Saturday, April 17, 2010


I hate and fear the dentist. This, plus chain smoking as though nicotine were oxygen, has resulted in a smile that is sepia-toned like a turn-of-the-century tinotype. I think this mindset came about early on. I rode my bicycle to the friendly neighborhood dentist for a routine check-up.

Understand, this was in West Virginia so what constituted state-of-the-art in oral health was pretty much the nineteen-fiftes for everyone else. The dreaded drill was operated by a manual foot pump; the dentist's ability to stomp up and down
at a high rate of speed determining the level of pain the patient might endure. But Dr. Barber was elderly and his reflexes weren't quite as quick as one would have hoped.

He leaned in and I couldn't see his eyes, splotches covering his coke-bottle glasses; no doubt specks of pyorhhea from former patients that had spattered onto his eyewear during one of his foot-stomping frenzies.

"It's going to have to come out," he said, probing at a tooth from which I'd never felt any pain.

Whmmmpf? I asked, all his fingers inside of my mouth.

"Shhh!" he hissed. "Now rinse and spit."

He went to a corner and unwrapped a tray of sterilized instruments that looked like H.R. Geiger had run amok in a hardware store.

"Look, I don't think I..."

"Don't worry, this will make you feel better," he said brandishing a syringe with a needle gauge comparable to indoor plumbing. He stuck it into my gum and halfway up my skull. I did not feel better in the slightest, although ten minutes later my entire face was numb and I talked like a woman with Cerebral Palsy.

He stuck a crescent wrench into my mouth and, planting one foot firmly on my cheek, twisted and pulled until a tooth was plucked from my head. "There we go!" he said, spritzing my mouth with Lavoris cinnamon mouthwash to compensate for the loss of part of my anatomy. Wisely, he followed up with some heavy-duty pain relievers, then sent me on my way in such a condition to ride my bike back home.

"I got a tooth pulled," I informed my mother.

"Nonesense," she said, as facts rarely interfered with her world view.

"No, look," I said, pulling back a corner of my mouth to display a hollow space now packed with gauze.

She was on the phone in a heartbeat. "Can you tell me," she asked the dental receptionist, "why I wasn't called about this? You're going to remove one of my son's teeth and didn't think I might want to know ahead of time?"

"Well, it's policy..." the phone-answerer started, but Mom gave them an earful of shouting complete with bible verses that would argue her point.

I thought it was great. Until the pain pills wore off and I spent the day crying in agony like Chris Crocker in the face of people disrespecting Brittney. I wanted to slam my head against the floor until I became unconscious. This was my first brush with the dark side of dentistry and I knew right then I didn't want to experience any more.

But I was forced to go. When I was eighteen, my dentist informed me that I had wisdom teeth buried in my jaw that were about to pose a problem. I needed to have them cut out.

"You'll need an oral surgeon. I generally recommend two. One is sort of a dry fish, not much in the way of personality. The other is a joker, a funny guy. He's got personality in spades."

The subtext was made instantly clear. I had a chance at having my face split open by a comedy oral surgeon. It wouldn't play in Vegas but in Huntington, West Virginia a man had found his niche. "Sign me up," I said.

Confusing funny with what the situation actually calls for has been the hallmark of my life.

I forget his actual name, but for the sake of the story from here on out we're going to call him Dr. Gallagher. He was, pretty much, like what would happen if you made an appointment to go under anaesthesia and Hunter S. Thompson showed up. He came to the waiting room, called my name, then dragged me back to the room where the procedure would take place, talking a blue streak NO ONE wants to hear:

"Yeah, we're gonna get those goddamn wisdom teeth right the fuck outta there before they do some damage. Shit, just last week a woman tried to take me to court--claimed I molested her while she was under. Shit, fuck, I wouldn't have touched her with someone else's dick."

This was back in 1981 where, yeah, someone with a doctorate could talk like this and not get sued. Not that it was the slightest bit reassuring.

"Okay, my faggot of an anesthesiologist is going to shoot you up with some joy juice." Given that they'd already given me a Valium, I couldn't help but smile. If only, I thought. "Count out loud backwards from five to one. Five, four, three..."

Everything went black.

I woke up, dizzy, and had to be led with two people in scrubs supporting me back to the oral surgeon's equivalent of a recovery room: a couple of folding chairs. My mouth was stuffed with so much cotton I felt like a cat hacking hairballs.

My parents drove me home. When you have your wisdom teeth removed they slice open your gums, dig into your jaw, cut loose the renegade teeth and sew you back up again. Only this is not a cross stitch pattern where exacting detail of a red-breasted robin wearing a sombrero scores points for being photo-realistic as possible; at the oral surgeon's they just want to stich you up as quickly as they can. There are loose gaps and you bleed from them. The blood trickles down your throat and, unlike in the Twilight novels, your stomach is not wild about this addition to the party.

Mom, Dad and I were watching TV and the pain medication had worn off. I was hurting. In addition to the pain I'd swallowed so much blood my stomach could stand it no longer. BLAAARRRRGHHH! I screamed, puking dried blood clots all over the coffee table.

My dad took this as supreme insolence, directed specifically at him, as though I'd been planning this for days to ruin his would-be-memorable experience of watching Rhoda.

"What do you think you're doing?" he yelled, leaping from his easy chair and slapping me upside the head. "What is wrong with you? What are you, a queer?"

I thought, but did not say, that queers are generally noted for their lack of gag reflexes.

He hit me a few more times, then pulled off his shirt and threw it on the blood and vomit covered coffee table. "Clean it up!" he shouted, exposing his manly pecs.

Yeah, I don't much like dentists.

The act of vomiting caused a few of the stitches to rip loose, so that I swallowed even more blood. This caused my neck and face to turn a ghastly shade of green, which no doubt caused my father to think I was, through the act of sheer will, turning myself into The Spotmaker. I wised up and forced myself to vomit out the blood chunks in private; getting it out of my system before family TV time. But the damage had caused my face to bloat into one of those things you see on Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

I returned to Dr. Gallagher's office to get what remained of my stitches removed, not that I hadn't already swallowed and puked the bulk of them. He came into the waiting room, took a look at my green and swollen face and was off on another comedy bit:

"Somebody sure beat the shit out of you! What, you don't know how to fight? Come on back here, Greenie!"

I followed him back to where the procedure was supposed to go down, Dr. Gallagher ranting every bit of the way. "Yeah, that's just what the fuck happens when you get your wisdom teeth taken out. Some ugly broad tried to sue me, claiming once
she was under I blacked both her eyes and bashed in her cheeks. I wouldn't let her suck my dick if either one of us were roaring drunk. Hey, want some novacaine before I do this?

"No, I'm fine," I said.

Jump cut ten years later and I go to a dentist's office in Cincinnati. Apparently they were not happy with the way I was flossing, so insisted I watch a video about how to floss your teeth. But they trotted me back out into the lobby, stuck the VHS into the player located there, and an entire room full of strangers got to shame me, mentally, as the guy who doesn't know how to floss.

Those porcelain fuckers can rot, break, and drop one by one out of my head before I ever see a dentist again.

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