I Had to Seek Medical and Vet Appointments During the COVID-19 Crisis
Extra precautions are required, but help is still available.
The girlfriend and I are healthy and active and currently staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. But as these things happen, we have had to make 1 trip to Urgent Care, 2 trips to the veterinarian, 2 visits to the pharmacy, and 1 trip to an Endodontist. Murphy’s law is in full swing here.
I heard her howl and rush to the bathroom. Blood gushed with her pulse.
The girlfriend had been learning to bake bread from scratch, before the whole “let’s-make-bread-since-we’re-staying-home-and-have-nothing-to-do” pandemic bread-making craze. While slicing bread, the plate slipped and she sliced the tip of her finger. I heard her howl and rush to the bathroom. Blood gushed with her pulse.
She’s a strong woman, but there are a couple of things she really doesn’t like: bugs, blood, and needles. Did I mention blood? I acted calmly, with a low soothing voice and she worked through it. “It fucking hurts” through crying was mostly what I heard. I had her hold her finger under cold running water immediately and found a washcloth to wrap around it. She sat on the toilet with her head between her legs, crying. When she calmed a bit, she began to get nauseous. So she held her arm up to the sink while tried laying on the floor. Her arms aren’t quite that long. Still, she managed to stay calm enough to stay conscious.
It was too deep a cut for me to look at closely. So I focused on rinsing it and wrapping it in a washcloth and putting pressure on it to stop the bleeding. After about 10 minutes, it finally stopped bleeding, but it looked ready to burst and start again anytime.
I got a bandage around it to keep it clean, but I had not put antiseptic ointment on it. It looked like it needed stitches, but I just patiently and calmly kept talking to her. I looked up what to do for a deep cut and how to tell whether a cut needed stitches or not (yay internet!).
I found one site that said to see a health care professional immediately if you have not had a tetanus shot in the last 10 years. And I knew she had not. That convinced her to call urgent care, on a weekend night.
We drove the short way there. But because of COVID-19, I was not allowed to accompany her into the building. I waited in the car. They had just set up screening stations and had to take her temperature to enter the building. They treated her finger (glue instead of stitches), wrapped it so it wouldn’t bend and break open the cut, gave her a tetanus shot, and sent her home.
I had to knead the bread for the next two weeks. As luck would have it, my schedule was relatively clear during this pandemic.
Less than a week later, our extra cute 16-month old Dachshund, Herman, developed a scabby bump on his left forepaw just as the stay-at-home orders were ramping up. A quick search through the internet suggested the bump could be anything from a bug bite to cancer. Better to check with our vet. So we scheduled a visit.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the visit was done with minimal interaction with the veterinarian and office staff. First, while making the appointment over the phone, they asked us questions about our own health, whether we had been diagnosed with COVID-19, had been tested, or were exhibiting any symptoms. All negative.
We were instructed to call them when we reached the parking lot. They sent a staff member out to retrieve Herman from the car and take him inside. We waited in the car, while the veterinarian conducted his exam and called us on the phone to tell us what he thought.
The vet said the bump could be a bug bite from our walks through the woods or it could be a histiocytoma, a common benign cyst. He thought we should wait a week to see if anything happened to it. So that’s what we did, keeping up our routine of daily walks in the woods.
It was a raw, red, tender half ball, like a thimbleberry.
Herman wasn’t that interested in the bump. One day, I noticed that it was scabbier than usual, though it didn’t seem to be changing in size. As I was sitting on the couch with him, I noticed he was nit-nitting at the bump. I pulled his head away. He had completely chewed the top off the bump, descabbing it. It was a raw, red, tender half ball, like a thimbleberry.
Not knowing what to do, I covered the sore with ace bandage tape left over from the girlfriend’s finger injury and I called the vet. He suggested taking Herman to the 24-hour hospital. It was 8:00 pm on a Friday night.
We called the animal hospital and they took our information over the phone. When we arrived, a staff member took Herman from us in the lobby and we again waited in the car. We probably waited for half an hour before realizing we had left the car lights on. We waited a bit longer. The temperature was dropping and I wanted to run the heat in the car to warm up. By that time, the car wouldn’t start.
The vet called to tell us about Herman. They said it was a histiocytoma and that it was infected. They wanted us to leave it uncovered and apply a topical antibiotic twice a day for a week. He’d also have to wear a cone of shame for a week until we could see our vet. How can you do that to an active 16-month old puppy?
We then had to call AAA to jump the car battery. Their routine “be-there-in-45-minutes” reply was a quick 5-minute wait. No one is out and about these days, even on a Friday night.
Keeping Herman in his E Collar has been a challenge, and he has a follow-up appointment on Friday. As of this writing, we have more medicines to give him and another week in the cone. He’s adjusting well.
Of course, on top of all this, I had been having ongoing dental issues. At the beginning of March, I had three cavities filled on the upper left side of my mouth. Since I also have TMJ Disorder, the treatment was extra aggravating. I had never had a dentist drill so deeply.
