Last month, I had some dental work done in the left half of my mouth. Going to the dentist is never a picnic in the park, in fact, it usually makes me think I am going to die. I managed to avoid thinking about it until I was actually sitting in the chair. Then, I suddenly remembered why I used to drink, but by then it was too late. All I could do was lie back and think of England.
My dentist, Dr. Nelson, is such a nice, sweet woman. She makes me wear safety goggles. So, I’m in the chair, goggles on, and sweet Dr. Nelson starts by shooting Novocain into my gums. Novocain makes me nervous: I am a nurse, and I know about local anesthetic toxicity, and I am sure it’s going to happen to me. I feel the little pinch….I wait for it…THERE! My heart is racing! I know the next step will be a weird metallic taste; my ears will ring; I will flush all over, and then the end will come. But none of that happens. My heart rate slows to normal. Apparently it was just nerves: a bullet narrowly dodged.
Dr. Nelson and the hygienist Emily have me open my mouth wide—wider. Wider, please. Wider than anyone but a boa constrictor was ever meant to open her mouth. Saliva pools around my tongue, and this panics me, because I might accidentally drool on them. As if this might be the first time a patient has ever done such an ill-mannered thing. They jack my mouth open with an enormous metal speculum, and tell me they are going to place a “rubber dam” in my mouth. “Rubber dam” sounds daunting, but it is only a green sheet of Latex that smells like Lucky Charms cereal. This is supposed to prevent mercury from “leaching into my system,” when they remove my old fillings. This thought makes my heart race again. If Novocain toxicity does not kill me, then heavy metal poisoning will definitely finish me off. All this heart racing and hypoxia is making me feel a tiny bit high. Thank goodness.
The drilling and gouging and banging begin. I smell burning rubber and remember George Gershwin. In 12th grade, I did a term paper on Gershwin. He died of a brain tumor, and his first symptom was that he smelled burning rubber. This is how I’m going to die then: a brain tumor. When I’m gone, everyone will say, “She was at the dentist, having a tooth filled, when they discovered it.”
Meanwhile, unaware of all the ways in which I have already nearly died today, the girls work merrily on, apparently building a small summer cottage in the back of my mouth. From time to time, when the saliva pool is about to overflow, I make a frantic, hand-flapping motion, and Emily suctions me. Sweet Dr. Nelson delivers a continual flow of kind, empathetic noises as she yanks and pounds away.
Finally, it’s over. The whole left side of my face is frozen: it’s not just that I can’t move it; it actually feels cold. Emily tells me I can swish and spit in the little corner sink. I try to do it gracefully, but I end up with a big wet spot on the front of my shirt anyway.
Being numb is an odd phenomenon. At first, it’s kind of fun. Or at least a novelty. As a writer, I tend to analyze novelty from all angles, so my frozen face keeps me entertained until I get home. But then, I am suddenly exhausted, so I go take a nap. When I wake up, my face is still frozen in every sense of the word, and it’s not fun anymore. I just want to be able to feel again. I eat something, and bite my cheek. The only way I know this is because my teeth suddenly stop mid-chew in a way that shouldn’t happen. I get a little teary-eyed. I feel trapped inside this body that won’t do what I want it to: smile; whistle; chew without eating myself. I want it to be tomorrow so this bad feeling will be gone. I go to bed at 7:30, and wait the night out.
Many of us spend a lot of our lives this way: wanting it to be tomorrow, hoping we’ll feel better than we do today. Life can be so overwhelming and painful: We are never going to feel smart enough or pretty enough or unique or important or just…enough enough. So we numb. Drugs, alcohol, eating, the internet, busyness, spending… We all do what we must in order to bear the unbearable.
But pain inevitably intrudes. For me, with my teeth, tomorrow brought a lot of hurt: in fact, my mouth was sore for the rest of the week. But pain, I have found—both after the dentist, and in all of life—is preferable to a constant state of numbness. It just takes a different set of tools in order to cope: Advil. Rest. Courage. A little bit of grace and forgiveness. Faith that there really is goodness in the world; that it is, all the time, prevailing somewhere.
ABOUT MY BOOKS
In my 3-book Darling Family series, each character must face her own set of painful circumstances, learn to stop numbing and avoiding, and discover a healthy way to cope when life hurts. In Book 1, ALL RIGHT HERE, Ivy Darling grapples with infertility and a struggling marriage. When she and her husband inadvertently become foster parents to the only 3 African-American children in their all-white town, Ivy must decide whether her marriage matters enough to fight for it. BETTER ALL THE TIME, the second book of the series, tells the story of Sephy, a nurse who struggles with her weight, and has never learned to say “no” to anyone. With her best friend’s wedding looming, Sephy must face her demons and learn to take care of herself, even when it means disappointing others. Book 3, THEY DANCED ON, tells the story of Jane Darling, who is losing her husband to terminal illness. A decades-old mystery demands to be solved, and the only person who can help her is a sister she betrayed forty years ago. Meanwhile, Laura Darling is sliding deeper into prescription drug and alcohol addiction. What will it take for her to admit her problem and get help?
Comment below and tell me about your experience with the dentist for a chance to win the book of your choice from The Darling Family series!
Then, visit me at my blog: www.carregardner.com, or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CarreArmstrongGardnerAuthor/
About Carre Armstrong Gardner
Carre Armstrong Gardner is a former worker with children at risk in Russia. Now she lives with her husband and three teenagers in Portland, Maine, where she writes books and works as a nurse. They Danced On is the third book in the Darling Family series.