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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Study in Canada: Dental Distress

On any university campus in the Northern Hemisphere, December is hectic for students and faculty alike. Voluminous written work of all kinds as reached deadline, and final exams are looming. Sleepless nights and chaotic days described life before Christmas break. To top it all off, a left lower molar began throbbing. I had no time to search for a dentist and no money to pay one, so I tried to ignore it and trudged on.

Canada had a tablet, known simply as 222, which contained a bit of codeine for pain relief. The prescription-strength version 444, needed a doctor’s order, but the 222 sat on pharmacy shelves for over-the-counter purchase. And, purchase I did! By the end of the final week of the semester, I consumed them like candy. It dulled the toothache, but gave my head a bit of a delayed reaction feeling. Not ideal for writing exams, but I made it through okay.

One of the students planned to drive to Nebraska for Christmas break and offered a place in his station wagon for all headed in that direction. I was thrilled, since I had expected to spend my first Christmas away from family. Definitely, God was still hard at work providing for me. I’d get the tooth taken care of as soon as I got home.

What excitement and rejoicing filled the station wagon when we pulled onto the road taking us all home for Christmas! Initially, the chatter reflected the nervous tension we’d lived under to meet first semester deadlines; all of us relaxed as the miles passed.

However, with that relaxing came the frank awareness of my toothache. No longer distracted by happy conversation and laughter, the throbbing of my tooth took front-and-center attention. By the time we’d looped around Seattle, I feared I’d not be able to make it all the way home.

I remembered that my instructor for “Care and Prevention of Athletic Injuries” had told us to always think cold whenever an athlete got injured. Ice it! Became our battle-cry in the locker room. Something cold was just what my tooth needed. “I know we’ve already had lunch, but my tooth is hurting. Can we stop for something cold to drink at the next drive-up place? We don’t need to go in; I can take it with me.”

“Sure; I’ll pull into the first drive-in I see in the next town.” It had not been long since we’d stopped for lunch, so I really appreciated the accommodating driver’s response.

As we approached a soft-serve ice cream stand, I tried to figure out what might be best. The heater worked well in the car, so I thought I should get something a bit more dense than ice in a Diet Coke; I wanted the cold to last as long as possible for my tooth.

Driving away, it only took a couple swallows before the glaring error of my choice screamed out. A chocolate milkshake had been a really bad choice. The cold sugar resting on my painful tooth had intensified the pain, not eased it. Consequently, I had no other option; I needed a dentist…right now! Unfortunately we had already made our way back to the highway so I’d need to wait for the next exit.

The ache was nearly unbearable by the time we headed down the off-ramp. I felt like holding my head in my hands, turning it from side to side, and moaning, but I restrained myself with great effort. My wrong choice had made us lose even more time, so all of us were feeling a bit miserable.

Entering the city limits, the first building we encountered actually boasted a dentist office above the hardware store. Great! We won’t lose time searching for one. My friends decided to look around the little shops in the area while I saw the dentist.

I located the door marked Dentist Office, just to the side of the building. Opening the door, a steep flight of narrow, wooden steps greeted me. Okay, well, it’s a wooden building, so why wouldn’t they have wooden steps? It’s just that the creaking sound of each and every step heralded the sad truth…this is a very old building. I only hoped that the dentist was a bit younger than the building.

At the top of the stairway, I saw only solid, light-colored wooden doors in both directions. No door stood open; no signs indicating where to find the dentist. Perhaps, I’d been mistaken; or maybe, the office no longer functioned, and no one bothered to remove the sign on the outside door. Well, I needed help, and I needed to be sure none awaited me here before leaving.

The echoing of my footsteps on the old, somewhat warped floorboards, made me feel terribly self-conscious. The place was so eerily quiet that I startled and froze when a door creaked. My fight-flight reaction kicked in, and I spun around, sprinting back to the stairway before whatever came out of the door grabbed me.

At the top of the flight of steps, however, reason took over. What in the world are you doing, girl? You’re looking for a dentist. Now, get over there and see what’s behind that door! Reason was right, of course, so I withdrew my foot from the first step and gingerly made my way over to the door that appeared slightly ajar.

Again, each time my foot hit the wooden board, a loud sound echoed through the empty corridor. “Is anyone here? Is there a dentist up here?”

The door swung open and an elderly lady, dressed in a simple cotton dress barreled through. “Oh, I didn’t hear you, honey? You been out here long? I thought maybe that old cat had got back in, and I was a fixin’ to run him right out.” Indeed, she had nearly run me down.

“Uh, sorry, I, uh, didn’t see a cat.” Her shoulders relaxed, which was when I noticed the broom in her hand. Boy, that was a close call. “Actually, the sign on the door down there said there is a dentist up here, but I don’t know on which of these doors I should knock. I’m just passing through town, but I’ve a tooth that is really hurting me.”

“Oh yeah, he’s here alright. Come in here. I’ll go get him.” The kind, though somewhat brusque lady took hold of my arm and pulled me over to the dentist’s chair. “Sit down. He’ll be here soon. Just relax.” Hmm, not likely, and I prayed I’d have the courage to wait.

In the middle of my slowly breathing out phase of the relaxation exercise, I opened my eyes to see the dentist standing in front of me. I fought to keep my eyelids from slamming shut.

