Sample Chapter

Sarah vs. Dr. Pain

By James E. Potvin

Twist 13: Sarah vs. Dr. Pain

     “Autism is a neurological disorder. It’s not caused by bad parenting. It’s caused by, you know, abnormal development in the brain.”

​     -Temple Grandin

      Its 7 a.m. Time to wake Sarah. Today is her scheduled day at the dentist. She is seven years old. Most kids only take an hour for a dentist
appointment. Sarah is not most kids. Sarah is still snoring. I turn on the light and switch off the fan. Sarah keeps snoring. I grab a corner of the velveteen
blanket and tug. I tug again and again. Sarah finally stirs and shows signs of life. I tickle her feet. She giggles, but will not get up. I grab her hand. She 
twists away. Sarah is slow to get up today. I wonder if she knows where she is headed. I mention food if she gets up. I bring down the bacon that cooked 
while I was waking Sarah. Sarah finally gets out of bed. She dashes up the stairs to the kitchen.

      In the kitchen, Sarah enjoys her bacon. She is still hungry, so I make her two waffles. She requests peanut butter on the waffles. As soon as the 
waffles hit the table, Sarah swallows them. Applesauce comes next. The only way Sarah can stomach her medications is through flavored applesauce. I 
feed it to her to speed the process. It is almost time to leave to take Sarah to the dentist. I find Sarah’s shoes and socks. She struggles, but I get them 
on her feet. The coat is added next. Sarah grabs a glass of water on her way out the door. Into the car we go.

     The dentist is meeting us at the hospital. Like I said, Sarah is not a normal kid. It is too difficult to use sharp instruments in Sarah’s mouth at the
dentist office. She throws a fit and everything must be done by restraining her. We enter the hospital lobby. The ceilings must be thirty feet high. A 
skylight is the focus of the high ceiling. We check in with the receptionist. Sarah is antsy and squirming to escape already. The nurse leads us to the 
elevator. Sarah flaps like a bird on the way up. Her flapping is the nervous result of her autistic reaction. She does not understand where we are going 
or what we are doing. She knows this looks like another doctor’s office and she is on edge. Doctor’s offices always mean one thing to Sarah, pain. She 
does not know what they will do or what tests they will run. She knows to run from the pain. She struggles as we enter the room. Sarah kicks the door 
frame and throws a tantrum trying to escape. The tantrum subsides and she is lead into the room. It’s now 8:45 a.m.     

      My wife and I sit with Sarah in the hospital room. The walls are beige, the furniture in perfect order. Everything is spotless. Dirt is an endangered
species. The room feels like a rich person’s home. You are there, but you cannot touch or damage anything. It is uncomfortable. The window displays a 
cloudy day. The wind whisks dead leaves by the window.    

      Sarah is very restless. We set up the portable DVD player with her favorite Elmo movie. Sarah settles down, but is very wary. She knows this is the calm before the storm. My wife reads a magazine. I keep Sarah calm by feeding her snacks. I try to read, but have trouble concentrating.

     The nurse enters the room. She is armed with the medication to sedate Sarah. We hold Sarah down and the vaccination is administered. Sarah screams in pain, but the shot is already done. We let Sarah watch her movie again. She is now on mommy’s lap. We feel helpless as we cannot protect her from the dentist. Her teeth must be cleaned and a couple of fillings are also being applied. The nurse helps us place Sarah on the bed. She is wheeled to the operating room. All this is just to clean her teeth.

     The dentist is ready for Sarah. His white mask covers his mouth and nose. The rubber gloves are on. Sarah is mostly sedated, but she knows this is not a good place for her to be. The dentist and nurses try to get her on the operating table. Sarah is sedated, but strong for a child. She kicks, screams and flairs her arms. Sarah’s gloves are off. The dentist and nurses are surprised. “Are you sure you sedated the patient?” asks one of the nurses. They hold onto Sarah just enough to prevent her from falling to the floor. More sedation follows and the procedure starts. Tears of anger and frustration slide down her cheeks as she realizes the pain is inevitable. Sarah is finally ready for the dentist.

     The dentist performs the teeth cleaning quickly. The sedation only lasts so long. Sarah is too strong and determined for this procedure to be completed in the dentist office. Next the drilling is done and the fillings fill the gaps. Sarah is wheeled back to the hospital room.

     The nurse tells us Sarah will be ready to go home soon. It is now 1 p.m. For an hour, Sarah remains almost comatose. Then she rolls over and reaches for the DVD player. The DVD player comforts Sarah. She knows what it does and how to work all the buttons. The videos relax her and tell her everything will soon be back to normal. The sun has emerged from the clouds on the other side of the window. It’s now 2:30. It’s time to go home.