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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

root canal, anyone?

I've always thought of myself as one of the few blessed people who have no dental issues. I visit the dentist twice a year to get my teeth cleaned and cross one line on my to do list. But this last weekend the evil dental karma kicked in and for the first time in my life I experienced a real tooth ache. After a few hours of shock and denial, I put myself on pain killers and tried to figure out what to do next.

I ate mashed potatoes from powder and ripe bananas when I felt dizzy with hunger, because I couldn't chew anything without feeling like half of my head was going to fall off my face. I washed my mouth with salt water. I flossed. I slept. I tried not to overdose on painkiller. In short, I was terrified. Words like "root canal," "infection," "emergency," and the worst of all "dentist" floated in my skull, which became very noticeable after years of carrying it around without ever realizing it was there.

On Monday I made an appointment to see my dentist.

And then, as I was getting into my car, my brain did a really interesting thing. It stopped sending me pain messages. I beat on my achy tooth, I pressed on my cheek, I felt the tooth with my tongue. No pain. None whatsoever. Uh-ha, I thought to myself, I am not buying this. This must be a strange brain trick and whatever weird thing is going on in my head, it must be explainable. But I am not canceling my appointment, no matter what weird acrobatics my crazy brain is doing.

So I went, even though there was no pain anywhere. I was just hoping the dreaded root canal would not happen. Because root canals happen to other people. Like death. And cancer. And tsunamis. And tornadoes. I have a simple life that does not entail root canals. Fillings yes, whitening, maybe; but root canal is a disaster of mega proportion that simple people like me just can't face.

The dentist came with his assistant and after numbing my mouth with something, he gave me two shots to anesthetize the area. I hyperventilated so bad while he stuck the needle in my mouth, that I thought I was going to faint. Just don't say the words "root canal," because I will pass out. That was all I could think.

He said he was going to let the anesthetic kick in and come back in a while. That was good news. I really needed a break. After he left, I decided to get my mind off the dreaded root canal with a book I brought with me. The classical music that was playing outside was not doing much for my nerves.

So I opened the book and started reading where I left off. It took me a couple of minutes to notice what I was reading. It was a description of an execution. And not just any execution. It was an assembly line execution by hanging of Nazi war criminals. Can somebody please explain this to me? All I was trying to do was get my mind off the root canal and calm down. It didn't need to go that far. Nazis and executions and nooses and trapdoors. And they were executing women there, too. I am not making this up. You can check the book, The return of the dancing master, page 6.

I put down the book and leaned back, trying to quiet my mind. The dentist came back and started drilling. Now everyone knows the horror of the drilling sound, right? He was digging and drilling, and his hands were in my mouth, and his assistant, who was also a guy (meaning big hands), had one of his hands in my mouth with the air blower thingy and the saliva sucking thingy and the holocaust that was going on in my mouth was beyond horrific.

And all I could do was think: "Thank god for anesthesia, thank god for anesthesia, thank god for anesthesia, thank god for anesthesia, ..."

And then I realized that I was thanking god, and I don't believe in god. If there was a god, there wouldn't have been tooth ache in the world and everybody's teeth would have been perfect. So I decided to thank mankind instead, and started chanting in my head: "Thanks mankind for anesthesia, thanks mankind for anesthesia, thanks mankind for anesthesia, thanks mankind for anesthesia..."

And then again a thought came to my mind. I should think humankind because what if a woman invented anesthesia? That would be unfair. So I diverted to "thanks humankind, thanks humankind for anesthesia..." but that was too long and so outlandishly politically correct that I got annoyed at myself, so I said screw this and went back to god: "thank god for anesthesia, thank god for anesthesia.."

By the end of my internal negotiation with my utterly insane brain, the dentist announced that it was all over and that I would get a phone call when my crown was ready.

"Did I have a root canal?" I asked.

"Nope," he said.



"Everything is still there?"

"Yup," he said. "I'll see you in a couple of weeks."

Halleluiah. Thank god for dentists.


  1. I'm not sure if this is appropriate, nor would this be the appropriate place, but I believe you taught me Hebrew in 2004.

    I went by Yoram, but I am more likely to answer to Spencer these days. I am not entirely sure you remember me or not, but I was fond of you as a teacher.

  2. of course I remember you. I gave you your name! And I was fond of you as well. Especially your very mischievous smile.