Frozen: A (Whiny) History of Suffering
I spent part of yesterday morning in the dentist’s chair. Now, I know that nobody enjoys going to the dentist. But I really, really, really don’t like it. I am, undoubtedly, the worst of scaredy-cats and neurotically frightened of pain, but in my (meager) defense, my cowardice has a back-story.
For starters, I broke my jaw playing hockey as a teenager and had to have my mouth wired shut for a few weeks (my parents and siblings no doubt appreciated this glorious respite). When the time came for the wires to come out of my mouth, the dear oral surgeon to whom my care had been entrusted decided that the best way to get the wires out of my mouth would be to place one hand on my forehead for leverage whilst using the other plier-wielding hand to yank and twist pry the wires between my teeth. The scraping and the grinding (not to mention the ever-increasing pressure on my forehead and the wide-eyed experience of this man grunting and sweating above me!) is not an experience I will soon forget.
I still have flashbacks.
Then, a few years later I inexplicably attempted to catch a fly ball with my mouth while playing baseball. This had the unsurprising effect of dispatching my two front teeth to the back of my mouth. The ensuing process of extracting the remaining fragments of teeth from my mouth in the ER was not pleasant, not least because they had to work around an upper lip that had ballooned to a truly spectacular size. Over the next year or so there were countless dental appointments and consultations and, eventually, implants. This delightful procedure involved drilling two metal posts into my jawbone upon which to mount the eventual teeth. Which sounds easy enough. But during the installation of said posts, the dentist decided to cheap out on the freezing, which left me in the happy position of having another dude in a white coat who had just told me that I wouldn’t feel anything, merrily excavating away in my unfrozen mouth.
(I have since come to the realization that this entire painful process was God’s judgment upon me for wasting time on a silly game like baseball. It was part of the process of refining my character, patiently leading me to the point where I was mature enough to embrace real sports like soccer. Meaningful growth and lasting character development are, alas, rarely painless.)
Then, a few years later, it was time for my wisdom teeth to come out. By this point I was understandably horrified at the thought of even setting foot in the dentist’s office. These people were pure evil, I knew by now, and I didn’t want them anywhere near my oft-traumatized mouth. But it mattered not. The x-rays said the teeth had to come out (at least that’s what the people in the white coats said the x-rays said…who really knows?). This time, there would be no freezing, though. I wanted to go right out. I was not going to give these people the opportunity to “forget” to freeze my mouth.
And this introduced me to the pleasure of coming out of anesthetic. I don’t remember much beyond a general experience of awfulness. I remember my dad picking me up and kind of having a chuckle at my expense. I remember him driving me back to my basement suite and callously dispatching me down the stairs and on to the couch where I would drift in and out of consciousness for the next three hours or so. I remember awakening in the early evening, stumbling groggily to the bathroom and discovering a truly appalling creature in the mirror. My face was the size of a balloon; I had blood and spit running down the side of my face. A truly hideous creature, I was. I vowed that I would never set foot inside a dentist’s chair again!
Alas, my determination to avoid the dentist has not historically been matched by a commensurate resolve to avoid sugary stuff and brush as floss as diligently as I ought to. And cavities, it turns out, are rather painful. So, over the past few decades or so I have, periodically, put on my big-boy pants and bravely marched into the dentist’s office for fillings. All by myself. Incredible, I know.
And no fewer than three times—times like yesterday, for example—the dentist has been merrily drilling away, asking me questions that are quite literally impossible to answer with a dam in your mouth, when I will feel a stab of pain boring a hole deep down into my very soul. Oh, you can feel that? they will say, smiling (they’re always smiling). I will nod and grunt and gesture frantically, my back arched and my fists clenched in white-knuckled protest. Yes, yes, yes, for the love of all that is holy, I can feel that!!
Well, why don’t we just give you a bit more freezing, then? Yes. Why don’t you do that?
I know that we are purified by suffering and all that, but honestly, I think I’m pretty pure by now. Pure enough, at least.
At any rate, this is probably the point of the post where I should try to redeem the preceding self-indulgent ramblings by manufacturing uncovering some deep wisdom that I have heroically mined from the depths of my suffering. Ahem, right.
Well, after the usual trial and error process had unfolded yesterday and left me with enough freezing in my mouth to numb a horse, and as I was wiping the drool off my pathetically misshapen face, I thought, “You know, this is kinda like life. No matter how much we do to mitigate against the intrusion of pain, it always has a way of sneaking through.” We can exercise and eat right and say our prayers and floss our teeth and take out insurance and read the parenting books and go to church dutifully and do all the things we’re supposed to do to inoculate ourselves from the shadow side of life. But there are no guarantees. Sometimes, no matter what we’ve done to prepare ourselves, the stabs of pain come and all we can do is grunt and moan and hang on, white-knuckled, for the ride, hoping the darkness will pass soon, praying that we are made of strong enough stuff to get through it.
Hey, I didn’t see the deep wisdom would be particularly inspiring or uplifting, did I? What did you expect from someone who has just, through a combination of sheer willpower and emotional fortitude, summoned the strength to drag himself from the murky depths of travail to tremulously speak of his suffering?! Sheesh.
Now, I’m off to try to eat lunch with half of my mouth. Despite the ordeal described in (excruciating) detail above, my tooth still hurts.
In the unlikely event that it isn’t obvious, the above is meant to be a humorous, (frozen) tongue in (frozen) cheek reflection. I intend no ill-will to any dentists or dental hygeinists who might happen upon these words. I know a number of both and they are very fine humans indeed. I would even go so far as to say that I’m reasonably certain that they’re not trying to kill me.