P. S. Gifford
Copyright 2006 by P. S. Gifford
It was on Sunday night when it happened. Whilst I was watching the latest Hallmark movie on CBS, and doing the crying that always accompanies such an experience. I was nibbling on a rather tasty bit of Brie when a crown managed to free itself from one of my back teeth.
Now as luck would have it, or otherwise, my sister-in-law is a dental hygienist and has worked for the same dentist for approaching twenty years, and the dentist is a close family friend. Phone calls were made, and an appointment was scheduled- for yesterday at eleven in the morning. I must confess that the night before I experienced very little sleep- and I must further confess further that dentists make me quiver like a bowl of jelly on a washing machine that has an uneven load. (Jell-O for any Americans reading this.) But trust me on this point; I have justifiable reasons for my terror. My dentist in England used to work for the navy- And his bedside manner was not exactly a cheery one. He was a very serious bloke who did not beat about the bush and did not have a single ounce of compassion within him. Let‘s just put it this way- he left a marked impression in my young mouth.
One of the first impressions of America I had was when I first went to a dentist here. In England the dentist worked outside of the back his hundred plus year old house in the parlor on a residential street. The house was also his residence.
When I arrived in California, it was about time to have my wisdom teeth out. After some research we came across a dentist in nearby Costa Mesa. As soon as I arrived I knew I was in a different world. This was a very different sort of a dentist. The front waiting area was spotlessly clean and there was an aquarium in one corner. When I was politely ushered inside to the surgery, instead of the grey and beige English dental office that I was used to, this one was full of shining stainless steel and bright whites.
To cut a very long story into a relatively shorter one…after several visits, numerous x-rays, and several calls to my insurance carrier, an appointment was made for me to have all my wisdom teeth out in one visit. It was a Friday morning, and my father took me. I was lead into the spotless office and placed in a chair- then I was given gas- and promptly fell into a deep slumber. I awoke two hours later- apparently- as my memory is a little prickly about this. My father said that I was muttering something to the dentist.
“Is he saying he wants to throw up?” the dentist asked…
“No,” my dad answered, “he was telling you thank-you.”
Now the journey home I remember. In fact I remember it all too clearly and vividly in Technicolor. I recall trying to grab the steering wheel of my dad’s car to avoid what was coming towards us. For you see, I was convinced that large dinosaurs, in bright shades of red, yellow, orange and blue, were marching ominously towards us.
That evening in a semi-conscious sate I was taken to my dad’s work. He worked the swing shift. So I lay there, with my mouth full of gauze, on a couch in the boss’s office. I apparently was in quite a state…and they had to make sure that I did not choke to death.
It was a week later when it was all over the news. A Costa Mesa dentist had killed three patients…Apparently a couple of days after he had taken my teeth out, he had performed dental surgery on some other folks, and they had passed out. It turns out that he was mixing gases that had not been tested, to allow the patient to be out longer, so that he could get all the work done in one sitting, and thusly make more money. It turned out that I had the exact same gas cocktail that killed the other patients, and that I was lucky to be alive. And as for suing…There were three dozen other folks suing him- including the deceased family, and he had declared bankruptcy. It further turned out that he was a cocaine addict, and that he was mortgaged up the ying-yang.
I avoided the dentist for a while after that- other than the occasional emergency visits. Do you blame me?
So when I married my lovely wife and found that we practically had a dentist in the family I was delighted. A dentist I could finally trust. He has done a brilliant job other the years of making sure I still have a good smile and decent choppers to chew on my fish and chips. But yet, the fear still was there…
When I awoke yesterday morning a surprise storm had made its way to California and it was tipping down with rain. I should have realized that it was some kind of an omen and cancelled. I jumped into the Land Rover and set off at ten- the dentist is close to thirty miles from my house.
I had the crown in a zip lock back in my jean pocket.
‘They are just going to cement it back on and I will be home in two hours,’ I thought as I drove along the wet freeway. I had on some cheery Irish sing-a-long music to help calm my nerves- with mixed results.
I arrived, parked, grabbed a paperback from the back seat and took the elevator up to the fifth floor.
I was early so I sat there and read for about twenty minutes- M.R. James ultimate ghost story collection- the book really seemed to help my mood….
Eventually I was called in to the office by one of the assistants- and on the way smiled cheerily at my sister-in-law as she was de-plaguing some unfortunate’s teeth. I was taken to office number two, noting that the dentist was torturing some poor soul in office one, he nodded to me as I approached.
