Monday, August 25, 2008

Uncomfortably Numb.

(I mean really, I can't believe it's taken this long for the headline above to make its appearance on this blog.)

I sat in a dentist's chair recently, there to get a filling replaced. It was a filling I hadn't even realized I had. "You have a filling on your wisdom tooth that's leaking," the dentist said. Filling? Wisdom tooth? Leaking? "I didn't think I had any fillings," I said with a frown.

She gave me a smirk, as if I were telling a lame joke, and handed me a mirror. "See that tooth back there? That's a filling, and it's discolored because things are seeping underneath it. It's not urgent, but you should have it replaced."

I hadn't been playing dumb. I really did not remember getting a filling. Ever. Surely a drill in my mouth and the affixing of a foreign object would ring a bell? Not so much. Anyway, I made the appointment.

Every time I go to a new dentist, which seems to be often, thanks to my ever-changing jobs and address, I miss Dr. Schneider. I have been going to Schneider Family Dentistry in Gaithersburg, MERland since I was five years old. With country music on the loudspeakers and twangs in the accents of the staff, it's the kind of place that makes you remember that Maryland is south of the Mason-Dixon Line -- but in a nice way.

Dr. Bill made going to the dentist seem like no big deal. "Hay Miss ChrisTEENa, how you doin'?" he'd say, swooping into the room and plopping down next to me. "How's your summer goin'?" He always gave my teeth a rave review, too. "Beeyootiful," he'd say, and send me on my way. If I managed to avoid the one hygienist we called The Crusher, it was usually a totally unobjectionable experience.

Now Dr. Bill's son runs the practice. I recently called the office to see if he could work on my teeth the next time I'm in town. Dr. Adam called me back himself. "How's San Francisco?" he said, sounding even twangier than his dad ever did. "You know, I just read my daughter May-belle the Cay-ble Car." It's a simple thing, but it's profoundly comforting: that dentistry knows me, and I know them. It changes without really changing.

Anyway, point being, I've got no problem with dentists and have been fortunate to encounter very good ones. Dr. Terry is no exception, and she plays R&B in her office, so she improves upon Dr. Schneider in at least one way. I didn't have any particular worries heading into my filling replacement.

"You'll feel a pinch," she said as she injected the Novocaine. A penetrating burn bloomed in my mouth as the anaesthetic entered my gums. "It'll be about 10 minutes for that to take effect," she said, and I nodded.

I haven't had Novocaine administered much in my life, and I remember getting a little nauseous when I had it about five years ago. Now, sitting in Dr. Terry's office, my hands began to shake. "Would you like to read a magazine?" the assistant said, and I nodded, taking a People magazine. I tried to concentrate as Elizabeth Edwards' face loomed before me, along with the headline "HER UNTOLD STORY." My heart raced, and the tremors continued. "OK, Christina," I said to myself. "You're OK." My breath was shallow, stomach queasy.

I paged through the magazine, trying to distract myself, but my body was unassuaged. Was I having a panic attack? It sure felt that way, but believe it or not, this stress case doesn't get panic attacks. Still, the feeling of unease was such that I imagined having a heart attack in the chair, winding up in the hospital as my coworkers wondered what was taking me so long at the dentist.

After awhile, I surrendered the magazine and the dentist began her work, humming along to Sade while I lay there feeling like I was living out a scene from Requiem for a Dream. When it was over, I sat there feeling fragile and wanting to cry. "I don't know why, but I feel really shaky from the Novocaine," I said as the dentist put things away.

"Oh, that's because the Novocaine we use has epinephrine in it," she said, as if this were a perfectly unremarkable fact.

Epinephrine? Well, of course, because what you want when you are undergoing treatment in the dentist's chair is a heightened sense of the fight-or-flight response that only adrenaline can deliver. Like, am I the only one who feels like 20/20 should be doing investigative reports about this?

I virtually flipped out on the drive home, feeling like a prizefighter with a fat lip and a hormone imbalance, willing the stuff out of my system and musing about what a bad scene it would have been if I had ever gotten the gumption to do any real drugs in college. This was my brain on Novocaine -- what would it be like if did acid, or mushrooms? For sure I would have been the kid who ran through a window or jumped off a building in the name of some harmless recreational fun.

Has anyone else had this experience with the Dentist's Drug? O friends. I was a long way from Highlights.


  1. I did recently have a bad novocaine trip. I couldn't quite figure out what was wrong with me, I just felt intensely crappy and sorta depressed.

  2. Exactly, Hans! Exactly.


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