Okay let me first impress upon you that, although I may come off as a no-nonsense tomboy, I do have my sissy moments. There are a handful of things that truly frighten me. I have recently confronted two of those fears on my vacation when my family and I went to the US Whitewater Center. There I took the challenge to face my fear of heights, by attempting the in-air obstacle course and facing my fear of the water when we went whitewater rafting later in the day. Two fears down and at least three to go.
Which brings me to three days ago when I woke up with an absolutely awful pain in my jaw. It was a sharp throbbing pain on my right side. First my whole jaw hurt, then throughout the day it would transfer between my upper back tooth and my lower back tooth. I took some motrin and used some anbesol and tried to ignore it. Of course, this plan of attack was founded upon the fact that I am completely freaked out by going to the dentist.
I haven’t been to a dentist in well over ten years. In fact, the last time I went to the dentist was because I had to due to an abscessed tooth that needed a root canal. I remember the pain of that infection to this day. It was so bad that I couldn’t sleep or eat for days. This new pain wasn’t quite as bad, but I knew that it was similar to what I had felt before.
Now don’t think that just because I haven’t gone to the dentist that I don’t take care of my teeth. I brush two to three times a day and I floss on a daily basis and use my anti-bacterial mouth wash throughout the day as well. I just freak out when it comes to going to the dentist. I can’t even tell you why. I know it is an irrational fear. I have never had a bad experience with any dentist I have been too before. I just don’t like it. I don’t like the waiting room, I don’t like the chair, the instruments sitting on that little table next to me, the giant spotlight they shine in your eyes, the masks they have over their faces, the feeling of someone poking around in my mouth. It all just makes me want to curl up in the fetal position and cry.
So as I am sitting on the couch, trying not to panic, I noticed that the pain relievers and cream that I was using were not really helping. I emailed my BF at work and let him know what was going on. His answer; find a dentist and make an appointment immediately. These words completely set off my panic. Literally, I started to shake and tears started to well up in my eyes.
When he called me about an hour later to see if I had found a local dentist, I hadn’t even started to look. I was paralyzed in front of the computer. I had sat motionless trying to ignore the throbbing pain in my jaw and the creeping fear in my mind. I again began to cry. Tears running down my cheeks, my voice shaking as I spoke, I explained that I just couldn’t bring myself to look. I just wanted to have the pain magically disappear. My BF thoughtfully and compassionately explained to me that this wasn’t going to go away on its own and that it was time for me to face this fear head on if I wanted to get some relief.
I browsed the web, half-heartedly. I did a quick google search for dentists in the area and glanced at their locations and reviews. I found a dentist that seemed to have a good reputation and searched his practice on the medical review sites. Good reviews, a seemingly nice practice and accepting new patients. I made a quick call and asked when the next available appointment was, explaining that I had woken with some sharp pains in my jaw. They were available tomorrow, the light voiced receptionist replied. I took the appointment and let my BF know. “Why not today?” he asked. “Didn’t you ask if they could get you in today for an emergency appointment?” I started to bawl, literally bawl, over the phone. Somehow he was able to make out the words, I just need some time, and dropped the persistent tone and appealed to my rationality with his best I’m-in-control voice, “Calm down. Breathe. This is going to be fine. You are going to be fine. Just Breathe.”
I got off the phone and dried my tears a bit. I knew that panicking was not going to help me in this situation, but my irrational fear had begun to wrap its nasty tentacles around my brain and within minutes I was back to crying.
I thought that perhaps focusing on something else may help so I decided to do my yoga routine. It turns out, doing yoga with a stuffy nose is difficult. I made my way into each pose and pushed myself harder to get lower in my warrior poses and to get a perfect downward dog in each vinyasa. It worked and the more I focused on the movements and my breath the more relaxed I became. By the time I reached the meditation an hour and a half later I was feeling a bit like my old self, even with the tooth pain.
Next, I ran a hot bath and decided that to continue to keep my mind off of things I would resort to an old trick of mine, a horror movie. Some people love gore and guts in their horror, but I am not one of those people. I am more of a supernatural thriller kind of gal and so I picked a title from my Netflix Queue that had intrigued me. It’s called Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.