So there I sat, once more enthralled by my book.
Finally he came in and I explained my situation.
“My crown came out,” I said.
“I see,” he answered thoughtfully.
“Can you stick it back in please?”
“Well, open wide, let me have a look.”
He slipped on his latex gloves, shone that bright overhead light in my face and peered inside my mouth.
“Tch, tch, tch,” he went.
‘Never a good sign,’ I thought.
“The tooth is almost completely broken away,” he said shaking his head. “There is not enough of it left for the crown to properly adhere to it.”
“What do you suggest?” I asked already knowing full well what he was going to answer.
“It needs to come out,” he said. Then added, “do you have a couple of more hours free?’
Despite a hundred fanciful excuses flitting through my now agitated mind, I nodded. “”Spose so,” I said.
So that is when the needle came out. You know the one. You have all seen them. Now this tooth just happened to be one of my rear teeth and tricky to get to.
“This is going to hurt a bit,” he said
So he pinched my cheek, massaged it, and plunged the needle in. My eyes were wide open and I watched the syringe being emptied. Four more shots followed…Then he left whistling as he went. Once more I was there reading M.R. James…But finding it harder and harder to concentrate on the words. Finally I gave up and put the book down.
It was then the assistant came in and began to pull various objects of torture- I mean dental tools- from a cabinet. It was then I realized that Christmas music was now playing cheerfully in the background.
She placed several of the surgical stainless steel tools on to the stainless table next to where I was sitting.
“Ooh,” she said, “the doctor doesn’t like the patients seeing those…Should I cover them up?”
“No,” I lied “that’s okay.
I could feel the whole side of my left face beginning to get numb. She left, and naturally my attention was drawn to the objects. They reminded me of woodworking tools- an awl, two things that looked like flat head screwdrivers, a few long sharp pointy things, and a couple pairs of pinchers.
I had a morbid curiosity with the objects, and could not take my eyes off them, and my mind began to imagine precisely what those tools could do. I tried desperately to get the image of Dustin Hoffman in the classic movie Marathon man from my head.
And all the while the gayest Christmas music was still cheerfully playing in the background.
Finally the dentist returned, and I discovered that I was losing the ability to articulate words correctly and further noticed that I was drooling uncontrollably.
“Are your toes numb?” he asked with a cheeky grin.
“Yes,” I said. Or at least I tried to say.
His assistant was called into the room, and I understood that the fun and games were about to begin.
Twenty minutes later fear and anxiety had completely set in- and I was not doing particularly well either.
It was during a really annoying version of “Rudolf the Red nosed reindeer,” being sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks it happened. As he was pulling and tugging, and cursing softly under his agitated breath, the tooth splintered. I heard it, and I also saw the look in his eyes.
The next thirty minutes I do not have the strength or will power to relay to you. I felt the blood trickling down the back of my throat as gauze was quickly replaced…and about now “Jingle bell rock” was being played.
I could feel it-vividly- it only hurt slightly- but the disconcerting thing was the feeling. My jaw throbbed, my tongue literally ached. Sweat was beading on the poor dentist’s brow and he continued on. Finally, at long last, he finished it and he audibly gasped in relief. After he had managed to catch his breath he stitched me up…Which was funny as I watched him do it, and the twine kept tickling my nose. And yes, obnoxiously happy, Christmas music was still playing in the background and someone somewhere was attempting to sing-a-long.
Afterwards he confessed that he should have probably have given up half way through and referred to an Oral Surgeon- But this would not only have prolonged my pain- it would have cost me an arm and leg to boot. I thanked him- he had gone beyond his call of duty.
I was prescribed some heavy duty painkillers, and some antibiotics- and I raced home…Trembling as I went.
As I dashed into the drug store to get my prescriptions filled I noticed to my dismay that it was full. However, as I relayed what I had just experienced to the girl behind the counter- she must have pulled a few strings-as seven minutes later and ahead of half a dozen grumbling folks who had arrived before me- I got my pills.
The swelling is going down considerably I notice as I write this- But it is still mighty sore. I am about to have another pain pill and take an afternoon nap- then I am going to make a batch of beef stew- cooked long and slow to make it extra tender.
I will survive…But I just know that the next time that I hear “A Holly Jolly Christmas,” that I am going to break out in an ice cold prickly sweat…
Oh, and next Tuesday, I am scheduled back to have the
stitches removed and have an x-ray-wish me luck.
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