August 30, 2010

It's a laughing matter

I used to hate the dentist.  Childhood experiences with a short, goblin-voiced, hairy-handed pediatric dentist who once drilled my sister's tongue left me scarred.  To the point that, once I was past my mid-teens, I adamantly refused to visit the dentist for a number of years.  By the time I reached adulthood and realized that perhaps I had developed a few oral issues, the dread was deep-rooted (no pun intended).  My first few treatments did nothing to dispel it-- one appointment even included me bursting into tears as the dentist applied a topical anesthetic and then only moments later raised the fearsome Novocaine needle suddenly into my line of sight.  He was not pleased.

But then I found a dentist who used nitrous oxide before administering Novocaine.  Oh, glory be and hallelujah!  I was saved.  Unfortunately, this same dentist chose to discuss the financial aspects of my treatments while I was under the gas.  An enamel crown applied to my very last molar, where no one will ever see it but the dentist, and that will cost me $600 because my insurance won't cover it?  Suuuuure, go right ahead!  Let's put a another one on the other side while we're at it, make it a matched set!

My current dentist is not only calm, gentle, and gives me precise explanations of what he's going to do and what it's likely to feel like, he saves treatment discussions for when I'm totally coherent.  Visiting him is a pleasure, no matter what barbaric tortures are in store for my delicate mouth.

The nitrous kicked in quickly today. Within only a handful of deep breaths, I felt that familiar rushing feeling, and then the weird woobly ringing began in my ears, like some strange sound effect from an early 70's sci-fi movie. Once that subsided, I went into out-of-body mode. The thing about nitrous is that you don't think you're high while you're on it. It just gives you the ultimate sense of detachment. The Novocaine takes care of the pain, but there is still sensation. I'm fully conscious of all the sounds, tastes, and pressures of what the dentist is doing in my mouth, completely aware that I'd be writhing in agony if not for the drugs, and at the same time, passively curious about what's going on. If the dr were to tell me that he was going to insert a metal hook up through my nostril and pull out my brain loop by loop, my response would probably be not only "Wow, how cool", but also "Can I help?".

When he was done today, I actually caught myself thinking that it was over way too quickly.  As he reached to pull the nitrous mask off my face, for a brief moment I wanted to clutch at it and fight him for it.  To a very small degree, I think I understand how people become addicted to such mood-altering substances, and why they'll ruin themselves to get the high that they crave.

The drive home was quite a trip, too.  As both the nitrous and the Novocaine began to wear off, that lovely stroke victim feeling began to set in, in which you feel that you have absolutely no control of tongue, jaw, or lips, and that all three are drooping somewhere between your chin and shoulder.  And then those prickly sensations begin to set in, little jabs in the tongue letting you know that it's coming back to life, even though you're still convinced it's nothing but a slab of meat between your teeth and you couldn't move it if your life depended on it.

To help shake the last few cobwebs out of my brain, I cranked up The White Stripes' Icky Thump.  An excellent choice.  There's nothing more appropriate than listening to a few Jack White dentist's drill guitar solos on the way home from having three cavities filled...

The best moment, though, was driving past a sign outside of a Methodist church that was meant to be reassuring but that had a very different effect on me:  
Don't give up! Moses was once a basket-case.  There must've still been some residual nitrous flowing through my system, because that set me off and I chortled and guffawed (as well as I could through numb lips) the rest of the way home.

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