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ACMS math teacher is back after missing six months following surgery

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: KATE HOOTS - Dean Davis is back teaching math at Athey Creek Middle School, where he has worked for the last 16 years.You could say the problem began with an older brother’s pride. Dean Davis, a math teacher at Athey Creek Middle School for 16 years, pushed himself to beat his younger brother’s running record. As it turned out, that competitive drive led Davis to miss the last six months of the 2012-13 school year.

“If he ran 21 days in a row, I had to run 22,” Davis said. After running for 18 or 19 days straight in November, he blamed his knee pain on tendonitis.

“Day 21, I thought I had just one more day,” he said, so he pushed through the pain. “I really shouldn’t have.”

A doctor diagnosed torn cartilage in Davis’ knee and ordered surgery. Davis prepared a substitute teacher for the three to five work days he expected to miss. The operation went smoothly and recovery seemed normal until the third day, when his leg became swollen and painful. Doctors suspected a blood clot, and Davis rushed to the emergency room.

When tests showed no abnormalities, Davis received a prescription for Percocet, a narcotic analgesic used to treat pain.

“On the third dose, I don’t know how to explain it other than my body freaked out,” Davis said. “I got a deep itch, claustrophobia, like I was on super adrenaline.”

Doctors assumed Davis had experienced a bad reaction to the Percocet and told him to wait it out. When his symptoms did not ease, he returned to the ER.

“They said you’re having anxiety; it looks like you’re depressed,” Davis said. They gave him anxiety medicine, telling him he might take it for as long as nine months.

“I didn’t feel good about that,” Davis said. So he contacted a naturopath, who started him on intravenous doses of herbs and vitamins.

“Days have turned into weeks at this point,” Davis said.

It was now February, and he still expected to return to work soon. When he did return, briefly, a group of excited eighth-graders threw him a welcome-back party.

“It really moved me,” Davis said. “I was touched by that.” Unfortunately, his return was short-lived. Both legs were numb below the knee; he was shaky and was getting no more more than a couple hours of sleep each night.

“It was just too difficult for me to do it. I was having symptoms that were keeping me from functioning,” he said.

With spring break approaching, the school asked for a decision. A series of short-term substitutes was proving unacceptable, and Davis’ students needed a committed teacher. Davis knew he couldn’t return, but he wanted to know why. And so he asked his primary care doctor to schedule endicrinology tests. Those tests, though, revealed no answers.

Davis finally caught a break in early May, when his doctor shared Davis’ case with a colleague. Within minutes, that colleague had an answer.

“He said my (vitamin) B12 level was 150 below the point where he would start you on shots,” Davis said. Too-low levels of B12 are known to cause negative symptoms like numbness and weakness. Davis took his first shot of vitamin B12 on May 10.

“May 13 or 14, I felt like a new man,” he said. “I took three shots of B12 in my leg and my world changed. ... With those three shots I went from 20 to 75 percent. In those three days I felt that much better.”

The toll was heavy on both Davis’ professional and professional life. His wife homeschools the couple’s four children, ages 9, 13, 15 and 17, and the family relies on Davis’ income.

“When the district had to hire somebody (to teach classes in his absence), my checks stopped,” Davis said.

Despite the struggle, Davis holds no hard feelings toward either his doctors or his employers.

“The people at my church and at school pitched in,” he said. “We ate. Bills got paid.”

Davis sees blessings in his ordeal.

“God taught me some things I would not have chosen to learn,” he said. “Those things I wouldn’t change, but I wouldn’t want to go through that again.”

He regrets how his prolonged absence affected his students. For them, Davis had a personal message.

“I am sorry I was gone,” he said. “I missed you more than you missed me. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you. ... My prayer is that the struggle stretched them and made them better people.”

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: KATE HOOTS - Dean Davis is happy to be back in his classroom at Athey Creek Middle School after missing the last half of the 2012-13 school year.Davis returned to Athey Creek for the start of the current school year, and he knows that he has changed.

“I’m coming back a more patient person, a more understanding person,” Davis said. “I’ve told my wife and family numerous times, I’m not the same person I was.”

About one change, Davis is definite. When he runs again, he will be more mindful of the consequences of overdoing it.

“I will listen to my body this time,” he said.

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