to go: 524.75
what do you
know?" says the oral surgeon, glancing over my chart as we're waiting
for the novocaine to kick in. "It looks like you and I have the same
smile at him from
behind the gas mask. (At least I think
I'm smiling: I'm stretching my drug-numbed lips in the appropriate
directions, anyway.) "Do you get your birthday presents wrapped in
Claus paper, too?" I ask him. This is my standard
*witty rejoinder* whenever I encounter a fellow December Baby ...
except that I've been sucking on nitrous oxide for the past four and a
half minutes, and it comes out more like this: Joo
getcher birday presence wrappin San Claus papertoo.
sound like Sling
Blade. Plus I think I'm drooling again.
is my very first
experience with nitrous oxide, and I've got to tell you that so far I'm
not all that impressed. All these years I've been led to believe that
gas is this giddy, trippy *Fun Ride* ... the ultimate dental high. In
fact, I almost turned it down for that very reason, when the surgeon
offered it to me a few minutes ago: my days of giddy, trippy *Fun
Rides* are suppposed to be a thing of the past, after all. But then the
broken molar began to emit a last minute death-shriek -- perhaps it
sensed its own impending doom, and wanted to go out in a blaze of glory
-- so I allowed the dental assistant to slip the gas mask over my face,
and I breathed deeply a bunch of times in a row, the way she
demonstrated, and I waited for the warm comforting embrace of chemical
bliss to descend ...
except that nothing
now, almost five
minutes later, I still don't feel any calmer than I did an hour ago,
when David dragged me kicking and screaming into the oral surgery
clinic. (Well ... OK. He didn't drag me. He held my hand, really really
tight, and sort of pulled
me through the doorway.) Mostly the gas is making me feel
jittery now ... like I've just slammed down fourteen cups of Peet's
Italian Dark Roast, one right after the other. Plus I am almost
painfully alert. I may sound like a complete mental defective when I
open my mouth and attempt to string words together, but my brain is
operating with alarming clarity. I could probably solve a complex
trigonometry problem right now, plus parse a couple of lines of
Shakespeare from memory, plus recite all of the Books of The Bible. In
order. Backwards. In Pig Latin.
not out loud,
don't WANT to be
painfully alert! I want to be numb and fuzzy and
stoopidly/blissfully/groovily in love with the entire world ... at
least for the next ten minutes, until the dead molar is safely excised
and my mouth is packed full of nice comforting after-gauze. I don't
want to feel anything between now and then: not so much as a poke or a
pinch or a "You're probably
going to feel a slight tugging sensation here."
Or -- if I do
happen to feel any of these things -- I don't want to give a damn.
want my sanctioned
December leans over
me, frowning, and peers deeply into the murky recesses of my open
mouth. "A little wider," he says, and I obediently drop my jaw to my
chest. His dental assistant, who reminds me of Barbie
and blonder and more improbably proportioned -- wordlessly hands him
The Really Big Pliers.
to feel a slight tugging sensation," he says.
close my eyes and suck
on nitrous oxide for dear life.
For most of my
going to the dentist has had almost nothing to do with teeth, and
almost everything to do with reward.
As a kid,
it was all about pencil erasers. Dr. Filion -- how's that
for an appropriate name for a family dentist? -- handed out little
rubber pencil erasers, shaped like animals, to all of his young
patients. He kept the erasers on display in the window of his
examination room: neat whimsical rows of red elephants and blue monkeys
and yellow giraffes, marching along the windowsill like a miniature
circus parade. As I sat there in Dr. Filion's chair, being filled and
drilled and flouridated, all I could ever think about were those silly
erasers. I knew I wasn't going to be happy until I owned the entire
menagerie. (I didn't realize it at the time, but this was probably the
beginning of *Collecting Fever* ... a peculiar malady that continues to
afflict me well into my forties. When I fall in love with something
new, I want one of every flavor/every color/every species. When I was
ten, it was rubber animal erasers. These days it's Mystic Spirit CDs,
Stephanie Andrews suit jackets and Elizabeth Berg novels.) It really
didn't matter what horrific new dental torture Dr. Filion had in store
for me when I showed up at his office, four times a year ... as long as
I went home with another new eraser at the end of the torture session.
Preferably a BETTER
eraser than my little brother went home with.
As a teenager, my
for enduring my twice-monthly orthodontic appointments was the gentle
touch (and the undivided attention) of Dr. Oliver, who looked like
Stephen Boyd and smelled like Brylcream and starred in more of my
chaste adolescent fantasies than Jonathan Frid, Roddy McDowall and
Danny Kent, put together. For Dr. Oliver, I was willing to endure any
form of orthodontic torment ... just so long as it was his
hairy-knuckled/garlic-scented fingers in my mouth, inflicting the
torment. I cried the day my braces finally came off. I told my
grandparents that it was because my teeth looked "too big" --
unsheathed from their aluminum casings for the first time in two years,
seem comically large -- but the real reason I was crying, of course, is
that I knew my time with Dr. Oliver was drawing to a close.
His attention had been
middle-age, there were a couple of decades of no dentist appointments
at all. Marriage, pregnancy, children, poverty: all seemed to get in
the way of regular dental attention. It wasn't until my late thirties,
when my molars (and my marriage) were crumbling to pieces that I
started going to see the dentist again. Because I'd waited so long --
because everything was already so far gone by that point -- my
appointments were rarely routine: these were grim, serious, prolonged
painfests, filled with blood and discomfort and the high-pitched screeeeeeeeeeeeeeek
of the electric
drill. But that was OK, because when the appointment was over I was
sent home with Groovy Meds, which -- truth be told -- I liked even more
than I liked alcohol. They filled me with a mellow creative buzz that I
loved, plus there was no hangover afterwards. My reward quickly
became that magic moment at the very end of the appointment when the
dental drill disappeared ...
