Friday, January 18, 2008

Thoughts from the Dentist's Chair

This morning I had some gum graft surgery done. In order to stop recession of the gum around a tooth, the dentist removed a chunk of flesh from the roof of my mouth and implanted it onto the gum around the tooth in question (after removing the top surface of that gum, so that the graft can grow in the new spot).

I've been quite lucky in regard to dental health--in 40 years, I've only ever had one cavity, and I still have my wisdom teeth (though the dentists always ask if I want them out). So I'm not really an old pro at all this dentist work (though I do have a very funny radio play, Spitting Image, about dental work)--I never really know what to expect.

The procedure took a while--probably about an hour of open mouth time, which gave me a lots of time for my mind to wander. Here's what went through my head:

--Should I stay tense, anticipating the anaesthetic not working properly (thank you Alfred Einhorn, inventor of Novocain), or should I relax? Relaxing might make the whole experience more pleasant, but tension feels safer. I once had an operation on an ingrown toenail, when I was in college, and they didn't use enough Novocain. Trust me, when they've cut off a section of your toenail to the root and are scraping the bone down there, you don't want to feel it. The doctor suggested that perhaps I have a low pain threshold. I hope he's cleaning latrines in a third-world country today. Anyway, this makes me nervous when it comes to local anesthetics. It worked out pretty well this time, though they did have to give me an extra shot in the roof of my mouth (not good to start feeling them poking around up there).

--Why don't they have something to look at on the ceilings of dentists offices? (They actually do in some pediatric dentist's offices.) A digital project pointed at the ceiling could allow me to browse the internet, or at least read an e-book or magazine and give me a good focal point. Surely this is an idea whose time has come. I know there's money to be made here. Talk about a captive audience for advertisers...

--I tried to do a little writing work, puzzling over the start of my novel. I'm having a hard time deciding between two choices for the opening scene. Apparently, it's not always a great idea to work this hard in the chair, because my dentist saw my face and was worried that I was in pain. I was in no position to explain that I was busy trying to puzzle out a major restructuring to my new book.

--Try not to be a wimp, I told myself. Think about some guy in Iraq with his arm hanging in shreds, or my friend who just had a kidney transplant. What about torture victims (the ones whose tapes were lost by the CIA)? Think about all the wounded vets coming back from Iraq, who have to try survive with constant pain from amputations or traumatic brain injuries. Unfortunately, this line of thought turns out to be completely useless for distracting yourself from needles injecting anesthetic into the roof of your mouth or from a pair of hands stitching sutures around your teeth.

--Trying to figure out whether I'll be able to play soccer on Sunday (I'm our goalie), or take my son to our first parent-child rock climbing class tomorrow. Do I go for the ibuprofen and tylenol (as the doctor suggested) or do I go right for the vicodin (as several friends have suggested... they've not exactly been cheerily encouraging about the recovery from this thing)?

--How long does this take? Maybe they could put a timer or clock on the ceiling, too, because, man, it took a lot longer than I expected.

The good news is it's all over now. The ten stitches don't hurt much yet (I did take some pain meds) and I've got a quart of super premium ice cream in the freezer (JP Licks). But I still haven't quite decided on the new start for the novel. Maybe I'll need to get them to do the other side.

No comments: