I’m sure they could produce a reasonably comprehensive textbook of dental problems.

The youngest is still too young to start getting dental gear to fix this, but the middle one has been wearing a retainer on the top (when he isn’t losing it or “forgetting” to wear it) for a couple of years now, and he’s had braces on the bottom for maybe six months. The idea is to draw his upper teeth back into alignment and to create some space behind his lower teeth for the next set of adult teeth that are coming in. Keep in mind, we’re not yet even talking about aesthetic concerns. At this point we’re just trying to get healthy adult teeth in something like the right spots.

All this apparatus, however, only gives new opportunities for dental disasters. For example, we’ve lost the retainer in a garbage bin (which I had to dig through), we’ve left it in other cities (it’s spent a shocking amount of time in the possession of Canada Post), and we’ve had it completely disappear without a trace (except for the dent it made in my bank account). And now, as of last night, we’ve also had the tension of the braces pull out two further teeth (as if he could afford to lose any more).

The first time this happened, a few months ago, the dentist was conveniently still open, so they removed the wires in a few minutes and sent us on our way. Last night, however, the incident occurred long after the dentist and orthodontist had closed, and so we were forced to head into emergency with a bloody tooth dangling from a wire in his mouth.

The two triage nurses admitted us without much comment, and over the next seven hours of waiting, two further nurses came and talked with us about the situation, but not one of them thought to mention that the hospital doesn’t deal with these dental situations except by paging in an on-call orthodontist, which they weren’t going to do for one lonely tooth. So we waited the full seven hours, just me and an over-active, sleep-deprived, nine year old boy, watching CP24 on loop until four o’clock in the morning. Only then did a doctor find the time to tell us that he wasn’t allowed to deal with dental problems and we’d just have to suck it up until we could see our orthodontist.

To be fair, I can understand the reasons they don’t want somebody untrained to go messing around with expensive dental work. I get it. On the other hand, all we needed was the wire taken out of his braces, which any nurse on the floor (or even myself) could have accomplished with a sterile set of instruments. We weren’t in need of complex dental work. We just needed the proper tools to take out a wire, a simple task that apparently a whole hospital of professionals aren’t able or even permitted by their protocols to do.

Even that would have been fine if they would just have said so up front, but at least four people who should have known better were content to let us sit in the waiting room for four hours and then in the “see and treat” area for another three hours without telling us that there was nothing they could do to help. When I said this to the doctor (forcing myself to be calm past my anger and lack of sleep), he basically shrugged and confirmed that triage should have told me as much when I arrived.

And that was that. No apologies. No sympathy. Just a nonchalant acknowledgement that the combined staff of the emergency department had utterly failed to communicate a simple thing that would have saved me a horrible night and also freed up a spot in line that could have gone to someone else.

The only positive is that I think my kid is now cured of his fascination with the hospital.