Thursday, June 14, 2012

Toothy Decision, Part Two

So. Despite almost-daily oil-pulling and much-increased decisiveness in many areas of my life, the pain in my tooth got so bad that one day Anainn said to me: "why do you look like a devil?" I was drinking lemonade at the time, making a sort of tube with my tongue to try to keep it from hitting my sore tooth.  I went through these contortions unthinkingly every time I ate or drank something too hard, too hot, too cold, too sweet, or too...well, anytime I ate or drank.

It was time.  I phoned up the UCLA dental clinic and decided to come in as an emergency patient to avoid all the x-rays and scans they would require otherwise.

So there I was, in the waiting room, reading my book about the Feeling Body (yeah, I know, I know, there are other genres besides soft psychology) and feeling oddly excited.  I checked in to make sure---yes, what I was feeling was not dread, but excitement.  It was exciting to be here at the dental clinic, having stepped WAY outside my comfort zone and chosen to follow through on self-care.  They ushered me in after an hour's wait, back through room after room of empty dental chairs, into a tiny little warren where they'd packed, for no apparent reason, everyone.

My student-dentist introduced himself nervously and rapidly began to tell stories---about Ludwig's Angina, a rare but spectacular condition in which one's molar migrates down into the neck and starts to throttle the jugular...and a rare case, experienced recently by his colleague, in which a wisdom tooth migrated into the brain and caused modifications in personality. Wow, I thought, dental psychology...never a field I had considered!  I expressed how interesting I found this and my dentist seemed mildly astounded to have found an appreciative audience.  "I talk a lot," he confessed.  "I'm a nerd."

"Me too!" I exclaimed.  "I'm a plant nerd, totally obsessed.  I can't tell you how happy I am to be in nerd hands."  He pulled down his dental mask and grinned at me, and I knew I was going to be okay.

Nerd Dentist and his supervisor gently explained what was going on with me---a rogue wisdom tooth was growing sideways instead of down, drilling into my jawbone ("and headed for your cheek!  Imagine if it pushed right through!" said Nerd Dentist, wide-eyed) and abscessing a molar in its selfish journey to freedom.  Something had to be done about this, of course, since if I left the problem unchecked I would "explode with pus and die" in my Nerd Dentist's elegant description. I decided to have both suckers pulled.  This was not a popular decision.  They called in reinforcements---five people, by my count---to try and convince me to have a root canal instead.  I have read about root canals.  They are dangerous, have longterm health effects, and cost lots of time and money.  They frequently have to be redone.  I heard nothing to contradict this from any of the people who spoke to me, except for the possibility that my bottom molar might "migrate upward" in search of its lost mate.  That actually sounded rather romantic.  I've been trying to "migrate upward" for some time, myself.  Teeth, apparently, mate for life.

"So what you're telling me," I said (though I was partially numbed so it sounded less erudite in person) "is that the difference between a root canal and having it pulled is basically $1000?"  "Pretty much," said Nerd Dentist.  "Yank it," I said.  Decisively.

I had an odd sense of creative euphoria.  I wanted to talk about so many things.  I wanted to write a poem comparing lying in a dental chair to waiting for a bus.  I wanted to invent a little dental-chair projector that a patient could operate while she is being operated on, projecting books and pictures up onto the ceiling.  I wanted to hear more about spectacular tooth disorders.  Some of this may have had to do with the anesthetic.

The little machine they put in my mouth to separate the rogue tooth from my jawbone sounded exactly like R2-D2.  I wondered, "is this why nerds become dentists?"  I giggled a lot.  I kept reminding my body to relax, consciously unshrugging my shoulders and breathing deeply.  The surgery went on and on and on. Apparently my tooth had "curvy roots".  Sample dialogue:

Nerd Dentist:  "No, I had success with this that one other time, remember?  I just elevated and elevated it distally and corkscrewed the sucker out."

Assistant #1:  "I've never seen that work."

Nerd Dentist: "Well, it only works if it's REALLY elevated.  Well, I'm gonna try it. Maybe I'll make a believer out of you with this one."

Assistant #1:  (mumbling) "I doubt it." to me:  "You okay?"

I wanted to tell them they were like good cop and bad cop, but there was so much gauze and equipment and so many hands in my mouth that I felt a little like I did when I was giving birth to Xir.  Like, "that part of me isn't supposed to stretch that far, I'm pretty sure."

Eventually, after I'd mentally composed the tooth/transit poem and memorized the stucco pattern of the ceiling, they got all the little pieces ("corkscrewing the sucker", apparently, hadn't worked this time) and sewed me up.  I told them I wanted to see my tooth.  It seems that no one asks that, because they seemed confused and rooted around for awhile.

"Why?" asked Nerd Dentist, handing it to me.

"Maybe the tooth fairy will come and defray the cost of this appointment!" I joked.  But really, I just wanted to see this little trouble-making part of myself, this tiny bit that had the will to strike out on its own.  It had a crazy hook on the end, where it had climbed over the jawbone, but otherwise it was a perfect little pearly baby tooth.  I kind of loved it.

I checked inside again.  I wasn't feeling excited anymore.  I was feeling tired, and in pain, and a little sad.  I let these feelings be.  I realized how rarely I allow myself to mourn a loss.

"You okay?" asked Nerd Dentist.  I realized that up to now I'd probably been the perkiest patient of his life.
"I'm sore," I said.  "But I'm also sad to lose this tooth.  Doesn't it represent wisdom?"

He looked right at me.  "Yes," he said.  "But now it's on the outside, where it can be seen."

He warned me several times not to smoke while I was healing.  "I don't smoke!" I finally shouted.  He leaned in meaningfully. "Not even marijuana," he whispered.  I rolled my eyes.  Why does everyone always think that?  Is it because of being a plant nerd?  Or the perkiness?  Anyway, he gave me his card and told me he wanted to see me again.

I think he meant for a follow up visit, but I'm not sure.