If things had gone according to plan, I’d be writing this blog with one less tooth than I had a week ago. I have a slightly cracked lower molar, and my dentist has been urging me to have it extracted for some time now, but I’ve kept putting it off.
I was scheduled to finally have it yanked last Friday. I was mentally prepared for it. I’d bought or prepared a bunch of soft foods to get me through the initial recovery period – mashed potatoes, soup, refried beans, pudding (American style, the soft gooey kind). I would have bought grits but they don’t sell grits in the UK, the bloody bastards.
I had resigned myself to the ensuing discomfort, and the fact that I would have to live on the equivalent of baby food for a few days. I readied myself for the salt water rinses and regular doses of ibuprofen.
But I still wasn’t sure it was necessary, and was pretty sure I wanted to put it off as long as possible.
“So, are you ready for the extraction?” the dentist asked when I sat down in the dental chair. Her voice told me that she harbored doubts I was ready.
“Yeah, well,” I said. “The thing is, are we sure we really need to do this now? I’m still not feeling any discomfort or pain with that tooth. There doesn’t seem to be any infection, unless you see it. I just want to make sure there’s no downside to putting it off, maybe seeing if the tooth gets a little looser so the recovery period won’t be as long.”
She gave me one of those looks you can’t really figure out. I couldn’t tell if she was exacerbated or relieved. She could have been exacerbated because we had been going back and forth over this for a pretty long time, her advising me to have it extracted, me wondering why it had to be extracted if it wasn’t causing any pain or discomfort.
On the other hand, she might have been relieved that she had a chance to avoid this particular chore. She appeared to be very busy this morning, and might not mind putting off an extraction that might suck up an hour of her time.
“If you don’t want to do it today then we don’t have to do it,” she said.
I said, “Yeah, let’s wait.”
Then a minute later I said, “No, let’s do it. I’ve prepared myself mentally. I bought a bunch of soft foods. Let’s go ahead and get it over with.”
Then the dentist told me of the risks.
“There’s always a risk that we can’t dislodge it and we’ll have to wait and have a specialist look at it,” she said.
Whoa there, Nellie, I thought to myself. They might have to stop in the middle and send me to a specialist?
I didn’t like the sound of that. The last thing I wanted was to have a lower molar half yanked out of my gums, only to have to stop and revisit this procedure in a few weeks, at some other office, with some other tooth doctor, while I’m sucking down soft foods for God knows how long.
“You might have to stop halfway if something goes wrong?” I asked her.
“That’s always a risk,” she answered. “Another option is to just have a specialist contact you and they can take care of it themselves.”
I thought it over, and decided that sounded like a real good idea.
“I think we should wait then,” I said. “Have the specialist do it.”
So, I just had a regular teeth cleaning that morning, the one where the dentist uses that air/water gizmo that drills in between your teeth and around your gums, makes this high-pitched screeching sound, and altogether drives me batshit.
The lower molar is still there. And the specialist still hasn’t contacted me.
I wasn’t afraid of the pain of having a tooth pulled. Thanks to the recklessness of my youth, I’ve had to have a few miserable tooth procedures – a root canal, implants, more implants. Never a cavity in my life, but plenty of other stuff.
Pain, I can tolerate. I have a pretty high threshold. While hiking in Hawaii about a decade ago, I slipped hard on a rock formation in a stream and landed smack on my forearm against the hard, unforgiving rock surface. A little later I banged it against another slippery rock. The pain was brutal, but I could deal with it. I used my arm to drive down the winding, endless Hana Highway on the island of Maui and back to our hotel. I didn’t find out until a few weeks later, back home, that the arm was broken.
No, it’s not the pain that bothers me. It’s the inconvenience. That’s why I want to wait as long as possible to get the tooth pulled. Because I’m worried about what can go wrong. That some unforeseen mishap will occur, and the recovery period will be longer than expected, and my life will be inconvenienced because of it.