The description of this film? “Soon after moving in with her father and his new girlfriend, young Sally discovers she isn’t alone in the house: strange creatures live there — and they might not be as friendly as Sally thinks. Guillermo del Toro co-writes this horror film.”
So I am thinking okay, I enjoyed Pan’s Labyrinth and this sounds a bit similar and will take my mind of the whole irrational fear and stabbing tooth pain stuff. I get into the tub of hot water and press the play button on my phone and boy, oh boy was I ever WRONG!
SPOILERS AHEAD for those who will actually want to watch this nightmare! Within the first five minutes one character is taking a giant chisel to the teeth of another character after already having chiseled out his OWN teeth. OH MY GOD! I could not get to the stop button fast enough. My hands were wet and I didn’t want to drop my phone and so I am flailing around in the tub trying to reach a towel to dry my hand quickly and then flailing more to reach my phone and oh god, where is the stop button, oh no, no, no, no, I can’t turn it off! Where is the volume I will just turn it down until I can get this turned off, why won’t it turn down oh lord I have turned it up now! AAAAAAHHHHHH!
I can not even think of how hysterically funny this would have been to witness. Of course the nudity alone would have been enough for some to burst into laughter. Ok, so the movie was not a success. Once my brain stopped panicking trying to find the stop button and turn the movie down I realized I could just turn the entire phone off. I pressed the power button, swiped my finger across the screen and BAM the screen went dark. I lay back in the tub and caught my breath all the while cursing Guillermo del Toro between shuddering,heaving breaths. It took the rest of the day for me to gain a bit of normalcy back after that whole affair.
By the time my BF got home I had dinner ready and waiting. Of course I couldn’t really eat most of mine having made the worst possible choice the night before of thawing out Pork Chops. I had my salad and ate my veggies, but when it came to eating the pan-fried, cajun chop that smelled so very tantalizing, I just couldn’t do it. I gave up and had yogurt instead.
My BF suggested we make it an early night and so we did and I tossed and turned all night from the pain and the anxiety and when he woke me in the morning to kiss me goodbye on his way to work I decided I would stay in bed as long as I could before getting up to get a shower for the hellish appointment waiting for me to arrive.
My BF got to our apartment with five minutes to get me to the dentist due to some new construction and lunch time traffic. Luckily it was about five minutes up the street so I made it on time, but the idea of being late added a whole new level of anxiety to my neurosis. I went up the three floors in the elevator, my heart seeming to jump from my chest with each ping announcing the next floor. I walked into the waiting room and felt the color leave my face. It was a beautiful office. Lovely decorations and soft relaxing colors. A television was up in the corner playing a Jane Seymour infomercial. There were three, attractive, young dental-assistants behind the counter and they all looked up and smiled as I entered. I plastered my best fake smile to my face and told them I had an appointment. I could possibly have done well at faking my way through this whole ordeal if it hadn’t been for the tell-tale tremor in my hand as they handed me the clip board full of paper work to fill out.
After filling out the few bits that I could; name, birthday, social security number, address, I got to the parts that I had to leave blank. Insurance info, doctor’s name, date of last visit. Um, yeah. No insurance since early this year, no doctor since 1998 and date of last visit? Why did you even have to go there you stupid, arrogant piece of uppity paper.
I handed the paper back to the receptionist and tried not to look at her face to see the judgement that must be in her eyes as she sees just how much I have had to leave blank. I am just assuming that there was judgement by the way, because she was nothing but sweet and kind and made an obscene amount of eye contact with me when I dared look at her face. I sat back down on the adorable wicker bench in the exact same position as before, sans clipboard this time though, so I was forced to cross my legs into an uncomfortable pretzel like position and clasp my hand together until the knuckles of both screamed and were near transparent from the pressure.
My name was called and I followed the origin of the sound, a pretty, young blonde in light blue scrubs, down a short hallway to a clean procedure room done in the same calming beige and cream color scheme as the waiting room.
