Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Dentist


"Bite down," the dental assistant said.

I did. The plastic plate dug painfully into my gums and pinched my lips and cheek.

After the x-ray, my tongue explored the hurting spots, which tasted of blood. I leaned back, breathed in deeply, and tried to pretend I was somewhere, anywhere, else. But my gums hurt, I was freezing, and my imagination couldn't tune out the high-pitched scream of a drill going in the next room.

The dentist came in, we exchanged brief greetings, and I leaned back, trying to relax. He tried to hide the needle below my line of sight, but we both knew darn well it was there, and I felt the cold of the metal a moment before it actually touched the skin. There was a little prick, my eyes and mouth suddenly watered, and my tongue twitched with the instinct to investigate. I held it firmly to the opposite side of my mouth, but my imagination was suddenly working again, and I could almost see the needle impaling my tongue.

I felt cold liquid moving into my jaw, then a very sharp pain as the doctor removed the needle. He turned his back to me, so for a moment I enjoyed being miserable in private.

He turned around again. I leaned back and closed my eyes. This time the needle went to the roof of my mouth, and I wondered how things could progress from bad to worse to even worse to much, much worse, and didn't like the direction we were headed.

The dentist walked out, leaving me to my thoughts. Mostly I thought of all the days when I hadn't been at the dentist's, and I wished that this were one of them. After awhile the side of my face felt kind of solid, so I patted it, testing, and heard rather than felt the pat. The roof of my mouth felt swollen. That made me think about allergic reactions to bee stings. People die of allergic reactions to bee stings. Their throat swells up, and they can't breathe. I stuck my tongue out, just in case it might be swelling up so I couldn't breathe. I took several very deep breaths just to make sure I still could. I got dizzy, which I'm almost sure can be a symptom of oxygen deprivation and impending death.

Someone walked past the door so I quickly pulled my tongue back in and tried to smile wryly, but the numb side of my lips and face didn't feel like they were doing it right, so I stopped. I'd probably looked like a stroke victim. Hadn't I read somewhere that emotional stress can cause a stroke? I breathed in deeply again, trying to convince the arteries in my head that I wasn't under emotional stress so they shouldn't have a stroke. That made me think about the state of those arteries-- could the numbing drug have made them as swollen and hard as the side of my face was? Wasn't that called "hardening of the arteries," the well-known cause of heart attacks? Come to think of it, the drug must even now be creating a full-body circuit of hard arteries. I started breathing hard again as my heart fought valiantly against the drug, trying . . . trying . . . to . . . keep . . . beating.

"Are you good and numb?" the doctor asked as he whisked in.

And like all those times I've lied into the phone, saying "Oh no no, I was already awake," as though being caught sleeping were something to be ashamed of, I inexplicably concealed from my doctor the fact that I'd stopped breathing and was having a simultaneous heart attack and stroke.

"Yaz," I slurred with false cheer. "Aw umb."

"Good," he said. "Now we can get started."

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