Facing the inevitable can be difficult. Especially when the inevitable is a wisdom tooth that finally—after 50 years—requires extraction.
I've been fortunate about my teeth in general. I am one of those obnoxious people who did not have a cavity—until now. Although I could have benefited from braces, my teeth came in straight enough to not require them. Suffice to say, I also haven't had a lot of experience with oral surgery, so the prognosis of the wisdom tooth's ultimate departure left me feeling quite anxious. Of course there's an answer to anxiety in the medical world—and it's not meditation. It's called anesthesia.
While setting up the appointment I discovered my options, or lack thereof. Insurance doesn't cover general anethesia for a simple, single wisdom tooth extraction. Either I needed to have more teeth taken out, or I could pay an additional $500 out of pocket to be rendered unconscious for the procedure. My referring dentist didn't think general anesthesia would be necessary. So I made the appointment and opted for nitrous (happy gas!) but no general.
The night before my appointment, I was scared. I knew it was senseless to worry about the procedure before hand, but like my 11-year old son Jack, I suffer from fear of the unknown.
Earlier this month, Jack had to have four baby teeth extracted in preparation for his braces. When his orthodontist told him that the teeth had to go, the poor kid turned a lighter shade of Casper.
"But I don't want to have these teeth pulled!" he cried.
"I'm sorry son, you don't have a choice in this," I said.
"Is it gonna hurt?" he asked.
"Honestly? Yes, it will," I said. "But just for a few seconds and then it will be over."
These were not exactly the words he wanted to hear, but I decided to go with the truth. And sometimes we have to do things that are unpleasant. We do difficult tasks because they are the right thing to do and in our best interest. That's an important lesson to learn. It's part of growing up. Still, I didn't like the thought of my son suffering.
"Jack, thinking about it is the worst part," I said. "Remember when you first got braces? You were really scared about that, but it turned out to be not so bad, right?"
"Yeah," Jack said grudgingly. "That was no big deal."
"And remember how scared you were about getting your immunizations for school this year?"
"Yeah," Jack said, a little less grudgingly this time. "It wasn't bad. And I got four stickers!"
"This will be the same way," I said. "You'll see. Just try not to obsess over it, okay?"
I let this sink in and Jack returned to playing Hay Day on his Kindle.
"Hmmm. Wonder what the tooth fairy pays for four teeth at once?" I said. "This might bankrupt her."
Jack hadn't thought of this. The idea of a windfall brightened his mood.
"Really?" he said. "How much do ya think she'll pay?"
Now it was my turn. I tried tame my monkey mind, but as the hours ticked down towards my appointment, I could feel my anxiety levels rising. I was grateful Jason was off work and could drive me to the doctor's office. Even if I wasn't having general anesthesia, which would require a ride home afterwards, having him with me was a comfort. Plus, he made me laugh.
After what seemed like hours, I was finally called back to the procedure room. The doctor reviewed my x-rays and confirmed that the extraction was a simple one.
"A lot of people choose to have general because they don't want to remember what happened," he said. "With nitrous and local, you won't feel anything but you'll remember it."
With that he left the room and the nurse proceeded to prep me by starting the flow of nitrous oxide. In moments a warm feeling crept into my chest. I breathed in deeply and breathed out, trying to employ some of my meditative methods. Frankly, I was stoned without much effort.
Then something rather unexpected happened. The nurse, who I just met, launched into a story about her boyfriend. She told me about her trust issues and how every other guy she dated had cheated on her. She hoped this guy was different. But what if he wasn't? They'd been friends for years. She really wanted things to work out between them, but she couldn't stop obsessing over whether or not he was being honest with her. She went on and on as I sat helpless and stoned in the dentist's chair.
When the doctor came back to administer the local anestetic, the nurse stopped her chatter. After he left the room, she picked up the story where she left off.
While the numbing agents kicked in, she continued her story. I offered my opinion a few times but my tongue was so thick and heavy that my words came out garbled and funny. I closed my eyes and listened to the nurse prattle on.
Under a different circumstance, this outpouring of TMI would have been annoying but today I welcomed her drama. Focusing on her misguided romances helped keep my mind off the needles and surgical instruments. And even in my nitrous-induced euphoria I was reminded how often I'm inclined to focus on someone else's problems to ignore my own. But today was an example of how taking the focus off my own thoughts was the perfect way to get through a difficult situation.
When the doctor returned to extract the tooth, the nurse stopped her chatter again. He asked me to open my mouth and I felt him applying pressure to the ailing tooth. He pulled and I felt a slight release and it was over.
The doctor left the room again and the chatty nurse took me for a second x-ray to make sure they got the entire tooth.
"Thank you," I said, through my gauze-stuffed, numb mouth. "You really helped me get through this. I hope everything works out with your guy."
"Thanks for your perspective," she said. "It's good to get outside your own head, you know?"
"Yes," I said. "You're right, sometimes it helps a lot."