Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Man in The White Coat

We were living in Puerto Rico when, a couple of weeks before my tenth birthday, my brother Forrest came along as I was bent over, butt in the air, scrubbing out the tub while still naked from my bath. What four-year old can resist an invitation like that? One mischievous kick, and I had a chipped incisor. Which led to dental x-rays, which led to the discovery that although that was my only permanent left central incisor, I had three sets of lateral incisors and canines on that side. So, one sunny day my dad dropped me off at the dentist to have two extra teeth cut out of my gums and one pulled while he went on to work. When he came back he said he could hear me screaming two blocks away. It turns out novocaine intensifies the pain for me and the dentist didn't believe that it still hurt (who believed little girls in 1952?) until I tore the shirt off his back and scratched him until he bled. His solution had been to tie me in the chair and remove the teeth. Can you wonder that I became afraid of dental needles? And, oh yes. We later discovered that he had removed an extra tooth and so the simple cap became a bridge.

Fast forward to 1975. I had just moved from Fairbanks, Alaska to Stockton, California. Bridges in those days lasted about ten years and my most recent one needed to be replaced. I explained to my mother's dentist that I was deathly afraid of needles and that since all of the teeth involved in the bridge were already root canalled (no nerves left, therefore no pain possible) I would do without a shot. He agreed. And then the sumbitch came up with his hand behind his back and got me in the roof of the mouth. Bad plan. I projectile vomited and became so hysterical that he had to call my mother 45 minutes later to come and get me because it was obvious I wasn't going to be driving that day.

The next week I went back to have the work done. The nurse tried to direct me to the chair and I refused. The dentist came in and said he understood I wouldn't get in the chair until we had talked.

"You," I said, "may be the man in the white coat, but I am the woman with the green dollar bills. And unless you promise that you will never come near me with a needle again, I'm going to take them to some other dentist."

"Lady," he answered, "I wouldn't give you a shot to save my first born son."

Somewhere between ten and 33 I had figured it out: when I hire someone to help me, their status doesn't matter, they are still the hired help. I still remember those two dentists, and if they are alive, I promise they remember me.


saz said... teeth hurt just reading this! I was so lucky to have a sweet and gentle dentist when I was a kid. Helped that he was also dating my sister.

Potato Print said...

Hi Maya's Granny,
Thank you for your wonderful comments on my blog. If the world ever ends in a debate, I want to be on your team.

I have really enjoyed visiting your blog this morning. Well, the dentist story left me drenched in sweat. I am so sorry that you went through that.

The tone of your blog is so happy, or maybe "content" is a more accurate word. Good telling of the bear story. I especially like the body poem.

J said...

ACK! I've heard these stories before, but again, ACK!

Betty said...

Your story gave me the shivers, and took me back to my first dentist - not a good place to go back to. I had to explain to my doctor's nurse a few years ago that, ultimately, I make the decisions about my health. I usually follow Dr's advice, but it's my right not to. She had to check that with the doctor. Sigh.

Maya's Granny said...


Of course the nurse had to check that out with the doctor! How absurd.

I once explained to a doctor (not the wonderful young woman I have now) that I had no interest in living forever at the cost of dieting every minute of that time and I didn't believe that length of anything was as important as what you did with it. Of course, that's easy for me to say, since I have very long lived relatives, some of them very large indeed. But, I would mean it anyway. I think.

kenju said...

WOW, I have had a lot of dental work and oral surgery, but nothing to compare with that! Luckily, novocaine works well for me. However, Percodan doesn't. I was given that after I cut my big toe in a lawn mower accident (22 stitches) and it didn't help at all. I chewed through a pillow to keep from screaming! Ouch!

Joy Des Jardins said...

Oh J. what a nightmare these dentists were....hardly the examples you needed to be set for the rest of your life....and, that's all it takes. I can't even imagine the horror you felt as that small child facing that first devil dentist. He's lucky all he got was a scratched up back. I cringe when I think of it.

Py Korry said...

It's a wonder that you ever went to a dentist again! I've been lucky because the two destists I've seen in my life have been really great. But it's stories like yours that make me understand why people are afraid of dentists.

Maya's Granny said...

I am really lucky now. I have a wonderful dentist, and she is easy to go to. I also had a dentist in California who worked with me successfully to overcome my fear of needles, so I am really relaxed when I have work done these days.

KelliAmanda said...

Wow. Scary story - I had a bad dentist experience as a young child (though not as bad as yours!!!), but don't mind going to the dentist so much now. Still, I completely agree that the docs and dentists are paid to work for us, and, while I treat them with respect, I also expect my money's worth.

Maya's Granny said...

Yes. The thing about hired help, no matter what you hire them to help with, is that you treat them with respect but, ultimately, you are in charge. Some professionals forget that, but it isn't really hard to remind them.