Not Dead Yet


If you have a weak stomach, or little time for details, or only a general interest in Joe’s health, then you can stop at the title.  All seems well. With no apology to Monty Python (who wouldn’t expect one): I’m not dead yet. You are dismissed.

All the details. This is not so much an essay as a day-by-day and blow-by-blow blog of my last 11 days. Included herein is some background material.

I think I’ve had at least one NDE (Near Death Experience) — that was an automobile accident in November, 1978. [1] I’ve had a few additional occasions when it seemed like an NDE – a few conscious moments wherein imminent physical mortality was accepted – but these were not NDEs; rather these were the tonic clonic seizures [2] before learning that I am epileptic.

This past week, I had an NDE, but didn’t know it until the episode’s climax had passed.

A short-term introductory story.

My lovely and wonderful wife spent a week in the Seattle-area this past January, to be with her mother to celebrate the 84th anniversary of her birth, and to be of assistance and companionship to her as she endured and recovered from an oral surgery wherein three teeth were extracted.

During that week I ceased shaving all together.  Upon returning home to Colorado, my wife decided she liked the whiskers.

A longer-term introductory story goes back five years, to January, 2009.  I had a trip to Europe planned, as two of our sons were living there. The Plan? I’d visit the oldest, Aaron and some family friends in Amsterdam[3]; then accompany Aaron for part of his move to Zürich.  We’d stop and visit our middle son, Mark, in Freiburg (Breisgau). Together we’d do some site-seeing, family roots exploring, and visit another family friend, in Landau (Pfalz).[4]

Several days before departure, during a routine semi-annual dental checkup, my dentist[5] informed me that some tooth discomfort I’d been having was from a cracked tooth and that I’d require a root canal. A few days later, with only one day to spare before departure, I’m in a different dental chair, all numbed up, with the doc [6] drilling away, when he stops and says: “How’d you like me to save you a few hundred dollars?”

With my mouth numbed, he somehow understood my response: How and why is that?

Turns out the “crack” splintered right at the gum line. It had an unknowable number of branches, and each branch with an unknowable depth.  Root canal would not spare the tooth from further infection attack.  So there was no need to complete the procedure, thus (temporarily) saving me a few hundred dollars. The tooth would soon crack and split further anyhow, with likely immense pain. This would happen at some time in the future.  Maybe one day, maybe five years.

Not wishing to risk enduring a miserable European vacation, I quickly got a list of recommended oral surgeons from both my dentist and endodontist and started making phone calls. “Can you see me today? “

Luckily, #2 on the list had an opening at the end of the day. [7] Staff gone for the day, I went in just before 5PM; just the doctor and Joe.

After explaining my cracked tooth dilemma, Dr. Johnson started to describe all my options for replacing the tooth, and the consequences of not replacing it soon.

“Doctor, you don’t really understand.  I’m leaving tomorrow. I don’t care about options and consequences.  All you need to know is: This tooth is coming out now.  Tonight.  We can worry about that other stuff later.”

And right there he removed the tooth. It wasn’t an easy task: the tooth shattered into about 10 pieces as he tugged on it.  Yes it was quite fractured.

After returning from Europe, I looked into the cost and procedure for replacing the tooth. Muy expensivo and some minor oral surgery.

After consulting my dentist, I decided to forego the implant indefinitely. The location of the tooth (#18, large molar, adjacent to wisdom tooth, lower rear, left) made it not terribly necessary.  Perhaps, at some point, the teeth above (#14 & #15) would get upset, begin to shift, and I’d have to consider doing something. [14]

This January, almost exactly five years later, my dentist [5] informs me that #14 & 15 have begun to show small signs of shifting. Time to do something.

The procedure to put in a receiver implant for a new #18 was early on a Thursday morning, 10 days ago (February 20). I elected to go “under”, via a general anesthetic … less stressful with all that drilling. I’d take the rest of the day off.  Then back to life as normal.

The next day, Friday, I worked. Felt pretty good. Saturday I went to visit my dad. Then I started feeling funny. Actually not funny; I was tired and irritable.

By Sunday afternoon I was quite uncomfortable.  Sunday night was miserable: deep, deep pain in my jaw, right at #18. I’m thinking of the dentist scene in “Marathon Man”; with Sir Lawrence Olivier working on Dustin Hoffman: “Is it safe?”[11] No sleeping that night; just light dozing and intense pain.

My wife woke the surgeon about 5:30AM Monday with a call to his “urgent” phone number.  He would see me 1st thing at 8AM.

He “knew” what was wrong. Rare, but it can happen: that there is an infection in the bone where the insert went “in.”

Under general anesthesia again, he removed the insert.  No infection there. So he didn’t “know.” The infection was finally located in “soft” tissue, near – but not at – the surgery site.  That was drained.  I went home with instructions to rinse with warm salt water (1/4 Tsp per 8 oz) and rest … expecting that would be the end of it. Continue taking the clindamycin anti-biotic that I’d been on since the day before the 1st surgery.

Alas, the pain did not wane, except with a Percocet® every 2-3 hours. Again almost no sleep.  And swelling.  During the night a large golf ball type protrusion from the bottom left-side of my chin: very large, very hard and round.

Complicating matters was that my throat had closed up so much I could barely swallow my saliva, let alone water or food.  My chest was growing achy, red, hot and swollen, particularly around the collar bones, and the clavicle joints to the sternum were painful to the touch.

