Wednesday, August 13, 2014
From the dentist's chair to a pink sand beach
"How are you today?" asks the dental assistant.
"Fine," I respond. "Except that I'm on my way to a dentist's chair. Anyone who tells you only that they're fine on the way to an appointment with a drill is giving you less than a full response."
I am going to see a new dentist, for the first stage of replacing a crown. I've been alerted that this will be a marathon session, at least 90 minutes. I adjust my body to the seat, taking in the decor of the room. Models in my line of sight demonstrate the progression of periodontal disease. The walls are empty, stark white, except for medicine cabinets. Nothing to inspire cheerful thoughts or stir the imagination, except maybe through sensory deprivation.
The new dentist arrives. He announces, "First, I'm going to numb you up."
"No you're not," I correct him. "I don't need anesthetics of any kind for this." I explain that over decades I have undergone multiple root canals, crown replacements and even oral surgery to extract the shards of a shattered tooth without numbing.
"How do you do that?"
"I let my mind carry me to another place."
He's willing to trust me. He just says that if things get too much I should raise my left hand.
The drilling begins, and goes on and on.
I'm only distantly aware of it, because I am on a pink sand beach, enjoying the hard spray coming off the breakers. I run back and forth into the sea. Then I slip along the coast to bathe at leisure in the warm waters of a protected cove, worthy of a boyhood story of pirates, or a romantic tryst with a mermaid.
I am distracted from this pleasant idyll only when dust from the drilling, or water from the jets being squirted intermittently into my mouth, threaten to go down my throat.
Ninety minutes was a good estimate. It takes all of that for the whole procedure.
The dentist asks me to say more about how I can get through this stuff without being numbed.
"While you were working on my teeth," I tell him, "I was on a pink sand beach in Bermuda."
He says, "When I was in dental school they told us that we can teach patients to put their mind somewhere else, by telling them to feel sand between the toes, stuff like that. I guess I'll have to remember that when you come in, I'll need to make that pink sand."
"It's okay. I'm already there." I add, "I'd just like you to put some good pictures on the walls - of beaches, or lakes in the woods - so people who need outside stimuli can start taking themselves into those scenes, instead of the progress of gum disease."