Birthday Contest

Your Most Embarrassing Experience in Braces

Story #4: Headgear Hell 

Dave from New York City, NY, USA

Nobody grows up dreaming of wearing headgear. Nobody even has nightmares of wearing headgear, either. They always figure that it’ll happen to someone else, or that modern dentistry will come up with some new fangled device to end this form of suffering on the “straight tooth challenged” population. And even if I DID need it, like Trix, this sort of thing is for kids... 

After my softball accident last summer, I figured that the WORST case scenario would be to wear braces. I was wrong! Even after facing the fact that I needed headgear as part of my treatment, I still figured that I’d just not wear it and kid myself into thinking I was being an adult. Here is my story... 

While I have been told to wear the headgear “as much as possible, preferably 24/7”, I figured that wearing it to sleep would be a great start, particularly for someone who was going to cheat the whole time anyway. I figured I could always work up from “total slacker” to just “mildly disobedient” patient. It all started normal. I put the headgear on before bed. First morning I woke up without it on, yet no recollection of having taken it off. Same for night two, night three, and so on. I finally had to call the orthodontist about it. 

She said that if I was still having problems after seven days, that I could come in and get something to help me out. Her solution: these oven mitten like things. They look just like my mothers oven mittens. They’re loose fitting and all and likely could give you the key 10 seconds of safety you’d need if you were hauling a piping hot casserole pan out of the oven. Only these oven mittens were kind of hand-doctored into a “headgear keep-on device” of sorts. Crudely sewn to the mittens is a long, Velcro strap. The object is to wrap the strap many times around your arm and then tie it off up on the elbows. That way, not even a resourceful subconscious could Houdini its way out of it.

Problem with the oven mittens is that they’re designed for the person who lives with someone else. While its easy to get the first mitten on and secured, try doing the second one by yourself, when all you have is a “mitted” hand to do it? Suffices to say, I tried the oven mitten (only one) on the first night. Come to find out that I woke up the following morning without the headgear on. In fact, it had been so forcefully removed and thrown that it took me 10 minutes to find it! In my haste to take it off, I threw it and it hit the floor so hard that it slid UNDER the door to my closet! How’s that for one’s subconscious sending a message? So, I was trying to figure out how to get the second oven mitten on by myself. There was literally no way to get it done. So, I had a great idea. There’s a 14 year old girl named Courtney who lives in an apartment on my floor. I’m friendly with her parents, and have in the past helped tutor her in certain subjects (most notably geometry). She flashes a beautiful metal smile herself.

Anyways, one recent Friday night I knew that her parents were going out to the movies and leaving her there. As soon as her parents left, I knocked on their door and told her I needed her help. When she came into my kitchen and saw my headgear on the table, her eyes bulged and she started laughing. Laughing SO much so, I might add, that I noticed her teeth are no longer bound in metal, which made me feel great! I explained the situation and she agreed to “latch down” the second arms for me. 

After a few minutes of shooting the breeze, she left. So there I was, at 9PM on Friday night having just worn my headgear in front of a 14-year old girl wearing really tight oven mittens. As I went to the TV room (in a typical NYC apartment, the TV room, kitchen, bedroom are all one and the same, so it was more like walking to another “sector” of my apartment) to watch anything and just get tired, I realized that I was unable to even turn the channel as I needed access to my fingers to change it. I think I watched about an hour of some right wing “go to war on Iraq” show that really tired me out. With some difficulty, I managed to hit the off button on the TV, and went to get ready for bed. 

Let’s just say that I made a mess trying to brush with headgear on and no finger access. While it was easy to dispense the toothpaste (I have a pump) and even to grip the brush, there was no way to close my mouth while I rinsed because of the headgear. I made quite the mess. (I wish I had thought through in advance the problems that I’d have without access to both hands!) But it was war, and I wanted to win the battle and wake up wearing my headgear! I finally crashed on the bed, managed to get the comforter over me, and drifted off to sleep. 

That is, of course, until about 2:33AM, when I woke up in agony. My cheeks and ears were all very sore and I’m not sure if it was from wearing the headgear or my subconscious attempts to claw the headgear off. Whichever it was, I was in a world of pain. Now YOU try opening a bottle of Advil when you have no fingers! I couldn’t. So, I laid back down, staring at the ceiling with a wonderful bar obscuring part of my vision. Now I don’t mean to downplay the pain that I’ve heard you mortal braces wearers who get chains and various types of adjustments. But y’all haven’t experienced the kind of pain I was feeling. 

From sheer exhaustion after rolling around for a few hours, I finally fell asleep again and woke up at about 6AM. I wanted to cry it hurt so badly. Desperate to brush and take some Tylenol, I went about trying to get the oven mitts off. Courtney had tied the Velcro straps tightly around the elbows. The problem was that it was secured was on the FAR side of the elbow. I was, therefore, unable to get my teeth (the only thing I had) far enough over to bite down on the end and pull it off. 

It gets worse. So there I am at 6AM. I know Courtney and her family sleep late on the weekends and I can’t call at 6AM asking to see their young daughter. That would be inappropriate! So, I sit there waiting. Tick tock, tick tock. From a night of restless sleeping, I feel pretty bad at this point, exacerbated by the caged animal feel to the headgear and the sheer agony of the pulsing ache. At about 7:30AM, it happened. You know that primal urge to vomit when you’re really sick? Yep. I raced to the bathroom, firmly inserted head in bowl, prayed that it was a false alarm…… and – CENSORED – had one of the top 10 worst feelings of my life. I won’t say how I finally was extricated from the headgear (that involved the help of a truly loyal, non-judgmental friend!). And let’s just say that a violent banging of the metal face bow of a headgear on an immovable porcelain object can, in fact, intensify already excruciating pain! 

After not having missed a day of work since 1994, some horrible flu bug thing struck me on that Saturday morning. I could barely walk on Saturday afternoon and Sunday because my joints were so sore. Between joint soreness, headaches, sore throats and a fever of 102, it took me over a week before I even thought of wearing the headgear again. I may not be bold like Paula and wear my gear out in public, but I’ve suffered in defense of my honor and commitment to myself and my orthodontist to do what it takes! 

Hope this didn’t gross anyone out! I assume most sane people don’t get “locked” in their headgear, particularly before falling violently ill! 

P.S. Courtney’s parents found out all about my headgear from someone who lives in their apartment. Her mom called me “gear man” one morning last week when I opened my door to get the paper on the front stoop!

Click to read Story #5


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