... and the
minutes later, it's over.
it," says Dr.
December. "We're finished." He drops The Really Big Pliers onto the
equipment tray with a 'thunk,' and he strips off his rubber gloves and
stuffs them into the wastebasket, and he walks out the door without a
he lacks in
personality, I guess, he makes up for in lack of personality.
I pull the gas mask
from my face and sit up in the chair, pulling myself together, Dental
Assistant Barbie begins to run down the list of post-extraction
instructions. Keep the gauze in place with firm, constant biting
pressure for one full hour. Avoid rigorous spitting or rinsing for
three days. No hot food or liquids for the next 72 hours, no granular
foods, no acidic foods, no chewing tobacco. Rinse with warm salt water,
twice a day. Take medication with food or milk. "Do you have ibuprofen
at home?" she asks me ... and this is the moment when I understand that
there won't be any good drugs coming home with me this morning. For a
few fleeting seconds I consider asking anyway: maybe a few Vicodin or
Percocet, just to get me through the hours after the novocaine wears
off? Maybe some nice harmless Tylenol 3's, in case I have trouble
sleeping tonight? Maybe some prescription-strength Motrin, if nothing
else? I'm sure that if I'm earnest enough and articulate enough
ask in a manner that doesn't scream Addict!
Addict! Addict!, I could talk
them into pulling out the prescription pad and ordering me some Groovy
I don't. "Yes, we
have ibuprofen at home," I tell Dental Assistant Barbie.
not being brave. I'm
being realistic. I'm pretty sure I'm going to be fine with OTC's, for
one thing. It's not like I've just had a quadruple root canal, without
benefit of anesthesia: I had one crummy little tooth pulled. It's going
to hurt for a while, especially once the novocaine wears off -- in
fact, I'll bet that the spot where the novocaine needle went in is
where it's going to hurt the most -- but we're not talking unmanageable
pain. This is a highly successful oral surgery clinic. They treat
43,897,621 patients a day here. I doubt that they could get away with
recommending over-the-counter ibuprofen if it didn't work.
another thing ...
I'm thinking that I just don't want to tempt fate.
not that I don't
trust myself. I'm reasonably certain that I can handle a controlled
amount of prescription narcotic and not feel tempted to run right out
and swan-dive into a box of Mountain Chablis. Earlier in my recovery, I
might have worried about just such a scenario: I remember freaking out
when a doctor prescribed cough syrup with codeine for my bronchitis, a
couple of years back. But I've been sober long enough now -- I've
acquired enough wisdom about my disease, and about the specific
triggers that could derail me if I'm not careful -- to know that I
would be just fine with two or three days' worth of Groovy Meds.
... I think I'm
going to skip it this time.
like the KFC Honey
BBQ Wings last week. For two whole years I've deprived myself of my
very most favorite food on the planet: while I was trying to lose
weight for our wedding, initially, and then because David and I have
decided to try and permanently avoid fast food as much as possible,
just on general principle. But then last week I impulsively stopped at
KFC on the way home from work and bought myself an eight-piece Meal
Deal ... mainly because I had a coupon, and because I was too lazy to
cook myself a 'real' dinner, and because the incessant TV commercials
had finally worn me down. I ate all eight chicken wings -- I stripped
them right down to the bone, like Nibbler on 'Futurama' -- in just
under two minutes, and of course it was every bit as delicious and
incredible and addictive as I remembered. Maybe more so, because it had
been so long since I'd indulged. But then I just sat there for the rest
of the evening, and all I could think about were KFC Honey BBQ Wings.
While I rinsed out my bike shorts and packed my trail bag for morning
... I was thinking about KFC Honey BBQ Wings. While David and I lay
in bed, watching "John Doe" and holding feet ... I was thinking about
KFC Honey BBQ Wings. While David slept the sleep of the blameless, in
the deep dark of night ... I was standing in the kitchen, furtively
licking leftover KFC Honey BBQ sauce off the discarded wax paper.
don't want to be that
way, about anything:
not about food, not about alcohol, not about Elizabeth Berg novels ...
not about prescription medication.
the time David picks
me up at the clinic, fifteen minutes later, the nitrous oxide has worn
off and the world is skewing normal again. (Next time: I'm going to
skip the gas and stick with the headphones.) "How are you feeling?" he
asks me, leading me outside to the Subaru and tenderly helping me into
the front seat.
truth is that I feel perfectly fine. My mouth is
already starting to ache, a little -- I want to get home as soon as
possible and start taking those mega-doses of Motrin -- but otherwise
just glad it's
over," I tell him.
know that if the pain
does become unmanageable later, I can always call the clinic and tell
them the truth: that I'm experiencing more discomfort than I had
expected ... that I would appreciate a prescription for something with
more oomph ... that I'm a recovering alcoholic/drug addict, so if I try
calling them again in three days for a refill ("My
dog ate my codeine") they should
hang up on me, then and there. But in the meantime I'm OK. It's over. I
survived. Problem solved. My "reward" is knowing that my stoopid,
infected, sleep-interrupting, life-disrupting broken molar has been
forever silenced ... and that's good enough for me.
I wouldn't say *no* to a rubber animal
throw a rock