Tuesday, first thing, I am again at the surgeon’s. I describe the throat and clavicle joint pain and he says “that’s the infection draining to the rest of your body.  We’ve got to get a drain into that infection.” So, once again under general anesthesia, and he “drills” a hole into the “golf ball” to drain the infection and relieve the pressure. In goes a “drain” under my chin that looks very much like a milkshake straw. [9]  This would drain for several days into gauze pads, to be refreshed every few hours. And, now a new anti-biotic, Ciproflaxin.

This is when we find out that my surgeon[7], who is really wonderful by the way, is leaving town Wednesday for two weeks on one of those trips-of-a-lifetime: New Zealand. An “associate” of his will be looking after me while he’s gone.

Wednesday morning I’m back for final check with my oral surgeon.  I’m pretty OK:  Much better, but still very uncomfortable and tired. A little rest and back to work that afternoon. The good news at this point — from a vanity perspective — is that the new chin whiskers are hiding the tip of the “milkshake straw” protruding from my lower jaw, and distracting some attention from the goo that leaks from it.

Wednesday evening and night.  Excruciating.  The left TMJ[8] , the Temporomandibular joint muscles were tortuously achy.  Either from clenching or spread of infection – it was hard to tell which one. I’m walking around the house most of the evening and night singing to relieve the pain — much to my wife’s and dog’s aural displeasure.

First thing Thursday we are at the next oral surgeon. [12] He really doesn’t want to hear about the jaw pain. Not at all. He’s concerned about the infection and makes it clear that he really didn’t want my case; this is a favor. He’d rather just send me to infectious diseases, where I can get IV anti-biotics for about 6 weeks.  My throat and chest are much better, though still swollen. An impressive amount of “junk” has been flowing through the “milkshake straw” for two days now.

His instructions: go for it with the Percocet® for any pain, compliment with 800mg ibuprofen 4 times a day and come back tomorrow.

Friday. Much better. The “Milkshake Straw” comes out.[9]  Keep a gauze bandage over it to collect the “junk” that will keep flowing out.

Saturday is much improved. Spend day with dad.  Tired. To bed early.

Sunday. Whew, what’s up with that?  Achy chin. Swelling returns. Hard swelling. So now we’re wondering what is going on?  No one told us this could happen.

More Percocet® and over to see an urgent care doctor at Community Medical Center. [10] Dr Coriel takes a look and basically says we have to wait a while. “It’s just doing it’s thing.”

Rest a lot.  Don’t work out.

[I’ll save the pictures of the gauze pads that have been collecting “junk” out of the bottom of my chin. Impressive quantities of goo.]

For now, the throat is not swollen; I can swallow. My chest is fine; no pain there. The swelling in the chin is tolerable, although “hard” and uncomfortable.  At this point, I can’t feel any pain in #18, where all the problem started. I even think Ellen DeGeneres did a great job hosting the Academy Awards! [13]

Tomorrow it’s back to oral surgeon #2 in the morning, then (hopefully) off to work.

Expecting full recovery, soon. If not, will update you.

Have to work on taxes now.

Ciao and pax.

Joe Girard ©2014



[1] Driving Alive, Girardmiester essay by Joe Girard;

[2] – Tonic clonic seizures are general full-body and loss of consciousness seizure.  Learn more at and

[3] Audrey and Peter Kroesen, Amstelveen, Netherlands

[4] Aaron studied for a Masters Degree in Geophysics in Europe as part of the IDEA League, including semesters in Delft (Netherlands), Zürich and Aachen.
Mark took a study for Diplom in Physics at Albert-Ludwigs Universität, Freiburg
Our friend in Landau is Regina, mother of the exchange student we hosted that year, Jonas

[5] Dr. Adam Saeks, DDS, Niwot Dental, Niwot, Colorado

[6] Dr. Daniel Barton, DMD, Endodontist, Longmont, Colorado

[7] Dr. Daniel Johnson, DDS, Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeon, Longmont, Colorado

[8] About the TMJ and its disorders.

[9] The “Milkshake Straw” that was in my chin for three days.

Drain: "The Milkshake Straw"

Drain: “The Milkshake Straw”


[10] CMC:–directions/lafayette-center.aspx

[11] Clip from Marathon Man. “Is it safe?”

[12] Dr Alan Reisman, DDS. Oral and Maxillofacial surgery.

[13] Ellen DeGeneres hosts 86th Academy Awards:

[14] Teeth numbering: I’ve use the IOS and Universal numerical systems for permanent tooth ID.



5 thoughts on “Not Dead Yet”

  1. Lee Webb

    Another great one, Joe! Also read the Tennessee car wreck essay — you had me on the edge of my seat — on both of ’em. Although we need to talk about that afterlife stuff, I really enjoyed your great writing style — for an engineer, yet! Keep up the good work, man.

  2. Elle

    Great writing, but maybe a small bridge would be better than trying the Implant road again. I kept asking Audrey how you are surviving, had no idea that the thing was this bad. Good luck with the final recovery!
    Love you, Elle

    1. Joe Post Author

      Thanks Elle. I have a few lives yet (call me a cat), so I’m gonna try the implant again in a few months.

    2. Joe Post Author

      Thanks Elle. I have a few lives yet (call me a cat), so I’m gonna try the implant again in a few months.

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