It’s 9:00 AM and I’m sitting in the dentist’s chair. The news is not good.
“It needs to be extracted,” the dentist says, pronouncing my molar’s death sentence.
“Wow,” I reply. “That bad?”
“You can’t fix it?”
“You could get a root canal and a crown,” the dentist replies. “But even after spending all that money the odds are good you’ll lose the tooth anyway.”
“So it makes clinical and financial sense to have it pulled.”
“I don’t like to lose,” the dentist says, almost apologetically. “But the tooth is too far gone.”
“That’s what I get for letting it go so long.”
The dentist pats me on the shoulder. “It’s a fairly straightforward extraction. Shouldn’t be too much trouble.”
“When should I have it pulled?”
“The sooner the better. I’ll see if I can get you an emergency appointment with the oral surgeon today.”
The oral surgeon can’t squeeze me in until 5:30 PM, so I have seven hours to kill. I go to the grocery store and pick up some food – soft food that is. I buy yogurt, soup, ice cream, an onion, a can of diced potatoes, and a half carton of eggs. Since I have no cash I get into the express lane which accepts credit cards.
“I’m sorry, sir,” the cashier says, handing back my Visa. “Your card’s been declined.”
“Your credit card’s been declined.”
“Why?” I ask, looking at the cashier’s terminal.
“The computer says you have to call your credit card company,” the cashier says with a diffident shrug.
“Do you have another card?” the cashier asks, looking at me like I’m “sketchy.”
“Yeah. Hang on.”
As I fumble through my wallet the fat man standing in line behind me starts groaning impatiently. After a few seconds I find another charge card. Satisfied I’m not a deadbeat; the cashier rings me up and bags my purchases. Once I get to my car I call the credit card company.
“We detected fraudulent activity on your card,” the customer rep says. “So we shut it off.”
“What kind of fraudulent activity?” I ask.
“Adult websites, offshore gambling – the usual.”
“How much did they charge?”
“Not a lot,” the rep says. “About $60 bucks worth of stuff. They were probably testing to see of the number was good.”
“I wonder how they got a hold of my number.” I say. “I’m so careful.”
“There’s no way to know, sir,” the rep says. “They’ve got thousands of ways to get your information.”
“I better call my other credit card companies,” I say. “Make sure no other hanky panky’s going on.”
“That’s a good idea, sir.”
The rep tells me I’ll get a replacement card in several days. I go home, heat up some soup, and review the purchase history of all my credit cards. Other than the recent thievery I’m okay – unless you count the $200 I spent on gas has last month.
At 6:00 I’m sitting in another dentist chair waiting for the Novocain to kick in. As my lip starts to puff, I run my tongue over the condemned tooth. I actually feel sorry for my molar, guilty that I didn’t take better care of it. Suddenly a wave of anxiety washes over me. Sitting alone in the office I feel small and vulnerable. I just turned forty, my teeth are falling out, identity thieves are funding their wank fests with my hard earned money, and gas costs over $4 a gallon. I fight the urge to flee the oral surgeon’s office and escape with my molar. But I had a tooth abscess on me once. I know the pain that’s in store if I don’t take care of this situation right away. I stuff my raw feelings deep down inside me. It’s time to “cowboy up.”
“Are you ready?” the oral surgeon asks as he comes into the room.
“As ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Are you numb enough? I don’t want you feeling any pain.”
“I think so,” I say. “Let’s just get this over with.”
“You want any gas?”
The oral surgeon is very skilled and works quickly. After a few minutes of pressure, crunching noises, and a blast of mind searing pain, it’s all over.
“Ughhhh,” I say, spitting blood and bits into a spittoon. “That sucked.”
“You okay?” the oral surgeon asks.
“Look at this tooth,” the oral surgeon says, pointing to the shattered molar lying on the instrument tray. “It’s completely infected.”
‘The wages of candy is death,” I reply, feeling like someone punched me in the face.
“It was a time bomb. You’re lucky we got it out when we did.”
“Wonderful,” I groan.
The dentist gives me prescriptions for Vicodin and antibiotics along with my post-operative instructions. Before I go to the cashier I stop in the bathroom to wash my face. I don’t want anyone to see that I’ve been crying. Some cowboy.
I drive home with an ice pack on my face. Of course I get stuck in rush hour traffic. By the time I walk into the pharmacy it’s 7:30PM. The Novocain’s starting to wear roof.
“How long will it take to fill this?” I ask the pharmacy tech.
“An hour,” he replies.
“Oh man,” I say. “Can you speed it up? I just had a tooth pulled.”
“Sorry, sir,” the tech replies, flatly. “We’re behind today.”
I decide not to get aggravated. That’ll only make matters worse. I go home, pop some Advil, and take Buster for a long walk. After an hour I return to the pharmacy. The line in front of the counter is huge. I learn from elderly health care cognoscenti waiting with me that the regular pharmacist quit the day before and a sub’s filling in. I wait another forty-five minutes behind a disheveled man who’s muttering to himself and producing a prodigious amount of flatulence.
“You have a prescription for me?” I ask the tech when I finally reach the counter.
“I’m sorry, sir.” The tech says. “It’s still not ready.’
“But you’ve had over two hours!” I yelp, my patience finally buckling. “I’m in pain.”
The tech gives me a shell shocked shrug and turns his attention to another customer. I go to the waiting area to sit down, but It’s full of miserable looking elderly people so I can’t. I lean against the counter and wait. For another half hour I listen as anxious people crab about money, ailments, and insurance. I’m starving and the empty socket in my jaw starts to ache. I feel like Job.
I finally get my prescriptions and go home. I make a potato and onion omelet, carefully eat it with the untraumatized side of my mouth, and wash it down with water and 500MG of Amoxicillin. I’ve had a really bad day. I want a drink. I pop a Vicodin instead. Exhausted I get into bed. As I slip under the covers I run my tongue around the empty socket where my molar lived for almost forty years. I’m feeling very sorry for myself.
But as I start nodding off I think about the tough things some friends of mine are dealing with – death, disease, injury, and unemployment. I’m not having a bad day. I’m not even close to having a bad day. Or am I being too hard on myself? Am I minimizing? I don’t know. I’m sleepy. Buster curls up next to my feet and I drift off into a narcotic slumber. At some point during the night I dream that a dissatisfied restaurant customer reaches into my mouth and pulls out my teeth.