This was by far the most pleasant procedure room I have ever been in, but don’t think that the clean, muted color scheme and homey atmosphere did a thing to calm my nerves.
The dental assistant made light conversation with me and I replied in an uncharacteristic stilted, tight-lipped way that made me feel even more uncomfortable. I apologized for my awkwardness and explained that I have always been afraid of the dentist and that is why I hadn’t been in such a very long time. She nodded as if she hears that excuse all day every day and asked me to sit in the chair taking my bag, which had been my comfort this whole time giving me plenty of reasons to fidgit and fuss. Now sitting in the chair with nothing in my hands I began tightening my trademark hair tie about my wrist hard enough that it began to leave an impression that is still indented into my skin today.
“We’re going to need an x-ray.” She stated matter-of-factly, after having me explain the reason for my visit and placed the heavy lead vest across my chest and placing a giant rubber contraption in front of my face. “Bite down on this.” After the x-ray was taken she had to take a picture of the inside of my mouth with a long wand camera and then it was time for me to wait for the dentist.
Left alone to my own devises I focused on the tennis match that way playing on the television in the upper corner of the room. I tightened and re-tightened the hair tie on my wrist. I stared blankly out the third story window at the busy street and businesses across the way and all the while I held back tears.
Movement from behind my chair snapped me back into reality. It was the Dentist and the Assistant looking at the x-ray and pictures she had taken of my highly neglected tooth. He came around the side of the chair and looked down at me with a mixture of pity and incredulity. He shook my hand as he introduced himself and then asked me to repeat my story again. I did so and he then informed me that because I had been having pains on both the upper and lower jaw, I would have to have a full mouth x-ray. His assistant would take care of that and then he would return. Then he left.
The pretty blonde girl asked me to follow her and so I did. We walked out into the hallway and down to the end of the building to a large white machine that did nothing to quiet my fears. She pressed a button and the large arm of the machine came down a bit towards the top of my head, then she placed another lead vest across my chest. “Step forward.”, she instructed. I stepped under the arm and placed my head in the middle of three white prongs. Think claw machine, but white and less pointy. The assistant pressed another button and the prongs began to close around my head. My heart rate jumped a bit and she must have seen a flash of terror in my eyes because she said, “Now this large white box is going to spin around your head. Don’t worry and try not to move,” then she pointed to the large plastic covered stick that was in front of my mouth,”and bite down on this, please.” I bit down on the tip of the stick, feeling the plastic hit my tongue. “Please, press your tongue to the roof of your mouth.” I did and she disappeared to behind the wall. The machine began to make hydraulic noises and the white box spun slowly around my head. When it arrived back at its original position it stopped and the claw prongs opened around my head. The assistant returned from her protective walled-barrier, removed the apron and asked me to return to my chair in the procedure room insisting that the dentist would be right with me.
I returned to the chair and to my fidgiting and staring and forced those tears to stay in. The dentist returned and from behind me I could feel the tension in the room. He came around the side of my chair and informed me that my teeth were in really bad shape. The two root canals that I had done when in college had never been completed. They had only had temporary crowns placed on them and when I never returned to get the permanent ones they had begun to fall apart. When they fell out completely my teeth had started to lose integrity and that had been about eight years ago. Because I had let them go so long without treatment it was questionable that they could even be saved at this point. If there was any hope for the tooth that was giving me all the pain I would have to go see a specialist as soon as possible.
At this point I could no longer hold back the tears. They began to flow and I saw Dentist look at his assistant with a flash of what I can only call the Oh-No face. I was handed a tissue and he continued to explain my options. Just when I was about to have a complete break down he said, “You are scared to death right now, aren’t you?” Tears flew from my eyes like a fountain and I squeaked out a, yes. He asked me why and I told him I had no idea, that the whole process freaks me out and that I had no real excuse for this behavior.
I tried to get us back on point by asking him exactly what I needed because the longer I talked about how I was feeling the worse I was going to get. We got back to the matter at hand and I told him that if he thought I should see a specialist I would and then I really started to cry. I cried hard enough that I had to take deep breaths and apologize for being such a blubbering slob. It was beyond embarrassing; I was mortified.