After a week, the pain still hadn’t subsided and my bite and tooth were extra sore and sensitive, including to hot and cold foods. The cold sensitivity didn’t concern the dentist, but the hot did. I went back to the dentist for a bite readjustment and to talk about the problem. They said to take 1 Extra Strength Tylenol and 1 Ibuprofen every 6 hours for pain. At that point, COVID-19 brought all non-emergency dental visits to a stop. My April appointment was canceled, but here I was still with aggravating tooth pain.
I called my dentist and was given a choice to try an over-the-counter bite guard or take an antibiotic as preparation for a root canal. Oh joy. I’ve been down this road before. I opted for the bite guard, my wishful thinking being that maybe it would just miraculously go away. But I knew better, and within 10 minutes, changed my mind. Almost three weeks in, I had to stop this pain. A quick text and an antibiotic was ordered. That meant a trip to the pharmacy.
Our pharmacy is open shortened hours, but you can’t get into the building without having your temperature taken and observing social distancing protocols. Even paying for the prescription is done at a distance over a credit card swiper on a table to help you keep distance from the counter where the cashier sits.
I took the antibiotic for a week, after which, the pain was gone. I thought maybe that had been enough to help the nerve to calm down. No more than 2 days after completing the antiobiotic, the pain came roaring back with my first hot meal.
I called the dentist again and left a message on the emergency line on Sunday, except, through my pain-addled brained, I had pushed the wrong button and the dentist’s office didn’t get my message until Monday morning. The only thing I could do was stick with the pain relief plan and I started using ice packs and rinsing with salt water.
Tooth pain is the great leveler. It doesn’t matter who you are, tooth pain will bring down the mightiest of the mighty, much like COVID-19 doesn’t stop at borders or care a whit about income level or social status.
Tooth pain is the great leveler.
I am reminded of the movie Castaway, in which Tom Hanks’ character suffers from a bad tooth and has to concoct a “home” remedy — smashing the tooth out with the blade from an ice skate.
A couple months ago, I read about UFC fighter Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, who fought and lost against Conor McGregor recently. Cerrone has had a horrific list of injuries, including getting headbutted by a horse and losing half his intestines in an ATV crash. But he said the worst pain he ever felt was when he broke a molar. Tooth pain!
The dentist’s office referred me to an Endodontist. Fortunately, they were able to schedule a Tuesday morning appointment. They prescribed me an antibiotic again and said to keep taking Tylenol and Ibuprofen.
I don’t wish this kind of pain on anyone. And like Brian Rowe who also had endodontist treatment in the time of COVID-19, I was concerned with the procedures during these heightened times of medical caution and precautions.
On Tuesday morning, I walked to the Endodontist. They kept the staff light, with only the doctor and one assistant. They were dressed in full protective gear, including hair covering, full gown, coverings for their feet, protective eye gear, and when the procedure started, full plastic helmet masks that looked like riot-control gear that the police wear.
They did some tests and were unclear just which tooth was the problem. At first they said, they wouldn’t be able to do the procedure since they couldn’t tell which tooth was the problem. I felt defeated and deflated. Then they sprung a tense test on me, quickly putting a clamp on one tooth and installing a dental dam and spraying the tooth with hot water. It felt like an electric shock, and they pressed me for information— “is that what you’ve been feeling? Is that the tooth?” I thought I was staring at Steve Martin as the sadistic dentist in Little Shop of Horrors! Inside, I was saying, “Yes! Yes! Make it stop! Make it stop!” But all I could do was shake with pain.
So I had the procedure. Because of my TMJ problem, it’s difficult to open my mouth and it seemed as if the doctor was frustrated a couple of times. I also felt like I was choking and had to interrupt, too, for a breather and to use the suction tube. But the procedure was successful, and I was fitted with a temporary crown, to be made into a permanent one by my dentist at a later date.
Now it’s been a little over a week after the root canal, and I’m starting to feel sensitivity again on another tooth. So disappointing. When does it stop?
The world has changed in the last month, but we are — we must — adapt. I do everything I can to stay at home, except for walks in the woods with the girlfriend and Herman and infrequent grocery shopping, both while keep proper social distancing and wearing bandana masks. But I’m happy to know that health care providers are still available, with an added level of protection for everyone involved, in case we need it.
I’m hoping this latest round of tooth pain is still just a tooth in need of healing from the root canal procedure, but I’m pretty well aware of the kind of mouth pain I’ve experienced in the past and know the differences between something that’s temporary and something that needs more serious treatment. I wish I didn’t. I’m glad there are medical professionals still out there to take care of these emergencies.
I’ve always had the greatest respect for first responders and health care professionals, and for the most part, I’ve had excellent encounters with and treatment from them.
I’ll do my best to wait until I actually need the help before making my way back to the dentist. There are others right now who need the help more. Remember who the real enemy is, and know who the real heroes are. And don’t forget your masks. And wash your hands! Stay safe out there, my friends.
Lee G. Hornbrook taught college English for 25 years in every time zone in the continental United States. He has lived on a sailboat and writes about film and movies, literature, baseball, and growing up in the San Fernando Valley. He edits the Medium publication Valley Dude and is at work on a memoir. Find him on Twitter @awordpleaseblog and at his personal blog A Word, Please.