Thursday, December 18, 2008

My First Root Canal

Okay, I didn't take my camera into the dentists office, so later on I arranged a little post-production work. Again, I was working alone and it was a couple hours after the dental work and my face was still numb, but all in all I think I did alright. Now squint your eyes a bit and imagine this nice clean doctor's office in Lake George. There's a big white chair with various things attached to it and a bright light hanging over it. I'm sitting down with my mouth open, a bit scared but not peeing my pants scared. Just nervous, after all, this was my first time getting a root canal. I wasn't even fully informed what the heck a root canal was exactly until a week ago on my first visit to the dentist in Saratoga who was going to be working on my new molar/bridge complex, later. Apparently he didn't like to do the actual root canal so he was sending me to a specialist. So here I am in the chair, the light shining down on me and my mouth open. (see picture above)

I don't mind dentists all that much. They by and large have hurt me much less than other people, like managers, supervisors, friends-of-friends and ex-wives. What I do mind, however, is sitting in a big white chair with a bright white light shining down on me and a pile of strange metal appliances in the tray in front of me thinking about having this drill burrowing down into my root canal, taking out nerves and such and leaving a nice hole for a metal post to be inserted so they can build me a new molar top to which they can attach a new bridge. See, when you say it that way you can see why my eyes are wide and slightly bulging. This line of thought invariably ends with the Novocaine wearing off about halfway through the nerves in my tooth. Then I scream and arch my back, hurting more vertebrae and driving the drill bit into my jaw. The doctor stands on my chest to wrench it out, and as he does there is a snap and the drill bit breaks in half. This requires hours of post root canal surgery to remove the drill bit. During the surgery the anesthetic wears off and I wake up to the exciting feeling of my face spread open to the world and several doctors trying to close it up before I waken fully.

I've read about such things. Waiting for the emails to come down I read the Lancet condensed version and there are times when things go wrong with drugs and the people who inject them.

Dr. Radcliffe is a tall, white haired gentleman with a quiet, grandfatherly demeanor. I tell him about my dreams and fears and most especially that I generally take a shitload of drugs for back pain and so Novocaine sometimes doesn't cut the mustard. He should use a lot and move fast. He is smiling and looking at x-rays and murmering in what I take to be a studious, positive manner. Then he turns with a hypo in his hand and smiles down at me.
"Oh, don't worry. We haven't lost a patient yet." Then he shoves a new appliance in my mouth, a spreader that attaches to another device that seems to be a tiny shower curtain. It circles my mouth, preventing me from seeing down my own throat or something. Part of the structure seems to clip onto my crumbled molar so that it's like a funnel with my tooth at the bottom and plastic shower curtain all around. Did you get that? Now the good doctor begins sticking my jaw with needles from the inside out. I taste something... odd, slightly unpleasant, like lighter fluid. Now it's gone. Apparently the good doctor has shot my lower left jaw with enough Novocaine to drop a bull elephant. I have trouble focussing my left eye. Actually I generally have trouble focussing my left eye, it's the combination of Cymbalta and Lyrica that dry my mouth and eyes and leaves me a bit blurry.

Now I'm hearing the drill(s). Unlike some people I do not mind the sound of a high pitched drill in my mouth. That means the work has started and someday it will be done and I can go home. Dr. Radcliffe seems to be scraping and drilling, grinding and scraping for several minutes. Still numb. In fact I can imagine that saying the word "numb" would take a lot of effort. Probably come out as "nuff-buh". Have you ever seen those African ladies who put the big things in their mouth to make their lips stretch out like a dinner plate? Well, Dr. Radcliffe seems to have acquired one (not the African ladies, the mouth thingy) and he was trying it out on me. The shower curtain thing is stuck over my lower lip which is stuck on my front teeth. I'm guessing this from impressions of pressure on my mouth parts. They're all numb so it's a guess that I'm biting my lip, hard. (Later I find this is not exactly the case, so don't worry about it)

Dr. Radcliffe pulls back, does a final rinse and suction and then takes out the spring steel appliances. He jams a piece of cardboard with a wire attached to it into my mouth and then he grabs my finger and places it in my mouth, holding down the cardboard. The assistant lays a lead apron over my chest and abdomen and they both leave the room. There's a faint "beep" and they come back in, but not to let me go. They both stare at a computer screen on the wall . Dr. R doesn't sound all that happy when he turns around. "Well, looks like we're not quite done after all." and he starts popping those spring steel expanders and little shower curtains into the mouth. He drills some more, grinds a bit, scrapes a bit more. I'm starting to fantasize about the nerves coming back to life. I can sort of feel the scraper somewhere in there. I don't want to panic, but I can feel the panic. My toes are curling and spasming in my boots. Then he's done and it's over. No pain.

He fills the hole with something. I can tell it's a plastic plaster something that quickly becomes hard enough to withstand a curious tongue and most likely soft food. He probably buried a GPS locator as part of the Homeland Security End of Term Project. Even now Google Earth has a label over me: "Voted For Obama" or something. It's all done in a blur and then I'm out at the counter making sure about my co-pay. On the way home a buy a Fosters green label and when I can feel the side of my tongue, some hours later, I pop the top and slurp it down. Keep the nice cold beer over on the right side, please, and no drooling.
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