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October 14, 2004

None the Wiser

Posted by Mike on October 14, 2004 6:52 PM

Making the decision to move put me in a momentary frame of mind to wax eloquent about having a child and how different things start to matter. Today, however, was "Wisdom Teeth Day," so I'm not feeling particularly eloquent.

Dentists are a matter of long-standing anxiety for me. Worse than other people I know, who seem to be able to deal with them fine. Maybe it's the two root canals I endured at the hands of army dentists. Maybe it's the time a dentist burned my lips with some sort of sealing iron and I heard my own flesh sizzle. I'm not sure.

So I asked, when the oral surgeon confirmed that my wisdom teeth were a menace to the rest of my mouth, to be put under. And that's anxiety inducing all on its own. Dentists are my natural enemy, so being knocked unconscious while in the clutches of a dentist is sort of like a small pig taking a nap under the python tree.

I spent a lot of time last night tossing and turning. I was not at all fond of the warning I had to sign informing me that I could suffer facial paralysis or death. Then I started imagining the entire process of "being put under" as a sort of shrieking descent into blackness... a fuzzy-edged look up the well at a masked dentist and his demoness helpers. Then I got to thinking about people who are put under but retain consciousness somehow, enduring surgery with full awareness and sensation.

It sounds silly now, but I'm not rational where the dentist is concerned.

So what was it really like?

I showed up at the office a minute late. They took my copayment and I had about a minute to sit down and read an AARP magazine article by a retiree whose husband has discovered porn on the Internet. I was just rounding the bend on the conclusion ("Some porn is fine, but when you say 'I treat my husband right and he's got no room for complaints' [author's note: "ew"] you should make sure he thinks so, too,") when they called me back.

I'll hand it to the personnel in the clinic: They were very good at not making me think at all about the fact that they were going to gas me, drug me insensate, then cut four teeth out of my head. All the implements were tastefully covered with bits of sterile, cellophane-backed paper.

One of the assistants put a cuff on me to check my blood pressure (153/93, I think, which is very high for me) and pulse (89... also pretty high). I made a surprised noise and she laughed, telling me that other people come in with much higher readings. I was not comforted. The blood of Numenor has grown thin.

So in came the surgeon. He put another clip on the tip of a finger and made a joke about monitoring my finger's status very closely. One of the assistants slid a nose-covering piece of plastic over my face. The doctor slid a needle into my arm without any comment at all, then strapped my arm down. I asked what the plastic over my nose was for and he said they might slip me some laughing gas to ease me down, and then I felt someone closing my mouth and I watched the doctor walk out of the room. His assistant said "If you can get up, you can go to the recovery room now until your ride gets here."

And that was that. One second I was there, the next second I was still there, but with a mouth stuffed full of gauze and no sensation at all in my lips, jaw, or tongue.

"Ich dibben veel luk ah schlebbed" I slobbered. The assistant laughed at me and said "You were out." She was maybe even a little defensive about it... like I might demand to have the cost of the anesthesia deducted because it didn't work. Maybe people do that. Anything's possible.

I wobbled into the recovery area (a dark alcove with a bed and chair) and sat there updating all the categories in my Palm's calendar, because I figured that if I could distinguish an appointment or event as clearly belonging to either "editorial planning" or "personal finance," I must not have suffered any brain damage.

Al came to take me home, but not before we stopped to get chocolate pudding and lemon yogurt and a carton of organic free-range chicken broth.

I watched some Star Trek, checked in with the boss over IM, helped Amy with some hanging issues on this week's column, then saw Alison off and fell asleep gnawing on bloody gauze. I stayed that way for two hours.

I was still bleeding when I woke up, so I went to the next recommended stage of treatment, which involved gumming moistened tea bags. Don't know why it worked, but it did. No more bleeding. And no more wisdom teeth.

In the end, I'm glad I got put under. I'm not getting over my thing about dentists any time soon, and I'm past the stage in life where I routinely allowed myself to be terrorized in the name of personal or professional development. If I could, I'd even see about sleeping until election day. The suspense is killing me.


If you still have some of those industrial-strength painkillers, I highly recommend taking just a leetle bit extra and then laying down and listening to Radiohead's "OK Computer" on headphones. When my wisdom teeth were yanked it was miserable, but that's the part that I look back fondly on.

Posted by: nate at October 14, 2004 8:13 PM

Some of my medicated lounging this afternoon involved Brian Eno's "Ambient 4: On Land," which is perhaps less dynamic but proved fairly soothing.

I don't think I got very good meds... something called hydrocodone bitartrate. The nurse told me it's "like Vicodin," but I'm not exactly a connoisseur of painkillers.

One other thing I forgot to mention was the sensation I had for a few hours that all of my teeth had become brittle. When my upper and lower teeth came together, it felt like they might break each other. Alison said she had the same sensation.

Posted by: mph [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 14, 2004 8:45 PM

I am facing wisdom teeth removal in November. I am terrified of being put under but mainly because I'm afraid I'll spend the hour or so merrily passing gas.

Posted by: Cristina at October 18, 2004 4:26 PM