The Root of the Matter

While lying with my feet higher than my head, biting down on a huge wedge of plastic, with my mouth held open by tools (this is not the beginning of a S&M post, I promise), I decided that the best way to survive the root canal would be to try to disassociate and think about what I hated most so I could write it here later.

First, I should mention that I had trouble falling asleep last night because I couldn't remember the name of this guy I dated (the term "dated"is used very, very loosely) when I worked at Northwestern University Dental School (the program is now defunct). His first name was Armen. He was also Armenian, but we never referred to him as Armen the Armenian. He and I had this off again, on again relationship, mostly off because he was deep, deep into the first year of dental school which basically is the same year that med students take. He's the one who showed me my first dead body, because one of the times we hung out after work, he offered to take me to his gross anatomy lab. Nothing is more romantic than looking into the eyes of your crush over a disemboweled corpse as he explains the major organs to you and lets them hold a slippery, heavy liver in your glove-covered hands. I couldn't remember his last name. I still can't. I think it begins with the letter "M." I kept thinking "Marzipan? Maserati? Melancholy?" It didn't even occur to me until today with the smell of my own tooth being ground down in the air for me to realize that I was thinking about him because of my appointment today.

I hate the waiting. I hate not knowing how long it's going to take or if it will hurt. When the dental assistant took me down the hall to finally get me situated in the chair, I said, Oh, awesome. I am so excited . I can't wait! She said, No one has ever told me that before. I said, Well, I'm lying, of course. The doctor was a very nice woman from India with a faint, beautiful scar across her upper lip. I imagined that she became an endodontist after being injured by one in the past, vowing to herself in that moment that she would be a better dentist. She asked me about my epilepsy, which most doctors don't. She said, If you have a seizure, how will I know it? I said, You won't. It's not like a twitch or jerk or bark or anything. The dental assistant said, Oh, dear! as if I had said something untoward.

The only thing that hurt during the procedure (aside from the bruise I gave myself from pinching my own arm in anticipation of pain) was when she gave me a shot in the top of my mouth. I wiggled and the endodontist stroked my chin with her thumb, saying, I'm sorry. It is almost done. But here are the things I hate about the whole thing:

1. What if, just as she's tugging out the tiny little nerve in my tooth, one that is not quite dead, in the same way that you extract the tender meat from a crab claw, the painkillers wear out or haven't worked as well as they should, and I suddenly can feel it?
2. It's hard to breath and swallow. If you are prone to anxiety attacks, you might even psyche yourself out about this. You might start thinking, I can't breath, I can't breath, and your mouth is just full of these tools and so if you were to suddenly suck in a breath, you might easily swallow one of the small little nails she's trying to place in the empty sockets were the roots used to be and choke.

3. Near the end, I really had to pee, but I didn't know how much longer was left. I didn't know if we were winding down or if she would say, Okay, one down, only five to go! So, I didn't want interrupt, but I also was getting increasingly uncomfortable and tense.

4. There's so much trust involved between you and the doctor. How does she know I'm not going to sneeze and then her drill or that thing she's using to melt everything in place could go write through my cheek, as easy as if it were made of tissue paper. It's scary to have this intense focus on this small space on your face, which contains all of these other vulnerable features, like your lips, your nose, your mouth. What if I did sneeze or jerk suddenly and instead of just grazing my cheek, the drill popped into my eye? How can she know that I'm not going to make a sudden move? I don't like having that much responsibility over possibly seriously injuring myself just because I want to cross me legs (refer back to #3).

5. The sound of the drill and the smell of burning whatever it is does not make for the most pleasant or relaxing of atmospheres.
6. I also couldn't stop thinking, what if this were happening 100 years before now? How primitive must dentistry have been then. What did people do? I guess they just lost their teeth and ate soft pudding. Or got wooden teeth (hopefully sanded). Though really third world countries without health or dental care still have to abide terrible pain or primitive practices.
Anyway, I survived. It only took two hours (3 days in dog time, which I adhere to more). It's 7:20 and my face is still numb, so I guess I shouldn't have worried that the painkiller stuff would wear out fifteen minutes after entry. I didn't get any drugs. She just told me to take Motrin or Advil. No pain yet. As soon as I walked in my house, I ran upstairs to look at my face. I smiled, and only half of my mouth went up. It looked as though I were being wry. For some reason, I can't see as well out of my right eye, the same side as the work was done. I have what I guess could be called a sympathetic eye.
Still can't remember Armen's last name. Maybe it will come to me when this whole thing wears off. Stay tuned for next Friday, wherein our heroine has a fractured tooth extracted!!!!

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