As he loomed over my prostrate and confined body, sharp pointy instruments of pain in his hand, the daunting question popped into my terrified mind, ‘How did I get here?’
I lost conscience soon after.
Some forty-five minutes later, as I slowly climbed out of the pit of la-la land, the first shades of an answer oozed forth. I had asked for it.
Likely the source for my remorse was imbedded in a lifetime of neglect, abuse, and fear. As the sedation drugs slowly disappeared my brain admitted the horrendous pain in my mouth from yet another surgically removed tooth was largely my own damn fault. None of which eased the pain.
Like many, I’ve harboured a fear of dentists, or more specifically the pain of dental work, from early childhood. I like to think my fear is deeply rooted (all pun intended) for good reason, however in truth I’m simply a wimp when it comes to toothaches or pain anywhere inside the head. Broken bones, torn muscles, cuts, bruises anywhere else in my body I actually tolerate pretty good, however when it comes to anything above the shoulders I’m a wus.
All that said and done, as I lay in the chair awaiting the return of the oral surgeon I felt exhausted from my fourth surgery in less than three weeks—including extractions and two various tubes to draw out the poison and infection that had turned my face into a puffball of pain. What started out as an abscessed molar had become a very significant and dangerous scenario.
In retrospect the ‘neglect, abuse and fear’ likely started with a genetic disposition for weak teeth combined with roots the size of a horse and a high resistance to freezing. As a kid basic dental work was hell because I was never properly frozen most of the time.
My youthful nightmarish procedures inspired avoiding dentists as often as possible—thus the vicious cycle of neglect. A car accident, hockey puck slap-shot in the face, and several years of martial arts’ tournaments also extracted (literally) their toll. In recent years a lack of funds was the main factor.
Now I was paying the price in a couple of ways.
As the mind recalled my dental history I found recourse to grin in a sardonic flashback of irony. My first molar memory had been precipitated by an incident occurring precisely 20 feet beneath the exact location I was currently sitting —now the home of Okanagan Oral Surgery on West Ave.
It was some 52 years earlier and I was in Grade 3 at Raymer Elementary. If I remember correctly my life was largely consumed with playing hockey, marbles, and chasing Grade 4 girls around the school (I preferred more mature girls in those days). To the best of my knowledge I had never been in a fight, however that was about to change on that spring day.
I’d just crossed the street and started walking home after school with a bundle of other ragamuffins when fellow student Bradley Nelms announced for no particular reason, “I’m tougher than you are!”
Though generally a pacifist at that point of my life I inexplicably responded, “No you’re not.”
“Am so. And I’ll prove it,” at which point he drilled me in the mouth with his Batman lunch bucket, busting a tooth in half. For the next five minutes we rolled around in the muddy field next to school, swinging and grunting and strutting until a teacher pulled us apart. I’m not sure who won or lost, but regardless I was minus most of a tooth and was covered head to foot in mud.
While the tooth hurt like crazy it did not sting as much as my butt did that evening after Dad gave me the belt for fighting and trashing my clothes.
Early the next morning an evil man named Dr. Strillchuck (go figure) instigated my lifetime paranoia for dentists.
I hated Bradley Nelms for at least a week.
And worst of all, the tooth fairy never brought me a cent.