Thoughts While Hanging Upside Down, Kind of Like a Bat

You know, it had already been a rough week.

“I worry about humanity and human nature! I worry about the future!” I’d dramatically announced to my husband Sunday after reading something that had deeply offended me. (What? I no longer recall. But likely perpetrators include Republicans, investment bankers, and other salient examples of what the judge in “What’s Up Doc?” called “a mass of human debris.”)

Two mornings after this proclamation, I found myself stuck in a monstrous traffic jam on my way to physical therapy for my shoulder. I was already a bit morose, since it has occurred to me I will never, ever graduate from physical therapy.

Forty-five minutes later, still sitting on the same damned frontage road, inching along, talking to myself, talking to the other drivers, even if they couldn’t hear me, I realized I would murder, maim, dismember and/or torture anybody who stopped me from making the next green light. I would also worry about humanity and human nature and the future of humankind later, after I’d extracted myself from this automotive mess.

But that was the good part of the week. Wednesday morning, I sailed into my dentist’s office for an epic visit to prepare three of my molars for new crowns — one of which was necessitated by my recent and tragic collision with a cakeball. This triple scheduling brings up many profound questions, such as, What in the hell was I thinking?

I was dangling upside down, making wisecracks to my dentist and his hygienist while they worked on me. Once they shot me repeatedly with Novocaine and my mouth went heavy and dead, it was harder to make wisecracks. But I kept trying. I wasn’t sure whether I looked like the aforementioned bat or a fly in a spider web, but I did feel I was at a definite postural disadvantage.

They shined bright lights, they drilled, they scraped, they poked, they rinsed, they suctioned, they started all over again. Minutes passed, then hours and centuries. I tried to distract myself by thinking about our financial situation. Normally — in a yoga class, say — money is something I can obsess about for hours. Today, when I was the object of a drill, it held less fascination.

“You’re doing well,” my dentist said.

“Thank you,” his assistant said.

“He was talking to me,” I said — or tried to say.

The next time he issued the same compliment, she and I both chorused “Thank you!” in unison. After that, I took to complimenting myself silently. You are so brave! I told myself, over and over. It was kind of like a self-affirmation.

I tried not to think about my two major dental fears: 1) that somebody will drop an instrument down my throat and I will choke to death; and 2) that, when they’re taking an impression, the gunk will harden and they won’t be able to remove it.

Instead, I just hung there, thinking heretical thoughts, such as, Would dentures really be so bad? Are you sure? Time crawled on, second by second, tiny grains of sand, the days of our lives. You are so brave!

Finally — ancient fillings removed, teeth smoothed, teeth watered and suctioned and sealed — they wedged an impression in my mouth and let it set. And set and set. I began to get uncomfortable. There was something pushing against the back of my mouth, close to my throat. “Help,” I said.

They righted me in the chair and kept telling me it was almost over. “Breathe through your nose,” the dentist said. “Breathe through your nose,” his assistant echoed.

Minutes later, after the impression was removed, the dentist showed me the great gob of impression material that had oozed off on its own, heading toward my throat and making me gag. “No wonder you were complaining,” he said. “That must have been awful.”

You are so brave!

He shook his head. “I’m just making sure this impression is good enough,” he said.

“Let me put it this way,” I said. “It had better be. I don’t want any more of that stuff in my throat.” My voice seemed to have all the moral authority of a gerbil’s.

Later, when I staggered off, paid a four-figure out-of-pocket fee, and went out to buy a smoothie, I had second thoughts. My mouth was coming back to life and so was my mind. I wondered whether I could have died in that dental chair, choking on some kind of gook, carried out in a body bag. Just what I’d always feared most: an ignominious death.

It had been some week. I started out as Joan of Arc and ended up as Deep Throat. Although I could have sworn Linda Lovelace got paid for everything she swallowed.

(Copyright 2012 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read a somewhat related post on the true story of my black eye

18 comments… add one
  • Hilarious, Ruth. I used to keep my dentist in line by asking him what tools and chemicals dentists had access to that could kill someone and never be detected. I told him I was working on a murder mystery. Sure.

  • merr Link

    Oh Ruth! I have my crown appointment scheduled for April. It’s nice to know you understand the crown issues!

  • I know you were just kidding about dentures, but my poor mom has had such nightmares with them I just had to comment. They never fit exactly right, and you have constant pain with sores where they rub on your gums. Don’t even think about it.

  • I should not have read this. I am going to get an impression made tomorrow morning.

  • “This is so funny,” I say, still taling funny myself from having the exact same crown experience yesterday. I think I will just let them pull them from here on out.

  • Sheryl Link

    Oh, poor you! I’ve been there, and I’m going there again (but keep on postponing my appointment; I wonder why). No fun in teeth. None at all. (Except for the dentist, who counts his money…)

  • Now, I’m freaked out and feeling like I might choke. That sounds awful. :o/

  • You must have had your mouth open forever. That’s what I hate…and not being able to swallow without getting all that gross stuff down your throat. No. Dental procedures are not fun.

  • You always make me laugh, so thanks for this sad tale. I share your fear that the gunk will harden and be impossible to remove. I wish someone had told me crowns have to get replaced after 40 years!

  • You had me in the chair with you! Only funny after the fact 🙂
    Best, Irene

  • I still have nightmares about that goop. I was told they’d improved it since I got my impression eons ago? Doesn’t sound like it. Yipes. You are so brave!

  • I still have the temps in there, and I’m fine with that.

  • Thanks for turning your tale of woe into my laugh for the day. I’m so sorry that I had to laugh at your dental turmoil but your words made me do it. BTW, I HATE going to the dentist.

  • You are so brave!

  • I need dental work and can’t afford it right now. I’m not sure which is worse: getting the dental work… or not getting it.

  • Cindy A Link

    Glad you survived, Ruth. Now I’m feeling like I must have a really great dentist…

  • Nooooo!!! Not dental work. We hate dental work. But–true story–once a dentist dropped the flippin’ crown down my throat. How many thousand dollars did that crown cost? He was attempting to install the final thing and he literally dropped it. It got lodged in my throat. I was saying, “accccchhhhh,” and thinking I was going to die there under the bright light with that piece of porcelain obstructing my breathing. So the dentist quickly uprighted the chair and slapped me hard on the back. The crown flew across the room. I’ll never forgive him.

  • Only you could turn getting a trio of crowns into a hilarious post with a Linda Lovelace kicker. Love it.

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