Aug 14, 2013

A Trip to the Dentist

posted by killre

File this one under "No good deed goes unpunished," because it all started while flossing.

I was using one of those little plastic pick-prongs with the half-inch or so of floss strung tightly between the tines.  I ran it up between two teeth about midway back on the upper left side and diligently sawed away, working the seams between tooth and gum, up and down, back and forth, et cetera, et cetera.

When I tried to pull the flaxy, waxy thread out from between my teeth, it got snagged on something.  I rattled it around some and gave it a couple of testing tugs, but it was a no-go.  What I should have done next is root around in a few drawers for a set of long, slender scissors --I know we've got one around here somewhere-- snipped the floss, pulled it out laterally, tossed the pick, grabbed a new one and continued.  That's what I should have done... but instead I let frustration get the best of me and got into a wrestling match with a minty-fresh piece of string.

I tried a variety of moves, most of which are unimportant.  One thing I did try several times was the ever-popular Sheer Brute Force: a sustained, downward pull that threatened to yank at least one of my teeth out of my head long before dislodging the damnable cord.  I'd like to say it was a well-reasoned conclusion that that would be winning the battle but losing the war that stopped me, but the truth is it was the pain.  I again considered going on a treasure hunt for the scissors, but I decided to save that as Plan B.

Eventually, after several eternal minutes of trying, I twisted and jiggled the thing just right and it came out.  The pick-prong was undamaged, but I nonetheless threw it away with a plosive breath of contempt, grabbed a new one and flossed the remaining teeth.  There was some lingering discomfort, and at my next meal I had to be a bit careful which side of my mouth I used to chew, but it was mild and I figured it would fade.

It faded.  For two blissful days I was ignorant of any problem.  Then, over the weekend (naturally), the pain returned with a proverbial vengeance.  Because the whole side of my head hurt, all the way up through the temple, I at first assumed it was the mother of all lopsided migraines-- brought on no doubt by the continued insistence of, um, certain people on this site that "Show off your Impiousness" is somehow more correct than "Show your impiety," which it self-evidently isn't.  (Not to discourage comment, Dear Reader, but trust me when I tell you it has already been pointed out to me the irony of arguing the proper form of the word impious.)

I started with 800 milligrams of ibuprofen.  I waited twelve whole minutes and it didn't seem to be working, so I took more.  By Sunday night I was taking 1000mg at a time.  By Monday I was gobbling 1200mg and washing them down with NyQuil, for the acetaminophen.  It was now clear that the problem was tooth-related.  That night over dinner my wife asked me if I was going to see a dentist.  I replied, "I hope not."  My dentist moved to Idaho several years ago and I've been, uh, let's say "reluctant" to find another because, hey, is there anyone who actually likes going to the dentist?  And I'm a big boy now who doesn't have to do everything my mommy tells me to, so I don't.

Tuesday morning my wife asked me if I wanted the number of her dentist.  I said yes.  She also revealed that she had one low-dose vicodin tablet, well past expiration, left over from some old prescription.  I said, "I'll take it."  She dug through her medicine cabinet and came back saying, "I was wrong.  There are three pills."  I told her I'd take them all.  She told me with some emphasis that I would take one.  I said, "You're leaving in, like, ten minutes, right?"

I called the dentist's office promptly at nine and got an appointment for eleven o'clock.  They asked me to come in about fifteen minutes early to fill out some paperwork.  I showed up forty-five minutes early.  They handed me a clipboard with some forms, because that's always the best medicine for someone in debilitating pain: filling out forms.  One question, directly underneath "Full Name," was "What do you like to be called?"  I considered writing Killre, but some people are thrown off by the spelling so I simply put the short version of my formal first name.

A dentist's assistant came out and ushered me through a superbly clean, new-age-looking suite of rooms to a state-of-the-art examination nook with a reclining patient chair that was as un-reclined as an airline seat while the plane is on the tarmac.  She deftly mixed small talk with questions about the nature and circumstances of my problem as well as my overall oral hygienic habits, all the while taking x-rays of my teeth.  Once finished she blessedly reclined the chair and I could breathe again for a few minutes.

The D.D.S. came in and introduced himself.  His last name was a tongue-twisting collection of syllables that were all patently Japanese.  His first name was Ted.  He told me I had a broken filling.  Cue the light bulb.

He took a slender, hooked, rubber-tipped instrument and applied pressure to that tooth.  The look I gave him was no more pained than my usual expression, so he applied more pressure.  And more.  And more.  I started to feel like a hooked fish.  He asked me if I felt any pain.  I shrugged.  He released the pressure and said, "Huh."  Then he thought about moving the rubber-tipped instrument in the general direction of the next tooth back and I screamed, "Iphiethy!" and almost kicked him in the side of the head with my knee.  He looked at his assistant and said, "You know, I think it might actually be the next tooth."  He told me he just wanted to make sure and gently grazed the rubber tip against the thin film of moisture clinging to the enamel.  I looked at him like I wished his grandparents had been at Nagasaki and growled like a Doberman with a hambone.  He said, "Yeah, I think that's the one."

He explained that I needed a root canal, which involved taking out the nerves in the tooth.  He said more, but I wasn't listening because I was thinking, "Take the nerves out-- what a great idea!"

