Monday, October 17, 2005

Vicki's Story, Part Two

To read part one, click here.

Part Two:

The dentist told my mom I needed braces. As far as I was concerned, this was great news. I was at that age where girls talked about braces and broken legs and crutches and glasses like they were Grammy Awards.

So, I left the office that afternoon with my pink toothbrush, container of floss, and daydreams of showing up for the first day of Sixth Grade, at my new school, with a sparkling metal smile. Life was good.

Soon after that we went to the orthodontist that my dentist had recommended. He took some x-rays and concluded that I did indeed need braces but he discovered a partial cleft palate (no bones in the roof of my mouth) and was concerned to put the braces on until it was decided whether or not I needed surgery in my mouth to correct the palate.

And so, soon after that appointment, we went to a surgeon’s office to have my cleft palate checked out. Mom and I drove downtown to the office buildings across the street from Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. I had never been downtown before. We walked into the doctor’s office. The waiting room was empty, save a room full of handmade wooden chairs and benches. I sat down on one of the hard chairs and looked around while mom filled out the paperwork on the clipboard.

Eventually, we were called into the office – a small room with a small sink, an examination table, desk, and more of those wooden, slatted chairs. I took the chair next to the desk and awaited the doctor’s arrival.

Mom and I had been guessing for weeks what the doctor would look like. We had made a game of it. We had a complete profile in our head – white lab coat, perfectly coiffed short dark brown hair, big brown eyes, a stethoscope around his neck with the end tucked into his lab coat pocket, a big grin upon his face, and a pocketfull of lollipops.

The door cracked and mom and I looked at each other with wide eyes. Mom dramatically raised an eyebrow, Sherlock Holmes-style. I suppressed a giggle. The door shut and the doctor crossed the room and sat down without a word, not even looking to check whether his patients were even in the room. He immediately set to scribbling notes in my newly- christened medical file.

I looked at mom with a look of horror only to see the same look on her face staring back at me. The doctor was nothing like we imagined him to look like. He was tall and gangly, deathly serious, with Abraham Lincoln-like facial features, and an unruly spray of bangs protruding away from his forehead in dark locks (mind you, this was long before Conan made such a look famous).

Without a word, the doctor turned to me and firmly planted his hand on my forehead. With his other hand he started squishing and pushing at my nose like it was a wad of Play-Doh. From under his grip, my eyes strayed over to where my mom was sitting. My eyes said to her, “What’s going on?” Her expression said, “I haven’t the faintest!”

After a minute or two, my mom interjected.

“We were sent here by her orthodontist.”

“Mmm” he grunted, continuing to pulverize my nose.

“…you know, to check out the roof of her mouth. To see if she needed surgery before
getting braces.”

This seemed to get through. He dropped his hands from my face and faced my mom for the first time since entering the room. I rubbed my nose back into shape. He didn’t say a word.

“She has a partial cleft palate,” my mom continued.

Without a command, he simply took his hand, put it on my jaw and jerked my mouth open. He took a quick peek, grunted and said, “Yeah, she’ll need surgery,” closed my mouth back up and continued to squeeze at my nose.

He then dropped his right hand from my forehead and simultaneously began to squeeze at my nose with his left hand while drawing detailed pencil drawings of my face with his right. I was beginning to wonder if they were going to cement those braces to my nose.

At last he dropped his pencil to the desk. “Mrs. Anderson, I am a reconstructive surgeon. Is Vicki seeing a doctor for her face?”

“No,” my mom replied, “Her surgeons at Children’s Hospital Philadelphia said there was
nothing more they could do.”

“Well, there’s plenty more I can do,” he retorted.

And with that simple phrase, my entire world collapsed.



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