September 30, 2002
My New Best Friend

miles to go: 524.75

Eleanor is my new best friend.

Not only is she the first honest-to-God human being I've managed to connect with, after endless unproductive encounters with voicemail systems/message machines/automated answering services in dental clinics all over the greater East Bay area ... but she is also amazingly sympathetic and knowledgeable and has a pleasantly reassuring bedside manner, even over the telephone.

"Are you experiencing much discomfort, dear?" she asks me gently, in a voice that makes me think of thick cherry cough syrup.

Only when I breathe, I'm tempted to tell her. Only when I suck oxygen molecules into my mouth, and they come into contact with my broken molar. Or when food molecules come into contact with it ... or Aqua Fresh molecules, or Peet's Italian Dark Roast molecules, or tip-of-the-tongue molecules ...

"Yes," I reply. "I'm experiencing some discomfort."

This particular molar has been slowly dissolving -- mostly painlessly, and therefore mostly without notice -- for the better part of a year or two. I remember sitting at PacBell Park watching a Giants game, one night a couple of months before David and I got married, and suddenly feeling a big chunk of the molar simply fall off after I bit into a Gilroy Garlic Hot Dog. I remember discreetly spitting the wad of chewed-up hot dog and broken tooth into a paper napkin, while David and Graham weren't looking, and stuffing the whole mess into the pocket of my Benchmade Knife Company jacket. (Where it remained, incidentally, until I was getting ready to give the jacket to the Goodwill earlier this year and I ran a quick pocket-check. The chunk of tooth was still lodged in the petrified hot dog.) I remember thinking at the time  that I should probably schedule a dentist appointment 'soon.'  But then I forgot all about it ... mostly on purpose, I suppose. Since then the tooth has continued to erode -- a middle section here, a few crumbs there, like one of Grandma's prune coffeecakes -- until all that remains of the original tooth is one bony stub, poking through the puffy infected gums like the tip of a volcano poking through a mass of angry red clouds.

It wasn't until this past week that the volcano finally started to erupt, I guess.

Eleanor explains that there has been a dental convention going on this week in downtown San Francisco. "That's probably why you weren't able to get through to any of the other doctors," she says soothingly.  However, she is quick assure to me, Dr. Royes will be back in his office on Tuesday morning. "Shall I put you down for an 11 a.m., dear?" she asks in her warm, honey-and-Robitussin voice.

Is that really necessary? I'm tempted to whine. This one is going to end painfully, and we both know it. Can't we just skip the formalities and ship me directly over to the guy with the Really Big Pliers?

"Yes," I reply. "Tuesday at 11 a.m. will be fine."

She takes down my dental plan number, my home and work phone numbers, my birthdate -- "I have a daughter your age!" she says, sounding as surprised and delighted as if she'd just stumbled across a long lost second cousin, twice removed -- and then she gives me a few helpful tips designed to get me through the twenty-four hours until my appointment. Take Tylenol instead of aspirin, she says. Don't drink Coke. Don't eat saltwater taffy. Don't poke at the broken molar with my tongue. Rinse with warm salt water four times a day. Apply a cold compress if the swelling gets worse. ("Apply it to the outside of your face, dear," she says.)

I should feel free to call her if I have any 'problems' between now and tomorrow morning, she adds. She sounds almost reluctant to hang up the phone, even after our conversation has reached its logical conclusion.

I know *I* am.

I can't say I'm looking forward to tomorrow's appointment, exactly. In my lifetime I've endured more than my share of dental horror -- including two years' worth of braces and retainers, a handful of dental extractions and (in one grueling stretch in the mid-1990's) four root canals within six months -- so I pretty much know what to expect tomorrow. They're going to make me fill out a bazillion forms. They're going to ask me a bazillion questions. They're going to strap me into an undignified horizontal chair, and jury-rig my mouth open with assorted instruments of torture, and poke and prod and x-ray and drill like a crew of derrick operators for most of the morning ...

... and then they're going to give me the name of a good endodontist and send me on my way. It'll be another week, at least, before I get the next appointment. It'll be another month before I'm back on solid food.

But then again, it might all be worth it tomorrow, if I get a chance to meet my new best friend.

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and *you* thought i was kidding about the
Tooth-Falling-Out-In-My-Hand Dream ...