Epiphanies at the Dentist (Krissie)

So I had a startling realization yesterday, an off-shoot of one a few years ago, and I haven’t been able to talk to anyone about it, so here goes. (Haven’t been able to talk about it because I had two back teeth taken out yesterday).

A few years ago things in my life were very very bad. I was in the depths of a depression, one grown child was nuts with no diagnosis and making our lives a living hell. Our money situation was ghastly (still is), our other child was a mess, everything felt horrible. I’d been down to visit Crusie, and I was driving back, weeping. Everything felt terrible, with no hope or joy in sight (remember, I was depressed) and I felt so empty, driving back to nothingness. And then I remembered the current story I was writing. And I thought of other things I wanted to write, and the book I was reading, and that was the one, undeniable hope I could hold on to and stop myself from crying . It always struck me that when I had nothing I still had the stories, wonderful books to read and write.

Of course, things got better, but I’ll never forget that when things were at their lowest, story saved me (as it’s been doing all my life – I would’t have survived my childhood without my incessant reading, and I know some of you are the same).

Fast forward to yesterday. I’ve been lucky enough never to have to have teeth removed as an adult. But on one side I had a root canal that had taken five or six visits and they’d never been able to finish it (shit-load of money thrown away on that). That was still bothering me. Then a few months ago I ended up with a huge abscess on the other side, in a tooth that was mostly filling and there was no chance of saving, and that had to go too. Fortunately both of them are at the back , I’ve had some difficulty chewing, so I was on board (though not happy). I got to the oral surgeon yesterday, a little edgy, but assuming I was going to have some kind of anesthesia. Uh, nope. Just novacaine. They could do other stuff but I’d need to come back for a consult and then have it done, and yes, it would cost more (we don’t have dental insurance). So, being a relatively tough cookie, I sighed and said “go ahead.”

It was freaking awful. The doctor was great, the aides were wonderful, but sitting in that fucking chair, having them yank and drill and yank and crack and pull was unbelievably difficult for me, and I started crying, which was really embarrassing. I told them I was very anxious and then closed my eyes, trying to keep the tears behind my eyelids, trying not to let it get worse which would involve hiccuping while they were drilling.

While I’d been waiting earlier (for the novacaine to take effect) I’d come up with a brilliant thing I could do with my revisions – where I could place my dreaded flashback scene. So as I was clutching the arms of the chair and trying to keep from sobbing (and it didn’t hurt that much it was just so … invasive) I cast around in my mind for anything to distract myself. Every time I thought that I shouldn’t cry it would get worse. So I thought about moving that scene, and suddenly I was calm. Like I’d had an instantaneous shot of something. I couldn’t really concentrate on anything, of course, and they’d yank, and I’d get weepy, and again I thought of the scene. Again, instant calm. It was amazing.

Unfortunately both teeth were difficult, in particular the one that had had the root canal, which apparently had fused to the tooth beside it, plus was a very large one, so they had to work exrtra long and hard on it, so I had plenty of time to keep observing the phenomenon. Each damn time it would work – tears would be sliding down my cheeks from my closed eyes (and of course any sign of sympathy, like Carol, the really nice nurse, putting a comforting hand on my arm, made it worse) and I ‘d think of my characters and the panic would just vanish for the moment. It really was extraordinary.

I remember when I was an adolescent I would leave the house in the middle of the night when my parents were raging and walk across town to our church, about two miles away. They didn’t lock it, and I’d hide in one of the back pews and recite the Lord’s Prayer or some of the psalms I’d memorized over and over again to soothe myself. I imagine it’s similar to that, and to Transcendental Meditation where you have a certain mantra that you can focus on to make things better.

Story is my mantra, my lord’s prayer, my escape from an awful childhood, the only hope when things are terrible. For me story is the only way I survive.

Having the physical proof of it, over and over again yesterday, was really enlightening.

Has anyone else gotten into a similar situation? And if things have been disastrous, what helped?

Mind you, I’m not comparing having a couple of impacted teeth out as the same as losing someone. When someone dies (or stuff on that level, like Richie’s heart-attack) you have to deal with it, work it through. But if you’re in the midst of a short-term, or even longer-term situation that’s unbearable, what do you turn to for calm, for relief, for succor?

