Monday, April 19, 2010
Getting My Wisdom Revoked
Suldog has done it again - his recent post about some dental work he had done prodded my memory banks for another dental story of my own (which might bring to mind an earlier 'dental post' of mine; or it might not). And then, just this past Friday, my friend Michelle Hickman, over at The Surly Writer, put up a post about her own wisdom teeth (which qualifies as a harmonic convergence of the highest order). . . Also - fair warning: if you're a person who gets squeamish at the thought of seeing the dentist, you might just want to skip this one, and we'll see you again next week. . . ------------------------- I was 23 or 24, about a year into my first job; Jen and I were newly engaged. I was sitting in my dentist's chair for my regular checkup (now that I had a real job, with dental insurance, dontchaknow), when my dentist furrowed his brow and pronounced, "We're gonna have to get those wisdom teeth out of there." So, we scheduled an appointment; we were in agreement that it would be best to get all four of them out at once, so we set aside two solid hours, a couple weeks hence. ------------------------- When I arrived, the first thing the dentist did was place a little rubber thing over my nose. "I'm gonna give you some laughing gas," he said, "besides the local anesthetic. Sometimes wisdom teeth can get a little difficult." Oh, boy, I thought. Nothing like putting me at ease. But, as far as putting me at ease, the gas was doing just fine. In a few minutes, I wasn't exactly in La-La-Land, but I was very, very mellow. It felt like the chair was a bowl, and I was a big gelatinous wad of spaghetti. Which, all things considered, was not unpleasant in the least. The dentist came back, with his foot-long needle full of novocaine, and in short order, my lip and cheek had transmogrified into a rubber-like substance that was only tenuously connected to my body (which was itself fairly tenuously connected to the rest of the Universe, at that point; but I digress). Once all my nerve-endings were effectively shut off, he set to work, poking and prodding around the back of my mouth, to ascertain just what he was dealing with. He asked his assistant for something called an 'Elevator', which, once he set to work with it in my mouth, I figured out was just a fancy 'dental' name for a 'crowbar'; he tried to get it underneath the body of my tooth, and pry it loose. No dice. "OK, you better give me the Extractor," he said, and his assistant handed him a pair of stainless-steel bent-nose pliers. Gripping my tooth with the 'Extractor', he jerked it back and forth, trying to break the tooth loose from its moorings in my jaw. Which only had the immediate effect of wagging my head back-and-forth as he torqued away on my tooth. He sat back, breathing heavily. "You got one tough jaw, partner," he panted. He turned his attention to the tooth on my lower jaw, which was similarly unyielding. The back half of the lower tooth was buried under some gum tissue, so he set about cutting the tissue away to get at the tooth better. After yanking and tugging for a while longer, he sat back again, beads of sweat on his forehead now, and a look of grim determination on his face. Uh-oh, I thought to myself; I don't think I wanna know what's coming next. What came next, in this little drama of dental demolition, was the miniature circular saw (I forget what the proper 'dental' name for it is), as he set about cutting my tooth into quarters, to pull it out one root at a time, while my mouth filled with the taste of combined tooth- and bone-dust. When the tooth had been successfully quartered, he brought back the 'Extractor', and started yanking on the individual tooth-quarters, grunting with effort as he did so. At one point, I was a little worried that I was gonna leave his office with tread-marks from the bottom of his shoes imbedded in my cheek, but he never got quite to that point. "Like trying to pull a lag-bolt out of concrete," he muttered to himself. Finally, he got one of the roots to budge, and managed to pull it out. Then the next, and the next, and the next, and at last my lower-right wisdom tooth was gone, leaving a bleeding hole where it had been. At this point, the two-hour appointment was already up, and he had only managed to extract one of the four teeth he had planned on that day. Using the knowledge he'd gained from the lower tooth, he got the upper tooth out a bit more easily this time, then set about suturing up the gum tissue he'd so artfully carved in my lower jaw. We made another appointment for two weeks later, for the teeth on the left, and he gave me a prescription for some pain-killers. ------------------------- I left his office, and got in my car to head home. The novocaine was still pretty much in full force, so I decided to take a quick detour on my way home. As I mentioned above, Jen and I were newly-engaged; I knew that she had to be at her job by noon, and it was then around 11AM, so I thought I could swing by her house and chill for a bit before the novocaine wore off. So I did, and we had a nice visit, notwithstanding that I could barely talk, for all the gauze that was packed into the back-right corner of my mouth. Before long, Jen had to leave for work, so I got back in my car, and headed home, knowing that there was a pharmacy right on the way. It was only three or four miles from Jen's house to mine, but somewhere during that short distance, the novocaine wore off. I had stayed maybe five minutes too long at my fiancee's house (oh, the foolishness of Love; I suppose that's what happens when a young man has half his earthly supply of Wisdom surgically removed). And now the back of my mouth was exploding in searing, piercing pain, like some demented little demon was camping out in the back of my mouth, trying to jam an ice pick through my jaw and out the bottom of my chin (if you think of the scene from The Twilight Zone with the little demon on the airplane wing, you've got the basic image). It was all I could do to pay sufficient attention to drive the car to the pharmacy. I got to the pharmacy with the right side of my jaw pulsating in pain, and ran back to the druggist's counter. A little white-haired lady was remonstrating with the pharmacist for having not quite filled a prescription of hers 'the way you're supposed to'. The pharmacist was scratching his head, and checking his records, and she was wagging her finger at him, while I waited in line behind her, shifting from one foot to the other and dancing in little circles from the pain in my jaw. I was just about to pick the dear lady up bodily and heave her into the next aisle, when the problem, whatever it had been, was blessedly resolved. As she turned to leave, I rushed past her and thrust my prescription toward the pharmacist with a quivering hand. He looked at it and said, "Oh, you're probably in a bit of pain, aren't you?" "MMM-HMMM!!!" (I actually surprised myself at how much sarcasm it was possible to communicate without even opening my mouth.) He handed me the prescription (Darvocet, I vaguely recall), I paid for it, and drove home (blessedly, it was only a few blocks from the pharmacy to my house). I took my first pain-killer and headed to bed. It was a couple days before the pain and swelling had subsided enough for me to go back to work. As I said, I had a second appointment two weeks later, to remove the wisdom teeth on the left side of my mouth. Forewarned and forearmed, the second round, while duly rigorous, wasn't quite so grueling as the first had been. And, much as I loved my dear bride-to-be, this time I went straight to the pharmacy, and straight home afterwards. ------------------------- I don't see the same dentist anymore - in the fullness of time, he took his practice in some different, exotic directions other than Family Dentistry. But I still bump into him from time to time, and he will still say - often as not, unprompted by me - that my wisdom teeth are the toughest he's ever done. I'm so honored. . .