I inherited a Cocker Spaniel years ago when a coworker had to give him away and somebody’s mouth opened up and said, “I’ll take him.” It was my mouth, functioning in its usual standalone mode. Suddenly I was in possession of a 6 year old blonde Cocker. Prior to this accidental acquisition, I had been a “muscle dog” owner — specifically, a pack of five Dobermans. Dobermans conjure a certain mental image — leather jackets, hands off, prayers for deliverance. Cockers, not so much. They’re more silky, pet me, look into my chocolatey eyes and feed me dogs.
My Cocker came with a very low pain threshhold. He would look mightily aggrieved and cry piteously at the least infraction, be it an accidental step on his toe or a tiny burr stuck on his ear. I learned the meaning of the phrase, “a Cocker Spaniel’s tolerance for pain.” It’s a very low bar.
We were neurotically attached to each other by the time he died 9 years later. So much so, in fact, that I think he left me with some of his traits as he departed this world. One trait was his phenomenal sense of smell. I can smell a cigarette two cars ahead in traffic with its windows closed. The other trait, of course, is that Cocker Spaniel’s intolerance for pain.
I had a dentist’s appointment this past week. I’ve been dodging this out of teeth-chattering fear for six months, but pulled on the big girl panties at last and presented myself for The Mad Queen’s 2 new crowns, only because I don’t want the need for a crown to morph into the need for a root canal. Alas, as these crowns reside in my mouth, red velvet did not seem to be an option for that location. I wasn’t offered gold, but I’d rather have that in my palm than in my teeth anyway.
Previous adventures in dentistry have involved both man- and woman-handling. My childhood dentist simply wrapped me in a headlock, sold his supply of Novocaine on the black market, and ministered gently enough that I could not open my mouth for 2 days. A root canal crafted while I resided near Boston involved many Saturday visits, a none-too-clean office, an infection, and the dentist intentionally spraying water in my face because she thought I was going to faint. She should have let me; the experience would have been significantly better for both of us. That same root canal blew up 15 years later. Its replacement involved nitrous oxide (overrated, or I just didn’t get enough), the male dentist proclaiming, “I feel like I’ve just given birth,” upon the root canal’s completion, and colorful bruising on my cheek. My first dentist here in Virginia, a stocky, powerfully built man, immediately crowned another tooth. I emerged from his chair weak in the knees as he seemed to be unaware of his drilling strength. When he blithely informed me that unless I had my sleeping, trouble-free wisdom teeth removed I could break my jaw at any time, or develop cancer, I extracted myself from his clutches.
If the thesaurus doesn’t list “dentist” as a synonym for pain, terror and insanity, it should. Who was the first person who said, “We can make a noisy little drill, put it against the bones of your head, and grind away. Then we will extract significant money from your wallet.” My anxiety
level has risen exponentially with age and I’ll be the first to admit it’s out of proportion. Well, maybe. No matter what the advances in dentistry, it’s still just one step ahead of torture. And what happened to the noiseless drill that was being developed some 20 years ago?
The moment I sat in my new, small-of-stature, female dentist’s chair I stated my case for the generous application of Novocaine. She gave me a polite listen followed by a verbal pat on the hand, then fired up the drill. No amount of ujjayi breathing, or mentally chanting om mani padme hum, could significantly reduce my heart rate. I’m surprised that, Poe-like, she couldn’t hear the telltale pounding. Obviously gritting my teeth was not an option. Since God and I currently have a polite standoff in progress, I avoided bargaining with Him about the pain (although I did sincerely thank Him when the drilling stopped). My dream that night of having a colonoscopy without sedation had to be directly related to the dentist appointment. These people should get together, put a person under for four hours, then complete all dentistry, colonoscopies, prostate exams, pap smears, haircuts, manicures and pedicures simultaneously. Additional Novocaine would have been helpful during this latest session, so I’ve decided next time I’ll pre-medicate myself with a therapeutic martini despite having an 8:00am appointment. “This won’t hurt much,” or “you’ll just feel a pinch,” just doesn’t work for me. I want every recreational, occupational, generational and whatever type of drug is available. But how do I get my dentist to understand the depth of my aversion to dental pain?
Maybe I’ll ask her if she’s ever owned a Cocker Spaniel.