I went to the dentist’s office this morning.
To help foster a personal touch, there’s a notation on my chart that I’m an economist, so she usually begins our sessions by asking me where I think interest rates are headed.
This time, however, my body language was such that she skipped the formalities and we jumped right in.
DENTIST: So how are you doing today, Mr. Carrick?
ALEX: When I was here last week, you said I needed a root canal on a tooth on my lower right. Since then, I’ve had a cap break off on a tooth on the lower left, leaving a sharp spike that’s ripping my tongue.
Frankly, I’m feeling miserable.
I’d managed, somehow, not to swallow the gold cap and I’d kept it in a plastic baggie to show her. I pulled it out of my pocket.
DENTIST: Oh wow! That’s not good. It’s old, you know. We don’t do gold caps anymore.
ALEX (acutely aware of my age): I’m not surprised. I’m old. Can you re-use it?
DENTIST: No, but a jeweler could melt it down for you. It might be valuable. Here, you can have it back.
ALEX: No, you keep it. It’s your payment. Just be sure to give me the change when we’re done.
She and her dental assistant laugh. I don’t know why. I’m being serious.
If the gold remnant really is worth something, I have more of them.
Stop! What am I, crazy? Don’t go there.
Still, where did I put the pliers?
DENTIST: I’ll take care of your broken tooth first. There’s only a stub left. I’ll cover the jagged edges with enamel and you can decide later if you want an implant.
ALEX: What does that involve?
DENTIST: Here, have a look at this model. (She hauls out a scary-looking jumble of plastic.) I’ll begin by placing a screw in your jawbone…
ALEX (interrupting): Thank you. I get the idea. You can skip the rest.
DENTIST: The procedure will cost between $3,000 and $4,000.
Currency signs start twerking in my brain.
After a couple of cups of water and much target practice with the spit bowl, I finally calm down somewhat.
Wearing a designer bib, I try to settle comfortably into the nearly horizontal chair.
My dentist, sensing the “inplant” portion of our conversation has run aground, unholsters a drill, asks me to open wide and starts grinding away.
Since the nerves in my left-side tooth have already been “exorcized” by a long-ago dentist in another city, the process seems relatively non-violent.
DENTIST: How does that feel? Is it smooth enough?
Some exploratory tongue action reveals that my first problem does, indeed, seem to be under control.
DENTIST: Now for the bigger job. But first, I need you to sign this release form.
ALEX: For a root canal?
DENTIST: Yes. I ask all my patients to sign one.
I don’t like the sound of that.
ALEX: Do I need a lawyer?
DENTIST: I don’t know. Have you been breaking the law lately?
While I’m in such discomfort, she’s making a joke? I guess that now isn’t the time to mention my illegal downloads of “Game of Thrones”.
I have my attorney, Horace, on speed dial. But if I phone him, he’ll want money from my wallet for a consult.
Better to stick with the “extraction specialist” who’s within biting distance. I sign my name with a flourish.
DENTIST: Settle back now. I’m going to give you some freezing.
ALEX (leaning back in the chair once again): Just so you’re aware, I’m not good with needles.
DENTIST: Oh, you’re allergic to them?
ALEX: No, they make me faint.
DENTIST: That’s what I meant. I was being nice. Relax, this won’t be so bad.
She pulls out an instrument of torture and sticks me good.
DENTIST: So how was that?
She and her assistant laugh again. They’re in a jolly mood.
Truthfully, it wasn’t a picnic but I had survived without feeling too woozy.
DENTIST: Okay, let me give you another. Now that you’ve had one shot, you won’t feel the next one.
She sticks me again and my imagination runs wild.
DENTIST: How was it that time?
A theme is emerging.
DENTIST: Let’s get to work.
There’s no “us” about it. She’s totally in charge and I’m the one being “worked” on for a confession, but I let it slide.
She starts drilling and about ten minutes pass.
DENTIST: How are you doing now?
ALEX: I’m still feeling some pain.
DENTIST: A lot?
ALEX: Yes, quite a bit.
DENTIST: I’ll give you some more freezing.
Her assistant hands her the needle again and once more she jabs my gum. I’m an old hand at this by now and it hardly fazes me.
She goes back to drilling and another ten minutes go by, almost in bliss.
DENTIST: Are you alright now? Has the pain gone away?
ALEX: No. I’m still feeling something.
DENTIST: That’s unusual. I’ll give you a tiny bit more freezing, but not too much. You’ve had a double dose already.
We go through a familiar process and she resumes drilling and picking away. When she asks the question again, I’m ready for it.
DENTIST: How’s the pain now?
ALEX: I don’t know what you’re doing wrong, Doctor, but my testicle still hurts.
I imagine I need to clarify that last response. And yes, I know I have two of them.
About a year ago, I mysteriously injured my left testicle. I think it may have had something to do with lifting boulders during a do-it-yourself landscaping project.
Ever since, as you can probably appreciate, the pain from my mid-extremities has been a major pre-occupation of mine.
I take it back. I didn’t actually say my testicle hurts – that would have been gauche – but I was thinking it.
Instead, I respond:
ALEX: Fine. Do what you have to do.
DENTIST: You’re so brave.
Do I detect a note of sarcasm?
She and “Igora” – as I’m coming to think of her sidekick – get back to business. Another ten minutes sneak past at a crawl.
DENTIST: There, I’m finished.
ALEX: That’s terrific. Now what?
DENTIST: Now I do the second canal. There are three of them altogether.
ALEX: Oh good. I wouldn’t want this to be over quickly.
No reaction. Apparently I’ve already squeezed dry all the funny fruit that grows on my amusement farm.
Time marches firmly onwards. It only seems like the minutes and seconds are in retreat.
Eventually, we come to the moment when everyone wishes to raise a white flag.
DENTIST: Okay, that’s it for today. I’ll need to see you again for another appointment in a week. Be prepared. Next time, it’ll be longer.
ALEX: Excellent! I wouldn’t want to become complacent.
DENTIST: You can eat in half an hour but the freezing will last three hours.
ALEX: I’ll manage. I’m no stranger to drooling.
With a couple of nods and the hand-off of a free toothbrush from Igora, I’m on my way.
My dentist is a lovely lady who doesn’t deserve being saddled with me.
I can only imagine how delighted she must be to see me and my plastic baggie head for the exit door.
“Don’t you get too relaxed”, I’m thinking. “Next time, as per usual, I’ll let you ask me about the economy.
Then I’ll launch into a twenty-minute spiel that will have YOU begging for a double dose of novacaine.
Or if you want an opinion about interest rates, because you have a mortgage that’s coming up for renewal, I’ll whip out MY release form and demand YOUR signature.”
Then I’m ashamed of myself.
How can I be so cruel?
Instead, I’ll ask for another one of her special tutorials on flossing.
That always makes her happy.
I’m really quite a congenial fellow, nevertheless there’s more fodder to feed on in My Wife and I Argue over our New i-Phone.