They reclined me further, shot me up with some of that magical, mystical fluid that makes part of one's face disappear and went away for about ten minutes.  The assistant came back and asked me if I was numb.  I touched the tooth with my tongue and said no, so they gave me another dose.  Ten more minutes.  Numb?  No.  A third dose.  Ah, now I'm good.

Throughout the procedure, he kept asking me if I was okay.  Whether by accident or design, every time he asked the question he had both hands and at least one instrument in my mouth.  My usual response to such queries is to (a) say yes or no, (b) nod or shake my head or (c) perform some complex combination of a and b.  It didn't occur to me at the time to give him a simple thumbs-up-- for that I blame the drugs.  I finally used a brief interlude when he didn't have his hands in my mouth to say, "Believe me... if there's a problem, I'll let you know."

When he was finished, he told me he was going to prescribe an antibiotic.  He also asked me if I wanted something for the pain.  I thought, "Pain?  What pain?"  Oh, I was dimly aware that somewhere in our species' barbaric past people suffered from a great deal of pain following a root canal procedure, but this was 2013 and I was in an operating theatre that looked like it was 2013 and a sizeable part of my face had disappeared and not yet returned and I felt fantastic, so I p'shawed the very idea of needing a painkiller.  He shrugged and said okay.

I stopped at the receptionist's desk to make my next appointment.  There is a follow-up procedure, y'see, and besides that they hadn't actually fixed the broken filling that had started the whole thing.  She told me her first availability was September 13th.  I did some quick math.  Wednesday, Thursday, Friday... "Friday the 13th?  Really?" I asked.  "Yeah," she said, "I was hoping you wouldn't figure that out so quick."  Perfect.

I asked to use the restroom before leaving.  While washing my hands, I glanced in the mirror.  I looked like I'd had a stroke.  Oh, I still felt fantastic... but I looked like I'd had a stroke: the left side of my face was puffy and slumped.  When I tried to grin, my mouth looked like someone had tackled the letter S and now both teams were standing around waiting for the trainers to bring the stretcher.

I stopped by a drugstore to fill the antibiotic prescription.  I continued to feel good most of the way home.  I had just parked the car when my face returned... and with it the pain.  It hurt so much I couldn't see straight.  It hurt so much my eyes watered.  It hurt so much I felt like the letter S.  It hurt so much I considered walking blindly into the middle of the nearest Interstate and ending it... and if all those bastards came to a screeching halt and refused to hit me, I was going to pick a fight.  I decided to save that as Plan B.

I wiped my eyes long enough to dial the dentist's office and meekly ask for, you know, that pain prescription thing?  They asked me where I wanted the order sent and I gave them the location of a nearby pharmacy.  I swallowed 1200mg of ibuprofen and chased it with DayQuil (I was fresh out of NyQuil), waited half an hour, wiped my eyes and went to the drugstore.  They didn't have my prescription.  They said they'd never received the order.  By now it was after five p.m.  The dentist's office was closed.

That night it merely felt like my face was on fire.  It helped somewhat to gently --ever so gently-- rub my cheek, but one can't go through life like that.  One time I reached up to rub, misjudged the distance (again I blame the drugs) and accidentally smacked myself in the face.  That felt like my face was on fire and someone had tried to pat it out with the front end of a city bus.

I called the dentist's office the next morning.  They double-checked the location of the drugstore and said they'd put the prescription through right away.  I took some ibuprofen, chased it with Southern Comfort (I was fresh out of DayQuil) and was headed for the door when, bless him, a clerk from the pharmacy called.  He said they didn't have that particular medication in stock and I should check again tomorrow afternoon.  Perfect.

By the next day I was down to 800mg and the only reason I was still chasing it with Southern Comfort was because I was afraid not to.  That and, well, because I like Southern Comfort.  I went to the pharmacy and gave the clerk my full name.  She asked me to verify my address, then looked confused when I did so.  She rattled off two different addresses and asked me if either was mine.  I said no.  She said she didn't have me in the system.  There are occasions when I like hearing that sentence.  This wasn't one of them.

Then next clerk over said, "Wait, what are you talking about?"  She told him.  "I remember.  I took that call," he said, then he turned to me and told me it was filed under my nickname.  The first clerk punch that name in and told me, "Okay, there it is.  Now you know."  Yeah... 'cuz somehow it's my fault.

I loitered for about fifteen minutes before a pharmacists came out from the back to tell me they didn't have that medication in stock and I should check again tomorrow.  I said, "That's funny 'cuz that's what I was told yesterday."  He said he'd be right back.  I watched him through the glass as he consulted with another pharmacists and then as the other pharmacist consulted a computer.  The first guy came back out and told me they never have that medication in stock, nor can they order it because it is unavailable through their distributor.  He suggested I shop around and named some pharmacy chains that he knew had different distributors from theirs.  I thanked him, took his card and walked out thinking, "Yeah... I'm not gonna do that."

I'd love to tell you the moral of this story is, "Don't floss-- it can only lead to trouble," but I trust you've already gleaned its real lesson:  If a doctor asks you if you want prescription pain medication, always say yes.

P.S.... Bud "You Know Who I Hate To See?  Hair Stylists" Selig must go.

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