I was still getting over the realization that what I thought was a root canal was actually two cavity fillings when the dentist asked me if I had experience with rubber dams. I resisted the urge to snap that it was too personal a question and instead went with the truthful “What’s that?” See, the rubber dam doesn’t look as dangerous and menacing as it is–it looks a little harmless, even. Just a little green piece of rubber. But it’s really a piece of Satan himself, cut into a cute little square and stuck in your mouth. I was still chomping on the bite plate, so he just gently placed this miniature demon across my mouth, wrapped a little piece of it around my tooth, and tightened it. So the tooth was sealed off from moisture, and my mouth was sealed off from breathing. Nothing anxiety-inducing about that at all. I grabbed the nitrous mask, just to ensure myself that it was still there, and I still had access to oxygen, drunken oxygen or not. I calmed down a little and waited for him to start.
The doc cranked the music back up and got to work. He drilled, I tensed. He stopped drilling, I tried to pay attention to the music. Rick Astley came on, I tried to pay attention to the drill. He drilled again, I filled myself with visions of chocolate and Jackson Rathbone (separately). After several long minutes of his drilling and my self-distracting, he stopped drilling. I concentrated on filling my brain with sweet, sweet nitrous.
Then he got out these long, pin-thin spikes that looked a little like stick pins with big plastic anchors on the ends. Mother of Thor, what was he planning to do with those. My eyes got big, and he asked if I was okay. “Ot ih at?!” “These are little files that go down in the tooth and clean out the pulp.” “Oh-ay.” What else was I gonna say? Unless I wanted to drunken-swagger to my desk downstairs with an open tooth, I was kind of at the guy’s mercy. Rascal Flatts came on, and I grabbed hold of their little ditty and clung to it as my lifeline. Then they ended, and I got Rick Astley again. I listened to him, trying with all my might to forget that the jerks and pulls around my general lower jaw area were the doctor pushing metal sticks inside my tooth.
He kept filing inside the tooth. And kept on. And on. After a good half hour (at least), he told me it normally didn’t take so long, but I had a pulp stone that just didn’t want to give. I looked that up later, and ew. He worked on the pulp stone forever and ever. And ever. I nearly cried in relief when he told me he was through the stone. Thank God. And then he kept digging, because you know, there was still pulp below where the stone had been. At one point, he called for the special stick-files, gold-plated or something. And long. He told me he’d never had to get those files out, that he’d never done a root canal with such a deep root.
And then… I felt him digging. Not just that general tug-tug-tug on my jaw and tooth that is the norm, thanks to the glory of lidocaine. No, I felt actual pain in my tooth.
My eyes must have become saucers, because the doc asked if I was okay. “I elt at,” I said calmly. Or at least I thought it was calmly–what do I know? I was drunk on nitrous. “Oh, okay,” he responded, as calmly. But I saw it in his eyes. The significant “oh crap” look he gave his assistant. She handed him the injector-contraption, you know the one–it looks like it might have come from Mars or some other non-Earth planet. So he numbed me again and waited a few minutes and then resumed the dig. Thankfully, I felt nothing from that point forward.
Until… Well, if you’ve ever held your mouth open for two hours, you know that eventually it starts to really hurt. Not so much the jaw, but every muscle in your head, neck, and shoulder just clenches and tenses, and you get tired. Really tired. And everything starts to hurt, and suddenly you have a massive tension headache and are praying for Bridget, your wonderful massage therapist, to come fix you. And when she doesn’t come, you kind of start to panic.
Which is exactly what I did. I panicked the panic of a woman who knows she’ll never get to close her mouth again, and she’ll always be in horrific pain. And when my panic mechanism kicked in, so did my detachment mechanism. I removed my brain from the rest of me and just drifted. Hazy.
I probably looked stoned, and the doc noticed. “Are you okay?” he asked in a tone that was surprisingly not patronizing–something I’d only rarely experienced with doctors. I nodded. He waited. “Are you sure?” I waited. Then I slowly shook my head. He stopped working. I thanked God for his compassion.
He sat there for a minute, just looking at me, and I could tell his eyes were on my face, but I couldn’t meet them. The waterworks started, and I just dripped silently for a few moments. And then, since I’m a girl, I started sobbing, and I didn’t stop for a few minutes.
And then the dentist did pretty much the worst thing he could have done in my panicpalooza: he took away my nitrous. He said it so nicely, too. “I’m going to pump in some oxygen, clear your head of the nitrous for a few minutes.” I nodded, detached. “O-ay.” Still sobbing.
He waited a few minutes before he started back up again. And then everything got worse, because I was sobbing and lying completely horizontal, and now I had mucus gathering in the back of my throat, on account of the sobbing. So I couldn’t close my mouth, it was a great effort to swallow, and I had mucus sitting on the back of my throat. Which made the panic increase exponentially because I felt like I was suffocating, choking on my own snot.
And he never gave back the nitrous. Pretty much the worst thing he could have done for me at that point.
When he was all done (finally!) he asked if I thought that maybe I just got overwhelmed from the nitrous. I vehemently disagreed with his presupposition and told him (around the bite plate that was still in my mouth) that I had a horrific tension headache from keeping my mouth open for two hours. I resisted the urge to punch him for effect.
So after two hours, the root canal, which was supposed to last a half hour, was finally over. The doc told me that it was the most difficult one-tooth canal he’s ever done. Well, I should hope so.
I’ll tell y’all–by the end of the appointment, I had decided to never, ever complain about the speculum-and-steel-mascara-brush treatment I get at the gynecologist’s office, because compared to a root canal, a pap is cake. And I’ve decided that my official stance on all those friends who told me root canals were no big deal is that they are dead to me.