The dentist, still chewing on something that dripped out of the corner of his mouth, tried to smile at me. Apparently, the elderly man realized he’d lose more of his mouthful if he carried through with the smile, because he sobered up and swiped the back of one beefy hand across his lips. Next, while finishing the chewing and swallowing, he flip-flopped his hand, scrubbing it back and forth across his less-than-clean sleeveless under shirt. At that point, the dentist glanced down and snapped up the suspenders attached to his trousers, still hanging loosely at his sides. My attention returned to his scruffy face, because he began to speak.

“Okay, little girl, the wife tells me you got a bad tooth in there. Open up and lemme take a gander at it.” Had my sudden clenching of jaws not shot a searing pain through my tooth, I’d have bolted from the chair. Instead, I closed my eyes and opened up. “Uh-huh. You got a real bad un in there, Missy. Wife’s says you’re a passing’ through our fair city; that right?” I simply nodded, since both of his hands held instruments still in my mouth. “Well, doncha go worryin’ ‘bout this little job. I’ve taken out plenty of teeth in my time and you’ll be a feelin’ a mite better once we’re done here.”

The dentist called for his wife to bring him some numbered instruments. Each number called out tightened my muscles a bit. To say that his reassurance to just relax fell on deaf ears was an understatement. Since my eyes were tightly closed, I didn’t discover that one of those numbered tools was a syringe, until I felt the deep insertion of a needle. Sometimes certain nerves will automatically elicit the tear response; but then, they might have just been my body’s reaction to the terror I felt. I have no memory of this being a painful experience.

“There, there dear; I’ll be done in a minute and then you’ll not be a feelin’ anything. You’ll see; it’ll be just fine.” The hands left my mouth, as the dentist straightened up. “Okay, now it’ll just take a few minutes. I’ll leave you here until the medicine begins to work. You just sit right here and relax.”

Relieved to be alone, I began to exhale slowly. Unfortunately, the contents of my stomach preferred to just rid itself of its marinating burden. I flew out of the chair, open palm covering my mouth. Propelling myself through the office doorway, I pulled up short, realizing I had not a clue where to find a restroom.

The dentist’s missus heard my muffled cry for help and grabbed on to my elbow. In tandem, we fairly flew to the far end of the long hallway. She flung open the door at the very moment I lunged for the open toilet and let go of my lunch.

When I had finished, the dear lady was nowhere to be seen. Oh well, I knew the way back and she probably had something else to do, right? I cleaned up and, on wobbly legs, slowly made my way back to the still open door.

Soon enough, the dentist returned.”Okay, well, that should about do it. Let’s get started so you can be on your way. Open up wide now.”

I did as commanded, closing my eyes to picture myself in some verdant meadow, filled with colorful flowers and chirping birds. The fantasy left me, however, when I felt the pressure of his knee on my chest. With my mouth full of his hands, I could say nothing. I sincerely hoped that his rickety old, black dentist chair had the arms bolted down, because I was pulling on them every bit as much as the dentist was pulling on my tooth.

Crack! The sound exploded in the room, breaking the tense silence that had been punctuated with only occasional groans as the dentist struggled with my tooth. The flow of warm, sticky liquid verified he’d won the battle. Satisfied, he returned his leg to the standing position, and reached for the wad of cotton on his tray.

“Go ahead and spit into the thing-a-ma-jig there. Then I’ll stuff this cotton in the hole and you can be on your way.”

I was trembling, but relieved that the ordeal had finally ended. He gave me no prescriptions for pain relievers or antibiotics, the absence of the latter causing me some concern, due to the conditions under which the tooth had been pulled. I wasn’t going to ask him; I just wanted out of there.

I recounted my mini—nightmare in the dentist’s office to my friends as we resumed our journey. It wasn’t long before I joined in with their laughter. It really was a hilarious situation, and now that it was over and my tooth no longer hurt, I could find the humor in it. I was also grateful that it was not likely I’d ever repeat this experience in this little town.

To this day, passing this familiar off-ramp brings back vivid memories of my trip to their dentist, though I am quite certain he has long since left this world behind.

The familiar road sign also reminds me of a simple truth. God was never afraid for my life on that day; He knew exactly what was happening and that I’d be fine. The dentist was not the spit-and-polish variety professional, and his equipment far from up-to-date; nevertheless, he did know what he was doing. Plus, I could afford the less than five dollars that his services cost me. God used this man to show me that He would provide for me just what I needed, when I needed it, regardless of how His provision might appear on the surface. Having left the pain behind with the extracted molar, I was truly grateful for God’s emergency provision. There was never any pain or infection following the procedure.

****Study in Canada: Contemporary Greats…Next Post

1 comment:

  1. I have repeatedly told people I'd rather go through natural child birth than deal with dental pain. My worst dentist experience came as a teenager. Our family dentist knew nothing of TLC. He had given me Novocaine but it did not deaden the nerves. I screamed and he SLAPPED my face! My Dad came running in to the office and things calmed down. I had another terrible experience about six years ago. A rotted tooth had come out by itself, but the root remained. It became infected and nearly all dentist offices were closed for the day. I finally found a medical doctor who would give me an antibiotic and something for the pain but I had to drive about 45 minutes in each direction in terrible pain. (A few days later I saw a dentist who had to do oral surgery to remove the root.) I hope I never have a repeat performance.