16 thoughts on “Epiphanies at the Dentist (Krissie)

  1. Sharon S. says:

    I’m afraid I pull a Scarlet O’Hara…I think about it tomorrow. It’s like when bills come in and I don’t have enough money to pay…I don’t open them, therefore, they don’t exist. Not, I might add, a good idea.

  2. Jenny says:

    I do this all the time, except I don’t tie it directly to my books. I just go into a fantasy world until I’m calm again.
    Surprisingly, a lot of things I discover in that fantasy world end up in my books. But mostly I just go to my happy place. It’s like having a permanent movie in my head except that it changes all the time.

  3. Lynda says:

    During medical procedures I plop myself onto a rock at Carmel and watch the ocean. No narrative, just the calming movement of the waves.

  4. Alis says:

    Used to ignore things until the problems exploded (I, too, refused to open mail or answer the phone.) I drank one year away until it was clear that wasn’t a good choice. I self-harmed, because physical pain was easier to address than mental stuff. Time passed and I got married to the perfect-for-me guy, had kids, lived life, but I NEVER found a go-to for a happy place because every freaking thing was cancerously attached to lousy crap from the rest of my life.

    Then I rescued two puppies. I’d never had a dog. Didn’t like them–had been bitten as a kid and had put it off and put it off even though the husband and kids wanted them. Several years apart, both mostly-one-breed mutts, both too young to be taken from their moms… but they needed me, and I guess I needed them. So, when things get overwhelming and the anxiety merry-go-round seems to be my e-ticket ride to hell, I remember defleaing an anemic fuzzball who clung to me every day until he was well enough to decide it was time to take over the world. Or the goofy labradoresque convinced she’s a people who dens against me when I’m having a panic attack. There is nothing negative there, no failure, no past poison… best escape ever.

  5. I’ve been doing the same thing for years, particularly at the dentist–I can’t stand to have anyone touch my face or be near it, so the dentist is torture for me, even a simple cleaning. She will give me a touch of laughing gas if I’m having something other than cleaning done, but otherwise, it’s strictly Novocaine and my happy place. I go right to my stories and try to stay there . . . but frankly, I still cry sometimes if I can’t get to the escape. My dentist and her staff are used to me at this point and just pat my arm and try to find soothing things to murmur while they torture me.

    • Actually, during a cleaning, there’s no Novocaine, just the happy place. I just realized it sounded like I got shot up for a cleaning…duh.

    • Bridget says:

      I trained my dentist a long time ago that I wanted novocaine for a cleaning. I walked in the door and they hit me with it.

      But novocaine works fairly well on me. I had wisdom teeth extracted with just novocaine.

    • Bridget says:

      Krissie, how close to you is the nearest dental school?

      Because the local dental schools used to have clinics for people without dental insurance. You got baby dentists and they got practice. A lot of people I know had very good luck with that.

  6. JenniferNennifer says:

    Have always hidden in books – which is why I know the Georgette Heyer regencies by heart – they were my default hiding place for years.

    A dear friend discovered that he spiritually hid out in his feet during dental work…… he was completely calm until someone brushed his foot whereupon he practically leapt from the chair.

    • Alis says:

      I don’t know why but this tickles me to no end. I wonder if he’s a Pisces… it rules the feet. My Taurus husband is weirdly connected to his neck and upper shoulders, and that is Taurus’s ruled body part.

  7. So sorry for the dental dilemmas. Hope you’re feeling better. It’s interesting that you can fall into story to block out discomfort and pain. Me, I try to breath through it like I’m giving birth. Ha ha.

  8. Kieran says:

    No! To be clearheaded during a tooth extraction with all the cracking noises and tugs is pure psychological torture! I’m sorry they couldn’t give you nitrous oxide.

    Story is your special solace to carry with you always. I think it’s a bit of divine grace residing in you to remind you you’re powerful and never really alone.

  9. Obviously, stories are your children (in addition to your actual children). My daughter was a c-section and with c-sections you get to enjoy labor pains AFTER the surgery.(Never did natural birth so not sure how it compares)…I’d be seriously hurting that first night (even with lots of nice meds on-board) and my husband would hand me my daughter…and every thing was MUCH better.

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