There I was, with this large piece of flat rubber encircling one molar, the rest of it flapping wetly over my lips and cheeks. The very friendly dental hygienist had put it on per dentist instructions, then they had all left while the numbing medicine took complete affect. Now, my bladder was feeling its own effects and numbness wasn’t involved. Apparently, I was well hydrated. Waiting was no longer an option and I sat up. There was no bell to ring and my voice was so muffled I could barely hear it myself. I waited for blood circulation to normalize after the prolonged reclining position.
After a safe vertical stance had been achieved, I peeked out of my cubical like an escapee, not sure where to find a restroom. Fortunately, the hygienist in the next station looked up at me and understood my rubber-garbled sounds of distress. She gave me a second glance and offered to show me to the “back bathroom.” The way she said it implied this was not a normal place to take patients. Turns out it was through the employee lounge. As she left me at the restroom door, she made a wisecrack about me not eating all their candy, knowing full well I couldn’t feel my face.
As I made the small movement to look down and unbutton my pants, I was horrified to see a waterfall of saliva flow from my face. For some reason, I examined the floor to see if it landed there. Possibly I was hoping for some miracle of anti-gravity. But I didn’t look for long, because the saliva just kept on pouring out in a steady stream! I couldn’t make it stop! I turned my head this way and that, trying to utilize gravity, but the siphon principle was in full motion. Finally, I just held my head in a way that protected my clothes as best I could, and completed my mission there.
With saliva still dribbling down my neck, I nervously made my way back to my chair. The hygienist who had outfitted me with this cursed rubber mouthpiece and told me I “could swallow normally” with it in place was cheerfully on her way somewhere. I warned her that I was not swallowing very normally and had left a large puddle on the floor of the employee bathroom. Her laugh was an unexpected mixture of surprised delight and complete unconcern. Perhaps hygienists are trained in how to respond to drooling patients wandering through the office?
Now, I was ready, I thought. Terrified about the impending root canal, but at least unlikely to further embarrass myself. Too soon, I wasn’t so sure of even that. When the lights were all positioned above me and multiple metal tools were projecting out from my lips, the scene morphed into an eery mix of two past experiences. In a weird time warp way, I was all of a sudden both 1) in the Chinese hospital getting my smashed face fixed and 2) having my mouth examined for that hideous nerve pain 9 years ago that lead to a temporary diagnosis by a neurosurgeon of something tenderly called “suicide disease.” Both scenarios had ended well, and I am fully recovered from them, but the panic must have shown on my face, because now both the dentist and the hygienist asked in near unison if I was okay in very soft voices. It was recommended that I could put my earbuds in and listen to music on my phone. They would tap me on the shoulder if they needed to communicate. Sounded like a plan
Have you ever tried to listen to music with high powered drills running in your head? It was like an echo chamber with motorcycle jack hammer inside. I gave up on the music and tried to pretend I was in a space ship and that sound was the engines taking off. I have listened to enough of the comedy sci-fi audio books of The Stainless Steel Rat lately. That’s what it would feel like, right? Like your head was going to shatter explode as you enter another universe or time dimension?
I wanted to ask what they were doing. I mean, specifically. I wondered about the Spanish Inquisition. One of the first things the dentist had to do was remove the chipped piece of tooth that had wedged itself between two of the adjacent teeth. When it came loose, neither of them could tell for sure if it had been suctioned up already or if it was finding it’s way to the back of my throat. They took the tools out of my mouth long enough to ask me if I could feel it. I told them that was a silly question, which they acknowledged without explanation.
Not only was that side of my mouth feeling about 3 times its normal size, the numbness had spread to both sides of my face and the top of my skull, because my response to medications is unpredictable. I could still occasionally feel a sharp referred nerve pain to my front upper teeth. Nerves are all so wonderfully connected. However, even if I couldn’t feel pain most of the time, I could feel pressure. All pressure. Like the pressure of the drill-thingy resonating into my eardrums and down my jaw. Then there was this movement of the dentist’s hand and an odd pulling sensation. I waited for one of the rare moments when there weren’t four arms moving rapidly around my face with pointed objects and asked, “What did you just do?”
The way she answered “pulling the nerves out of your tooth,” along with her hand movements, made me picture her winding up the nerves of my whole body as she pulled them through this portal tooth. She wasn’t sinister, but she might as well have said, “I’m rolling up a ball of string.” I laid back and knew how rumors about the secret practices of doctors get started. And even though “I knew” this wasn’t really happening, I closed my eyes and could feel all the nerves in my body unraveling.
No wait, that was my bladder again. Again! I couldn’t believe it! Knowing there was still about half of the procedure to go, I had to admit to them that I was at full capacity. This time, the hygienist brought me a short stack of paper towels with explicit directions about how to hold it up to my mouth. On my way to the bathroom, I made plans to dehydrate myself before my next visit. Who feels pressure on her bladder while laying almost upside down in a dentist chair?!
With my face still fully numb, it was hard to tell if I was holding the paper towels functionally. Funny how one can not be able to feel one’s lips well enough to avoid drooling, but can feel the alarming sensation of it dripping out and down one’s chin. I tried to absorb it without dislodging the trouble-causing rubber thing. Plus, I walked as fast as I could without scaring anyone. Once back in the chair, I could submit thankfully to suction again.
In spite of all the numbness, my taste buds were alert. There was a need to apply more topical anesthesia before continuing to work on the nerve area. It tasted so bad that I almost gave the dentist a demonstration of reserved gastric fluids. My numb lips would not provide any gate control. It would be every man for himself. They would never forget me. Somehow, I averted the crisis and went back to intentional breathing, because all that you’ve heard about breathing being automatic goes out the window when someone is drilling your teeth.
All of a sudden, stage one of my root canal was over. I was told I had been a great patient. I smiled a self-conscious lopsided smile and told them they say the nicest things.