Oh, sure. I’m just like the rest of you. I used to sling the metaphors and similes around like an old coat. So-and-so was like a root canal, I said breezily, too many times. Worse than a root canal! Ha, ha. Wouldn’t I rather have a root canal than listen to that godawful speech? Yes, I would.
I was cheap. I was callous. I had no idea.
Oh, but life gets back at you, doesn’t it, for your inane and ill-informed little comments over the years? Yes, it does.
So there I was yesterday, my day of reckoning, stretched back in the chair, lights blazing, drill whining. “Can you open your mouth wider?” my dentist wanted to know. No, I could not. I was already stretched into a clown-sized grin that made my jaws ache. “Aaaggghhh,” I said.
He and the hygienist hunkered down, scraping and spraying and drilling. What on earth were they doing? When the dentist said this whole thing was going to take two hours, I thought it was a joke, a worst-case scenario. I looked at my watch, which had evidently stopped. I was beginning to understand something: a root canal is always a worst-case scenario.
To pass the time, my dentist began to explain what he was doing. (He’s very cheerful. He seems to love being a dentist. On the whole, I’d rather see a cheerful dentist than one of those passive-aggressive creeps I’ve known in the past. I have a long history with dentists, dating back to my first dental appointment in the 1950s, when the attendant told me how she’s gotten her mouth numbed and had bitten a hole in her tongue.)
But, anyway, the dentist explained. “We’ve located your canals,” he said. “And now we’re going to clean them out and reshape them a little. Then we’ll fill them.”
Canals? Cleaning, reshaping, drilling? I decide that, on second thought, I would prefer not knowing the exact details of what is being done to my mouth.
“It shouldn’t take long,” he added, while I looked at my moribund watch once agan. It appeared to be moving a little, but slowly, grudgingly.
After two hours — two hours to the second! who says people aren’t punctual these days? — I am released. I pay. I stagger to my car. I go home.
There, my daughter sympathizes with me. I lie on the couch, a dental invalid, shapeless and moaning. My husband comes home. He brings me ice cream and pats my head. He’s a dental phobic. He says he doesn’t want to hear the gory details of my ordeal. Since my mouth is still numb, I couldn’t tell him, anyway.
A root canal. I’ll never toss that term around lightly, I can promise you that. Life catches up with you and hammers at you and tortures you and teaches you a lesson. This is why, come to think of it, I prefer metaphors to real-life experiences.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)