The dentist took this whole nervous breakdown pretty well. He asked the nurse to go and write-up three prescriptions, one for an antibiotic, another for the pain, and the final prescription was for Valium to calm me down. Not just a Valium, but multiple Valium. He told me to take one the night before I was to go in for the root canal and two that morning just before going to the appointment.
Yeah, I was a three Valium type of mess and considering that I get loopy for half the regular dose of Benadryl this was going to be an interesting appointment. He prescribed enough to get me through multiple appointments because he didn’t want to put the permanent crowns on me while I was lucid. To be honest, if I were him I would have just gassed me the moment I sat in the chair, but we live and we learn.
After paying for the consult and the x-rays, my BF took me straight to the nearest pharmacy to get my scripts and while we were waiting for those we called to make an appointment with the specialist.
As it turns out when you tell a specialist that you need an emergency root canal they tell you to come straight away. Or at least this specialist did. No time for me to steel myself for this we grabbed my scripts and I popped my first antibiotic and two Valium in the car on the way to Nashville to see the specialist.
As we drove I was still crying and apologizing to my BF for the load of crazy that I was demonstrating and the large expense that I was creating with this whole affair. Each time I said I was sorry between sobs he would pat me on the leg and tell me to calm down and that everything was going to be alright.
The closer we got to Nashville the slower and slower my brain seemed to work until finally the tears subsided altogether. It was then that I realized that I had not eaten a thing since the night before. Basically I had fasted for over 16 hours and then taken two Valium on that empty stomach.
By the time we got to the office, I had trouble opening the door and getting out of the car. My BF half carried me into the office and announced our arrival. From what I remember they immediately took me into a procedure room and got me in the chair.
On the whole I am a bit fuzzy on how long everything took and I do remember there being some sort of pain involved. Not so much from the root canal itself, but more from them lodging a giant piece of rubber into my mouth on the opposite side to keep my jaw open. It must have been quite a long procedure because it was well after six when we were on our way home.
If it wasn’t for my BF being the calm in the storm and the rock that I had to hold on to, I don’t think I would have even gone to the dentist in the first place. I would have waited until the pain was so bad that I would have had to go to the emergency room and by that time it would probably have been too late to save the teeth.
Not only did he keep me sane and force me to face down my fear, he is also paying this incredibly high bill and all because he loves me. He loves me enough to see me have a complete breakdown in front of him and not run away. He is my hero.
I have to go back in two weeks to finish the root canal and then I will have to schedule my three crowns. The cost of this whole process is completely insane. It is almost the worst part. I can take the pain of the procedures and I can deal with the mental trauma of having to go to the dentist repeatedly, but when I looked at the bill for this whole thing I wanted to scream. Thousands of dollars are going to be spent to save my teeth and I have no one to blame, but myself.
So here is my advice to you, dear readers. Don’t let something go just because you are scared. Don’t ignore that pain in your mouth or your side or your heart because you don’t think you are strong enough to deal with what may have to be done.
We have such a short time on this earth and we should be spending it with the ones we love. Not only spending that time with them, but really living and you can’t live in fear. At the end if pain had been in my chest or my abdomen and I had waited to go to a doctor, I could be dead or dying of something horrible. Where would that leave me? Would I be okay with the idea of dying because I was scared to confront the fear of knowledge? Because I think what my irrational fear comes down to is that I don’t want to be told that there is something wrong with me. I don’t want to have to confront something that could possibly be dangerous so it was easier for me to ignore the problem. The fear controlled me, led me and manhandled my emotions until I didn’t even recognize myself.
I know this was a rather long-winded rant about something, about which you probably could care less, but this was a big step for me and I thought that maybe there could be others like me out there that are letting that fear control them. Maybe, just maybe I can help someone to take a step towards confronting their own fears. Now that I have taken my first step I know that I can do better, that I can live larger and that I can take my power back. Maybe next time I can be my own hero.