In which Mary dispenses with stoicism
I had a tooth out a week ago. I knew it had the potential to be a bit ugly. There were two abscesses under there, part of it had broken off, the root was dead. It was a mess.
Now (and call me crazy, but I don’t think this will come as a surprise) I’m not a fan of dental work. What I am — or have been, to date — is stoic. I don’t like it, but it’s got to be done. So I plonk my butt down in the chair and let them do their thing. I find my focal point, do my Lamaze breathing, and relax as best as I can. I am not a no-anaesthesia lunatic, either. I happily take what they give me. And yet, at some point during every single piece of dental work I’ve ever had done, the doctor will hit that magical spot and KA-ZINGA!!! Pain, pain, pain.
Let me be clear: I am not a pain weenie. In fact, I think I have a fairly high pain threshold. I take pain-killers rarely and reluctantly. I had three babies, no drugs. When I had my wisdom teeth out (my one completely pain-free dental procedure, during which I had some lovely, lovely intravenous meds, including Valium) I took precisely one Tylenol 3 after the surgery, and then regular Tylenols for a couple of days. After that, I didn’t need ’em. So, yup. I can cope with pain.
But the pain of dental work. It doesn’t rise and fall like labour pain. There is no wave to ride, no pattern to anticipate. With dental work, when you’re supposedly anaesthetized, you feel nothing, nothing, nothi–WHAM!!! How do you ride that? When you’re blindsided? When you go from zero to a hundred in a millisecond? You don’t.
And still I was stoic. My eyes would widen, I’d clutch the arms of the chair. How I managed never to bite a dentist, I do not know. The dentist would pause and look at me.
And we would proceed, me waiting in fear for the next KA-ZINGA moment, and praying that the dentist would be done before it happened. So, stoic.
Not this time. No more stoic. Instead, I went for brutal honesty. I sat down with her before it started. I explained how I’d never had pain-free dental work. I explained that you can’t cope with pain that comes out of nowhere. I explained that I was
And she listened. Kindly and supportively. And then she drugged me to the eyeballs. And she topped me up whenever she saw a hint of a flinch.
I. felt. NOTHING.
It was a long and rather gruelling procedure. But it was pain free. I love my dentist.
Long, gruelling, and arduous. But pain free. So yeah, it took TWO HOURS to get that stupid thing to let go of my jaw, but let go it eventually did. Two hours of stretching the bone. (Yeah. You read that right. Stretching. Who knew bone could stretch?) Two hours of wriggling it gradually free.
Two hours of listening to my stream-of-consciousness dentist talk herself through the procedure. Mostly I don’t mind her talk. It’s informative. It tells me what’s happening. I don’t mind hearing. (Her voice-over, that is. Not the drill. Ugh.) I like hearing. What I don’t want, is to see. During dental work, I keep my eyes closed, or focussed on something waaaaay up on the ceiling. I have no interest whatsoever in seeing any of her shiny implements heading into my face.
Mostly I don’t mind her talk, because it gives me some sense of the passage of time, some sense of progress.
“There’s nothing attached but the wall. Nothing at all.”
“The broken piece is so loose. So loose! It should come out pretty quickly… yes, yes. There we go.”
“Now for that wall. I’ll need the [dental terminology for shiny gripper thingy I refuse to look at]. Thank you.”
“I’ve just about got the front cusp out. It’s coming, coming…” (Yes, she did have to slice it up into bits to get it out. That’s okay. I had enough freezing in me she could probably have snipped off an ear and I’d not have noticed.)
“It’s starting to move. There. I can feel it giving just a bit.”
“A little more stretching. Little more, little more.”
But, as she worked, and worked, and worked away, I started to hear things I’d just as soon not.
“Oh, that’s not good. Oh, not good, not good.” [Followed by worried little tsk-tsk noises.] You know what? I didn’t need to hear that. “Not good?” How not good, exactly? How bad is “not good”? Are we talking, “I need the next size gripper-thingy” not good, or do we mean “I think we’re going to have to remove her jaw to get this one out” not good? Do I need to hear some horrifyingly non-specific NOT GOOD from the woman working on the gaping wound inside my head? No, I do not.
“That tooth is so brittle. I don’t want it to break off before we get it out.”
“So stubborn! It doesn’t want to let go.”
“Oh. Not good. Not good, not good.”
“We’ll try a little more. I don’t want to have to cut into the jaw.” (That may not be her exact words, but was she beginning to mutter about maybe having to hack that tooth right out of my jawbone? YES SHE WAS.)
My dentist, however, is a veeeery patient and persistent woman. For lo, after two hours of stretching, and pulling, and stretching and pulling … it came out. Seconds before it released, there was an ominous “crack”, but the tip of that final, so-stubborn root which had indeed just snapped right off was sucked out with the rest of the tooth. No need for her to go digging down into the wound to fish it out. (May I hear a rousing HALLELUJAH, LORD! ???)
So yeah. Long, gruelling, arduous. But pain free. And once it was over, I figured that was the worst of it. [Cue sinister music. Or bitter laughter. Whichever.]
When the anaesthesia wore off, I was grateful for the Tylenol 3s my wonderful husband picked up from the drug store on his way home. The next day, I moved to over-the-counter extra-strength Tylenol. And the next day. And the next. And the next. I couldn’t eat. Chewing made the pain much worse. Days and days of nothing but soup, yogurt and mashed bananas may be great for the waistline, but they’re boring. And I was hungry. Hungry but afraid to eat.
How long was it going to keep hurting, anyway?
Early Friday afternoon, I called her office to ask, only to get a machine telling me they were closed for the weekend. I hung up before the recording ended.
After a weekend spent chomping Tylenol, I went back in on Monday.
“Why is it still hurting? Is that normal?”
Well, it can be, I was told, but why didn’t she just have a look?
Yes, why don’t you do that little thing?
And she looked.
“You have a dry socket”. Dry socket? Really? I thought those things were excruciating. I wasn’t comfortable, that’s for damned sure, but excruciating? No. And while I think my pain tolerance is decent, it’s not that good. Apparently, no, it’s not always excruciating. Can be, but not always.
Gee. Guess I was lucky…
“Why didn’t you call my cell phone?” she asked. “My cell phone number is on the recording on the weekends.” Oops. Guess I shouldn’t have hung up on the recording, huh?
She rinsed it, disinfected it, and packed it with ‘fibres’. “It should stop hurting within 48 hours,” she told me. I smiled, and stood up, paid up, headed across the street to the bank and other errands. My tooth? Or rather, Empty Socket formerly Known as Tooth?
It stopped hurting
And the sun came out, and the birds started singing, and Mary skipped off to the bank in a state of complete and utter euphoria.
That was 36 hours ago. I have not had any pain since. I’ve started to eat again, carefully. (Now I’m afraid of dislodging that packing. That packing is My Friend.)
And tomorrow? I am going to send some flowers to my dentist.