Reclined in the dentist’s chair with my mouth open as wide as humanly possible, Doctor Chan squirts a little anaesthetic from the next needle. I’ll know shortly if this action will add to my post traumatic stress. He then injects the last of four local anaesthetics into my upper gum. It doesn’t sting like the first, as my gums have started to numb. The bright surgical light makes me squint and I feel powerless to move, not unlike a rabbit dazed by headlights. I dig my finger nails into the vinyl arm rests. I tilt my head far enough to see Doctor Chan assemble a collection of tools for the procedure; tweezers, probe, plugger, scalpel, bone file and several drills.
I try not to imagine the tools intended use; instead I force myself to think about anything else. The taste of Spanish risotto I had on the weekend lessons the taste of anaesthetic for now. A glass of dry white would surely finish the anaesthetic off. The alfresco setting with shade cloth dissipates the bright sunlight. To shortly lie, hand in hand with my woman makes the dental chair feel spacious. Dr Chan rudely interrupts my attempt at self hypnosis into a more idealistic life.
‘Now Andrew, the X-ray last week has shown infected tissue above your crown. Today, I will remove this tissue and plug the space with an internal filling. The procedure is called an ‘Apicoectomy’, and should take roughly half an hour, any questions?’
I shake my head, as I find it rather difficult to talk with a swollen upper gum and his hands in my mouth, not to mention the dental nurse jamming a rubber sucker hose on my lower lip. I wonder if he ever gets answers.
I sense a jiggling as he removes the crown. I hear it clink on a steel tray. The slice of his knife into my upper gum bears no pain; the squelching of what seems like wet rubber being cut and stretched though, begs me to bite, I can’t. Doctor Chan really gets to work now. He scrapes forcefully; drills and grinds producing sounds like he is shaping ceramic tiles. The nurse has a vice like grip on my chin. She lets go and sucks the leftovers from my mouth. My head becomes heavy and I feel faint.
I remember how it all began; a boy of ten at the Keon Park indoor swimming pool. I tried to climb out of the deep end but slipped, shattering my front tooth in the process. The chlorine vapours rising from the water aggravated my tears, as I sat on the pool’s edge. I watched the tooth, in pieces too small to be retrieved, take an eternity to sink to the bottom of the pool. Over the next few weeks my schools friends were impressed that I could whistle through the gap in my teeth. Not much consolation though. After school the dentist became a second home, until my crown was finished.
Doctor Chan pats me on the shoulder, ‘All finished Andrew. You can gargle and spit into the cup. Please don’t eat for a three hours. Here’s a prescription for some antibiotics. You may also need some pain killers when the anaesthetic wears off? I’ll see you next week to remove the stitches.’
You would think after all these years a grown man would be accustomed to the dentist, but even a friendly dental appointment reminder or simply seeing the word ‘dentist’ and I shudder. I relive that day at the pool.
Andrew Mansell, September 2010.
I wrote this memory monologue in the attempt to understand why memories of physiological pain are easily recounted and never forgotten. I found from physiological pain, that psychological pain is created and lingers longer than the initial physiological pain did. One thing has become certain for me; I will always be in some type of pain. Most people visit the dentist on a regular basis, which is why I hope anyone who has been to the dentist, would relate to my experience.