About six weeks ago, I went to my dentist. At my cleaning earlier in the year, I thought he had said that I had cavity to fill; when I got there, he said--instead-- I needed a crown. Great. His work on the crown irritated the tooth so that for a week my face ached. When I went back in for the permanent crown, I told him of my discomfort. He said that sometimes happened with crowns--and if it continued, I would probably need to have a root canal. Wonderful. Well, last week, when the pain of the tooth had progressed so that it woke me up at night or prevented me from going to sleep at all, I decided I had waited long enough. I went in to see my dentist. He took an x-ray and decided that the roots were tricky enough to warrant an endodontist--which is where I found myself today, for what they said would be a one-hour appointment. It took twice that long because they found four roots instead of the usual three and one of them was "tricky." Lucky me. And then, when the tooth had the temporary filling in, the doctor looked at the final x-rays and wasn't happy with one root. So they took out the filling, drilled and rototilled and burned something all over again before putting in another temporary filling. I like perfectionists in some situations. After two hours I wasn't sure how I was feeling about this one.
I don't like dentists. I don't mean the people, who seem genuinely kind and compassionate. The idea of dentists. That's my problem. I get anxious just thinking about going to them, anticipating the pain, the vulnerability: sit down, lean back, tip your chair back so your head gets all the blood, open your mouth. Then there are the sounds: high-pitched drills and ones that sound like jack-hammers. There are scraping sounds and watery sounds. The tools look like something from a torture chamber, and the burning smell? What is going on in my mouth? I hear vocabulary I don't understand: C5 (is that like C4--an explosive?), B-something, and tools with increasingly large numbers--I need a 20, now I need a 30, give me a 35. I could see--when I opened my eyes once--in the reflection in the machine (microscope?) over my face that what felt like roto-tilling actually was rototilling. I closed my eyes again for the rest of the procedure.
Instead of gas (because I was teaching right after I left the office), I opted for the headphones as a distraction. I listened to Josh Grobin. Soothing. I had the sound up loud enough that the assistant had to pull the ear piece off to ask me a question before they began. But, apparently, not loud enough. When the drill started, I couldn't hear the music at all. Everything was the sound of the drill. There would be a pause in the drilling--Grobin singing "You're still you"--and back to drilling. At times I chuckled over the irony of the words and my situation, but when the drill was loudest and my nervousness was increasing, I found myself striving, hard, to hear the music behind the drill. It came to me that that is a good approach for trying times in our lives: try really hard to hear the music instead of the drill. The music was there, but it took will and focus to hear it. I can do that.