Sitting in the chair, mouth open – thankfully numb from the anesthetic – thankful that the surgeon had years of experience. Of course mine wouldn’t be a simple case – it is the rule of our profession, we never give our colleagues straightforward medicine or surgery to deal with.
It started out innocently- eating popcorn, and a bit of the husk became stuck between my teeth. Didn’t know it, didn’t feel it, and after flossing it didn’t manifest itself.
A few days later there was pain, swelling, and half of my face was swollen. Calling my friend and dentist, he came in and opened up my gum, removed the offending husk that had worked its way into my gum, and drained the purulent material. Thinking it cleared up nicely with his procedure and the antibiotics – there was no need to return (never treat yourself).
Routine follow up x-rays a year later – “Terry, I need you to see someone.”
My referral was made and the kindly Dr. Robertson, with his southern drawl said, “Well, its stable now, but you have a little hole in the bone, and we will need to put some bone in there, and that tooth will need to come out. If we don’t, it will be nothing but trouble.”
That was two years ago. Time just slipped by – and every now and then the tooth would bother me… “Old Number 4” I would call it.
One weekend my golfing buddy, Steve, said he might not make it because he was having some oral surgery done. He made it- and I asked him about it. Now my golfing buddy is a lawyer, who does nothing but defend physicians (not malpractice) – so he knows who is naughty and nice.
“How did it go?” I asked.
“Amazing, this guy is so talented. I needed these implants and he is slick.”
“Who did you use?”
“Dr. Robertson.” My guy – the guy I hadn’t seen in two years, the guy my friend, and dentist recommended.
By now “old number 4” was loose, and getting more painful. A few times I thought I could easily pull it out. At my trip to see my dentist he took x-rays and said, “Really, you need to get this fixed. I mean, this can infect your heart, and the hole has gotten larger than I have ever seen in doing this for 30 years.”
Appointment made, and Dr. Robertson, just as kind as always was ready for the extraction. “This might hurt a bit.” The tooth almost fell out. But what was left was a large cavity of bone destruction.
You can always tell when a surgeon has a challenge- they get quiet, they concentrate, and they calmly ask for things. Calmness in a surgeon means confidence, perhaps a challenge, but confidence, and even a joy in something complicated. That is the surgeon you want, not one who yells, screams and makes the crew upset. On the other hand, I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of a challenge. Dr. Robertson instructed the staff to snap a few photographs. More bone was asked for- suture was asked for, and I heard him sigh, and then he began to talk about his trip to Alaska again – the challenge was met, he had prevailed, and now back to routine.
The photographs he took showed a large defect in my jaw up to, but not including my sinus. The amount of bone he used was twice as much as he uses on a routine “difficult” case. It was a huge hole- and at the final photograph showed beautiful work with some great stitches.
“You might be a little sore, so use a lot of ice chips, some ibuprofen, and I’ll write you a prescription for some Vicodin.”
Never used the Vicodin. The hole healed nicely.
Four months later
A number of x-rays later, and two teeth cleanings- the bone had healed well. Time to place the implant.
Nervous about this because they said they may need sedation, and that didn’t appeal too much. Still, with my designated driver (my wife) off I went.
As he was working and chatting away, he stopped, and calmly asked for some more bone. Asked for a few more tools and then said he needed to do something different. After a minute he relaxed, and explained the extra work he did.
As he was asking for the equipment I thought of all the advertisements for dentists that did implants. Almost on every corner, and knew that most of them didn’t have one-tenth the experience as my surgeon. That knowledge gave me calmness.
Never more does a surgeon appreciate the skilled and experienced hands of a fellow surgeon when a patient. As a teacher of surgeons, and one who has occasionally been asked to review other surgeons- there are not too many surgeons that impress me. Too often I have watched surgeons in operating rooms and made that mental note that this would not be one I would choose – while they might be ok, and give good care in an emergency, but not my first choice. But here, as a patient, I was happy that my case – while a challenge, was with someone who was experienced, had good hands, and a calm demeanor.
Dr. Donald Robertson practices periodontics and implants in Phoenix. My insurance didn’t cover the cost of the procedures, and I happily paid out of pocket. No free services were given for this post, and the purpose of this post was not to solicit for him, but to tell of my experience. However, I would happily recommend him to any friend or colleague. His office number is 602-242-2588.
Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.