And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.
If you follow my Facebook page, you might think you know what my Moment is this week. Yes, I found out If You Tame Me won second place in the Women’s Fiction division of the Pencraft literary awards. Yes, I found out that two of my students received awards too. Yes, one of my students signed a book contract this week. Yes, yes, yes!
But my Moment happened just about a half hour ago. When I walked out of the dentist’s office.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am terrified of two things. Terrified. Not scared. Not freaked out. TERRIFIED. Those fears would be birds and the dentist.
I’m not sure where the bird fear comes from. But I know what caused the dentist fear. I really don’t know anyone who enjoys the dentist, though my husband has fallen asleep in the dentist chair. But he’s narcoleptic, so that doesn’t count. For me, there was trauma after trauma in that chair, to the point where I can’t stand sitting in any chair that is remotely similar.
When I was a kid, ether was still being used. I was ethered a lot – my baby teeth’s roots did not dissolve, and so as the adult teeth sprouted behind the babies, I was hauled off to the dentist, who strapped a foul-smelling rubber mask over my face and pulled out the teeth. I also endured five eye surgeries, and until the fourth surgery, ether was the anesthetic of choice. I have ether nightmares to this day. It had a smell similar to gasoline. It caused me to see and feel as if I was spinning down inside a huge black tornado. There was a sound of funhouse laughter – awful, maniacal laughter. I could also hear breaththrough bits of the dentist and hygienist talking, and I’d hear screaming – me. I also heard the crack as a tooth or teeth were pulled from my mouth. When I woke, I was dizzy and nauseous, often throwing up out the car window on the way home.
Add to that my being immune to novocaine. And no one believing me. When there was a cavity, I’d be given shot after shot after shot, until the dentist would say I was faking it and he’d go ahead with it. Sometimes my wrists were tied down to the arms of the chair. By the time I was a teen, I stopped screaming. I knew it was useless. But I couldn’t stop the tears.
All of which leads to my beyond-terror of the dentist, despite knowing that dentistry has improved by leaps and bounds.
Today, I had to have a cleaning and have two fillings done. I’d cracked a tooth about a month ago, which led to going to the dentist, which led to the cracked tooth being filled, plus the one behind it, and then the discovery of the two cavities on the other side of my mouth. I had a cleaning a year ago, and the hygienist who did it was fully pregnant with twins, and she was also in love with Wally Lamb. She had the gentlest touch – I told her what a good mother she was going to be and we discussed books. The cleaning was a breeze. But, as I found today, she decided to stay home with her babies. Today, I had…Attila the Hun.
Any time I said, “Ow,” she dug in more, and when I said ow again, she said, “Okay,” poked somewhere else and then returned to the scene of the crime. I could taste the blood in my mouth. At one point, where she was particularly harsh, I said, “Ow, ow, OW!” and she said, “Okay, okay, okay,” and then said she was going to tell the dentist because there must be a problem there. Like she was punishing me. I gathered my wits and said, “The tooth didn’t hurt. You are sticking that thing into the same place in my gums and digging for gold.” She smirked. When she was done, she approached me (and my bleeding mouth) with floss. And I found the voice I never had as a child, where I felt like I had to open my mouth to whoever asked me to and do what I was told.
“No,” I said, and removed my bib. “No flossing. You’ve already poked between my teeth with your spear. That’s enough. No more.”
She didn’t say anything. She stopped. Wow.
The fillings weren’t fun, but they were better than the cleaning. At one point, during the first injection (I received 3 of whatever they give me now, to make sure I get numb – and I do!), the dentist actually shook my shoulder and said, “Breathe! Breathe! You’re turning blue!” I breathed, but as I waited for the numbing to take effect, I shook and shuddered. I had student manuscript pages with me to read, but I had to set them aside, as I couldn’t make my hand steady enough to write. But the numbing worked. The procedure didn’t hurt, other than the fear hammering at me.
And then it was done. I shot out the door. I didn’t even put my coat on first. And the sky was there. And the scary birds were there, but they were singing. It was cloudy, but as far as I was concerned, there was sunshine and rainbows and eighty-degree temps and maybe even a unicorn, though I’m not a unicorn kind of person.
And there was me. And my mouth. Me and my mouth that were intact. And learned how to say no. And mean it. And be heard.
If I ever see Attila the Hun again, I will say no immediately and ask for someone else. I have no need of that kind of punishment.
And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.