Like most rational people, thereís few things I find more terrifying than visiting the dentist.
Dear Dentists: Please donít take this personally. It is a noble and heroic thing you do, taking on a job that is thankless, feared by most of the citizenry and God knows what kind of messes you see down most those mugs. However, this is a tongue-in-cheek column (Get it? Tongue in cheek? Ha!) and merely for entertainment value. Next week: Visiting your insurance agent!
So I show up for an appointment I have waited months for. Thatís how it is with dentists nowadays in case you havenít noticed, or youíre like me, and only go when something is bothering you so badly you have no other choice.
Anyway, Iím filling out the questionnaire they give you now any time you see a doctor, dentist, lawyer, social worker or auto mechanic. One of the questions was:
"Are you currently using alcohol or drugs?"
Now thatís about the silliest way to phrase a question as Iíve ever heard. Are you currently using alcohol, which is legal, versus drugs, which one would assume they donít mean the prescription kind, which are not legal. How do you answer that? Yeah, I enjoy a cold one on a regular basis. Not too regular, you understand, but regular enough that Iím no stranger to the hops at all. But I do not now and never have used drugs other than for the occasional headache or cold.
So I check the box that says "Yes." There is no option for clarification. I cannot check "Yes, I use alcohol but not drugs." There also is no box to check, "Yes, I use drugs, but not alcohol." There is also not a place to put in your address so they can deliver the arrest warrant if you answer that one in the affirmative. So I am stuck now being either labeled a pothead, crackhead, meth-fiend, boozer, gin-rummy or wino.
Next question on the sheet is, oddly enough:
"If so, do you wish to stop?"
Now what the devil kind of question is that? Thereís only check boxes again, "yes" or "no." So having already committed myself to a sea of uncertainty over what vices and habits I already have, their legality and frequency, I now must answer an ambiguous question regarding whether or not I would like to turn myself in to the police or join AA.
I turned to the receptionist at the office and said, "These are trick questions, arenít they?"
She nodded cheerfully and said, "Yep! Sure are!"
All suspicions confirmed, I continued the questionnaire, confirming with "no" check boxes that I do not, in fact, have hepatitis, shingles, arthritis, am not pregnant, do not have tuberculosis, bubonic plague, scurvy, curvature of the spine, skull fracture and do have flat feet.
Finally thereís a question that I can answer enthusiastically:
"Is there any reason why you donít want to see the dentist" and in the blank space provided for my answer I write a single word in all capital letters:
That clear enough? Having completed the survey, I pass the clipboard back to the receptionist and go sit down in the waiting area again to chew my nails, when they call me in. I follow the lady to the room where they do the dentistry, and she sits me in a dentistís chair which is facing the wall, my back to the door. I am wondering if thereís any reason for this: Is it so patients canít jump up and run? Is it so that if they try to jump up and run theyíll crash into the wall and knock themselves out cold, thus saving on anesthesia costs?
I tell the kind lady about my bad tooth. Bottom left, second from last. I chipped it eating a crackliní months ago, and the chip was getting bigger, so I figured if I intended to keep eating steak Iíd have to get it tended to. Then the dentist came in, and noted that I had filled out a very honest questionnaire.
"Not to give my life story, doc," I said, "but I had four surgeries on my eyes before I was two years old and two on my ears before I was four years old, and when I was six I fell on a piece of tin in the back yard and you can still see the scar on my forearm, see, right there, yep, thatís where I did it, no it doesnít hurt anymore but when I was 10 my Shetland pony Nancy kicked me in the mouth and thatís why my two front teeth are kinda crooked, and when I was 20 I fell in my dadís boat and broke a couple ribs and when I was 23 I had the croup really bad and I coughed so hard I broke the ribs again and then when I was 30 I stubbed my toe on the coffee table and took the nail off and when I was 33 I stepped on a wasp in the bathroom and when I was 38 I smashed my thumb with a hammer and when I was 40 I quit smoking and now Iíve got this bad tooth so you can see that Iíve had a very traumatic life when it comes to dealing with injuries and the medical profession."
So he gets to looking around in there, goes, "Oh, yeah," which Iím not sure what that means and says heís going to use his pick to see if thereís any decay. I am saying, "No, youíre not," and heís saying he has to, so I lean back, white-knuckled and trying not to breathe. He started picking around in there and you know what? Thereís no decay!
"Hereís the good news," the doc says. "I think we can bond something to that little chip."
Now, you have to realize, Iím not in my right mind. Not that Iím ever in my right mind, but I am particularly not at this point. So Iím wondering: What? Whatís he going to bond to the little chip? A Volkswagen bumper? A cruise ship anchor?
"Weíll just brush something on it first, and it smells really strong, then put something else on it and kinda shape it in place," he said and Iím starting to like this guy, especially when he says the magic words:
"You wonít feel a thing."
Well, that was okay by me! Just as I was starting to feel better, at ease relaxed and had said, "Anything you say, doc," both he and the assistant donned clear plastic face shields.
"OSHA makes us," they said. "Itís no big deal."
So sure enough, after adequate cleaning, drying and brushing then shaping and molding with the drill grinder thingy (that part made me a little nervous.) The brushing stuff reminded me of the epoxy I use for boatbuilding, and I took a kind of smug satisfaction in that. I mentioned to the doc that Iíd like to kinda get the rest of the olí chompers checked out so that I could keep Ďem around as long as possible and there he comes with that dadgum pick again, and taps and scrapes on every one of them while Iím lying there white-knuckled again, but nope, nothing hurt.
So I got a retread on the second to last bottom right molar in my mouth now, and weíre hoping it lasts so we donít have to resort to drills, caps and that most horrid of words one hears in a dentistís office, "Spit!"
I shook the docís hand and thanked him for not being an Inquisitor. I promised to brush on schedule, floss, cut down on the sweets and gargle with blue Listerine.