Tuesday, May 9, 2006


Keeeeeee-ripes, I hate going to the dentist. I have nothing against dentists personally. Most of the dentists I have met in my lifetime have been good people; they do good work and they are woefully underappreciated. But, as I've said before, sweet mother of Jesus dancing a jig on a Chevrolet, I hate having to see the dentist.

For some reason, my brain is capable of occasionally -- and, so far, always inappropriately -- producing extreme panic. And something about having people placing whirling metal objects in my mouth takes me to that special terrible place. I think it is partially a side effect of being such a big fan of Carl Hiaasen novels. If my experiences were a Hiaasen novel, the dentist would be blitzed on alcohol, meth, and nitrous oxide. He would slip and manage to shred my jaw and cheek into a bloody, pulpy mess. In his drugged-out panic, he would then decide to avoid a malpractice lawsuit by bludgeoning me to death with a giant toothbrush.

That didn't happen today, obviously. But things got off to a bad start when he managed to hit a nerve while injecting the painkiller. It felt as if an explosive had gone off in my jaw.

ME: "Gah!"

DENTIST: "Ooh, I think I hit a nerve. That doesn't happen too often -- sorry about that. Your nerves are exactly where they are supposed to be. That's not the case with most people. The good news is that the painkiller will definitely work now."

MY BRAIN: "Hey, whoa, man. What the fuck was that? Why are we not running away?"

DENTIST: "Are you OK?"

ME: "Yeah. OK. Fine."

BRAIN: "What?! We should be leaving. Fuck you, man. Fuck you three times."

The painkiller did its job and soon I could no longer feel the left side of my face. The dentist then stuck various bits of metal in my mouth that I'm sure made me look as if I was in German fetish porn. As soon as I heard the whir of the drill, my mind flashed back to the last time I had a cavity filled -- about 14 years ago. That dentist (a different one) offhandedly noted that the cavity was deeper than he had expected.

"I'm a little concerned that I may hit the root as I'm drilling," he said.

"What happens if you do that?" I asked.

"Oh, you'll let us know," he said. "You'll let everyone in the building know."

One of the teeth that today's dentist was planning to work on was that tooth -- the "you'll let us know" tooth. I didn't want to let anyone know today. I wasn't feeling informative. He (and another dentist at another office, as well, lest you think he was doing unnecessary work) had determined that the filling in that tooth had been done wrong, allowing the cavity to hang on. He planned to remove the old filling completely and replace it with a new, better fancy-dancy white filling instead of the "Why, yes, I do drive a 1983 Oldsmobile; how did you guess?" metal filling that was there.

I was shaking in the chair, and as soon as I heard the rattle of the drill echoing through my skull, the panic button was pressed.

BRAIN: "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. Here comes the pain. Oh, fuck, this is going to hurt! This is going to HURT! Oh, Christ! This is it! He's going to break through the tooth and tear up the root and it is going to be more pain than we've ever experienced. Oh shit! It's going to happen at any second! ANY SECOND NOW! Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit! And it is going to hurt so bad that our left eye will pop out! You will be so overcome pain that your own eye will pop out of your skull!! Shiiiiiit!"

I was hyperventilating and squeezing my hands together so hard that my ring was cutting into my finger. My eyes were squeezed shut, but I was aware that my feet were kicking around.

DENTIST: "Chris? Are you OK?

BRAIN: "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit."

MY LEFT EYE: "I don't want to pop out!"

ME: "..."

DENTIST: "Let's give you a chance to catch your breath, OK?"

No, not OK. I was already going through trauma. Why they hell would I want to prolong this experience? I wanted to just get it over with and get the hell out of the office. I wanted to be 8 years old eating at Popeye's with my mom and drinking strawberry soda. I did not want to be sitting around in a dentist's office waiting for more drilling.

I shook my head desperately and tried to communicate that I wanted him to just keep on, but I couldn't get any words to form.

ME: "...hhhhh..."

BRAIN: "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit, oh shit."

MY EGO: "What the fuck is going on here? There's no pain, you big pussy."

BRAIN: "But there WILL be pain -- a lot of pain! Oh God! Oh shit!"


DENTIST: "Yeah. Let's take a quick break."

ME: "..khhh..."

EGO: "Oh, for fuck's sake. You are such a girl. This is... wait. Wait a fucking minute. Are there tears in your eyes? You're fucking crying! Oh, FUCK! What is wrong with you?! You absolute pussy."

BRAIN: "OK, I'm going to start running through every bad thing that has ever happened to us ever. Remember when Andy Wolf put you in a headlock and he would not let go? You were punching him in the balls, but he just would not let go."

EGO: "This is so embarrassing. What kind of man are you? I am so disgusted with you."

BRAIN: "...and then Sarah McDaniels broke up with you. Oh wow, did that suck. And..."

LEFT EYE: "I don't want to pop out!"

It went on like this for an hour and fifteen minutes. At the end of it, I walked out with four new fillings. I go back for work on the other side of my mouth next week.


Samsung said...

I had the exact same day yesterday. I just focused on my breathing and it really helped me to relax.

Count your breathing.


Jege (Jen) said...

Oh man. I hyperventilated just reading that. Well written.

Anonymous said...

Didn't you throw your trombone across the parking lot when Sarah McDaniels broke up with you?

Neal said...

The worst thing that has ever happened to me at the dentist is that he was working on my with a "bat in the cave" (for the uninitiated, bat in the cave refers to a booger that is dangling in the middle of a nostril). About halfway through, while my mouth was pried open, the bat flew away. I don't know where it landed, but I decided it was time for a new dentist.
Chris, your experience sounds like it opened up a good dialogue between you and some deep issues. Maybe by next week you'll have everything sorted out.

Anonymous said...

Excellent stuff Chris.

Banksy said...

The worst sort of dentists are the white-haired, balding types who aske you: "Is it safe?"

That's when you really want to run.

Crystal said...

Your left eye is quite the character!

Chris Cope said...

Eric -- Yes, yes I did. I did that because I was mature. Mature people throw musical instruments.

Neal -- Thanks for giving me something new to worry about.

Blogel -- I said dentists are good people. Now I'm frightened, since you know where I'll be living in Cardiff. You're going to come over some night with one of those old belt-driven drills. Why, oh why, did I invite you to drop by for tea?

Lindsay Hansen said...

I feel like I remember the trombone throwing incident, but I can't be sure whether I witnessed it, or just heard about it through the band grapevine.