I have experience with this through the lives of others. One person I know was advised to have a procedure to replace cartilage in one of her knees. That procedure didn’t go well, and she suffered knee problems the rest of her life. Another person was advised to have back surgery to deal with some lower back pain. That procedure didn’t go well, either, and he spent the rest of his life with a very bad back.
Both regretted having those procedures done. Now, a simple tooth extraction should not be put in the same category as cartilage replacement or back surgery. But the very possibility of something going wrong makes me want to put it off as long as possible.
Inconvenience is one of the two main reasons I go to the doctor – and hate going to the doctor. A broken arm might be painful, but it’s also inconvenient, so I go to the doctor to get it fixed. A tooth extraction might be painful, but it’s also inconvenient, so I hate going to the doctor to have it extracted.
The other reason I go to the doctor (and hate it) is paranoia that I’ve come down with something that will extinguish my precious life in a matter of weeks, if not days. Many years ago I noticed a black spot on my tongue. I looked at it and looked at it and looked at it some more, and decided, right then and there, that I had some rare, exotic disease, and was not long for this mortal coil.
I immediately made a doctor’s appointment (I almost never make doctor appointments except for yearly checkups, which they don’t really do here in the UK). I will ride out a high fever for days and days before going to the doctor. I will experience all kinds of aches and pains without going to the doctor – unless it’s an abnormal ache or pain that starts kicking my paranoia into overdrive.
But when there is something that shouldn’t be there? Like a sudden black spot on my tongue? Off to the doctor I go.
When I noticed that black spot on my tongue, I suddenly felt weak, tired, and mortally diseased. I could feel the life slipping right out of me. It’s funny how that works. You feel fine one minute, then notice something that shouldn’t be there, and 10 minutes later you start feeling like you’re knock-knock-knocking on Heaven’s door.
Anyway, I went to the doctor and steeled myself for the bad news. I tried to keep it in perspective. Yes, I had some horrible disease, and was going to die. But I’d had a pretty good life. I’d made it, oh, 25 years or so. I’d experienced a lot of things. I’d been to a lot of places.
None of which was true, by the way. I hadn’t experienced a lot of things. I hadn’t been to a lot of places. I hadn’t done jackshit, to be honest. AND NOW I WAS GOING TO DIE!!
The doctor looked inside my mouth with one of those throat scope flashlights. He had me stick out my tongue and go “aaaahhhhhh.” I got a queasy feeling in my stomach. I found it hard to breathe. All was gloom, doom, and darkness.
“Have you taken Pepto-Bismol recently?” the doctor asked me.
Hmmmm, I thought to myself. Where is this heading?
For those unfamiliar with the brand, Pepto-Bismol is a pink, thick, over-the-counter medicine used to treat upset stomachs.
“Yes,” I answered. “I had an upset stomach the other day and took Pepto-Bismol.”
“There’s your answer,” the doctor said. “It’s the bismuth in the Pepto-Bismol. It can turn your tongue black.”
Bismuth, it turns out, is the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol. It can not only turn your tongue black. It can also turn your stools black. I never checked for the latter.
“Pepto-Bismol?” I asked.
“Yep,” the doctor said.
“Well now – okay!” I hooted.
Man, I felt like a million dollars at that moment. A billion dollars. I’d never felt better, healthier, or stronger in my life. I was Superman when I heard about the Pepto-Bismol. The weakness – gone. The fatigue – gone. The gloom and doom – gone.
Death – gone, gone, gone!
I was going to live to be a thousand years old! I was immortal, unconquerable, a young stud of 25 who was going to rule the goddamn world!
“Thanks, Doc!” I said, doing my best not to hug him and then break out into song and dance.
I skipped out of his office and danced up to the checkout desk and smiled through it all, even when I was paying a bill I couldn’t afford, just because I took Pepto-F*****g-Bismol and thought I was going to die.
All these years later, I still feel like Superman, except for the occasional aches that come with grinding toward old age, and this gnawing dread that the Grim Reaper is just around the corner, waiting….
And the tooth feels fine. Really, it does.