Mountain Ash, Winter Green





The pen stutters across the page. Nevertheless, I take it up again. Comes from marathon watching of Newsroom. It is Macys Thanksgiving Day parade when I pause the VCR and the announcers are announcing the Cherokee Nation marching band and chorus doing a traditional Cherokee song. Im rushing out the bedroom door because nature has called and I dont want to pee all over myself or Marcs floor. Im thinking, How gauchely cute. The Indians will forgive The Trail of Tears because theyve been invited to march in the Thanksgiving Day parade, so Im already a bit cynical when I think I hear strains of ...Glory, glory, hallelujah coming from the speakers behind me. But maybe Im just hallucinating.





Swiffer Mop


Aortic aneurysm--not the birthday present I wanted, though to be sure it was a surprise. Ethan said the Wikipedia article made it sound like a time bomb. Well, thats because it is a time bomb. Later, though, I thought a land mine might be a better metaphor. What do you think? Still, what I wanted was Mrs. Maurys Swiffer mop.




"Why don't you get your teeth fixed."


Thirty-five years ago I was visiting Ken Gale and he took me up to meet his upstairs neighbor. She didn't have much to say to me, as we were just being introduced and Ken and I stayed in the hallway. But she did manage to ask, in that five minute conversation, "Why don't you get your teeth fixed?"


Sixty years ago a boy in my school picked me up and threw me down the hallway. I landed on my teeth. My upper front teeth were broken immediately and needed temporary caps, because an eight- year-old's mouth is not finished growing but those teeth are. Fifty years ago I went to have my permanent caps installed. It was the first time I had to go to "a grown-up place" without an adult since my Mom had died, so I was scared already, and the dentist I saw traumatized me beyond telling, until now.


I have been to a lot of grown-up places since then, but dental offices were never among them, by choice. Nevertheless, thanks to that first inept dental surgeon (hereinafter identified as the BSDS), my choices have been pre-empted. The first infraction I hold him guilty of is poor chairside manner. Although he had been alone on my initial visit, he was apparently being "shadowed" by a student on the day of my surgery. At any rate he was putting on a show for the second guy there. As I sat rigid with fear in the chair he began injecting Novocaine into the roof of my mouth for the root canals I would need before the caps could be applied. It was incredibly painful and I began to cry; his response to the tears streaming down my face was to laugh. I was not amused. About five years ago, as I was retelling this story in my primary care dentist's office, Dr. G made an observation which has gone a long way towards granting a parole for that BSDS: "Maybe he was not laughing at you, but laughing in embarrassment."


But he isn't out of jail yet, because that was not the full extent of his BS. As part of that process, BSDS, while he was waiting for the Novocaine to take effect, started showing a device to his shadow. This was supposed to be a tool that would show whether or not an apparently uninjured tooth was dead. He was using it to show why the fourth tooth in my upper jaw also needed a root canal, even though it had not been broken. I didn't understand the tool, either; it was just a sort of pointy thing he wanted to put in my mouth that was supposed to be able to test whether or not a tooth was still "alive." So, after putting me in tears for the Novocaine, he proceeded, telling me "This won't hurt." When I asked him what it would feel like, he said it would "tingle." Needless to say, I was not convinced. But sure enough. he touched the tool to my upper tooth and I didn't feel anything. Then, to demonstrate the accuracy of the tool, he touched it to one of my lower teeth, and I didn't feel anything again. Nonplussed, he examined his tool and examined my mouth and tested the next tooth over; and again I didn't feel anything. Well, being the winner that he was, he didn't believe his patient, and told his "shadow" that, obviously, I was hysterical, and dropped me from his conscious mind. Consequently, the first thing I have told every new dentist I have seen since then is that I am an hysterical patient.


For the next 30 years, those first root canals became more and more trouble. Every couple of years I would get an infection in them. First, there would be a pimple-like spot in my upper gum. Next, I would have pain going up along the side of my nose and into that sinus. Then, I would have either a sinus infection, an ear infection, a strep throat or a combination platter. To get the infections treated I would see another dentist who would do an apicoectomy. (Think of it as a root canal on a root canal, but doing it from the root.) Lather, rinse, repeat.


Finally, when I moved down to New York City, Marc took me to his dentist, who has since become my primary care dentist. One of the first things Dr. G did when he heard my story and saw the scar tissue on my upper gum was to send me to yet another dental surgeon. This one, Dr. K, in the famous Williamsburg Bank building, was considered by Dr. G to be the best in the city. Dr. K decided that the best thing to do was to knock me out completely and to redo the root canals completely. It took about four hours as he had to redo four teeth, and when they woke me up they told me that they found the nerves still in my teeth. Fortunately for the BSDS, if you are going to sue for malpractice it must be within two years of the date of the event. Maybe even more fortunately for him, I can't remember his name.


Fast-forward thirty-five years: I have very slowly begun to trust my current dentist. For many years he has wanted to do something about my bite. My lower jaw is smaller than my upper jaw so that my two center teeth had been crowded into pointing backward sort of like this: \__--__/ (imagine it on a curve *grin*). Eventually, because of the overlap and my dental hygiene, those two teeth were beginning to rot and would have to come out. I had started working on getting my permanent caps replaced with implants; my teeth began to look better and I became seduced by the idea of having a great smile. (Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.) So I suggested that instead of pulling them and putting in an implant, we'd pull them and use Invisalign to push them together. Dr. G thought that was a great idea, so we did it.


I had a hint there was an issue, because one of the teeth began to have a low-grade ache a couple of months into the movement process, but there wasn't an obvious problem. Then, after a year, the aligning part was over and I had gotten my retainer aligner, when the problem became obvious. I developed a fistula in my lower jaw under the tooth that had ached.. The first step was to get a root canal in that tooth. The fistula did not go away. There appeared to be some kind of leak in the root canal, so I had the root canal repeated. The fistula did not go away. Long story short: that meant that there was a fracture in the root of the tooth. So I had to get that tooth pulled and to plan on getting an implant there anyway. We did that. And then I got a fistula under the next tooth. Sure enough, that tooth had a fracture in the root, too. So I had to get that tooth pulled, too. In the course of the differential diagnosis, one of my dentists (the implant guy, Dr. H) said something about calcifications in the teeth, which reminded me of a previous root canal with another dentist who had yelled at me for having so much calcification in my canals. When I told Dr. H about that, he mentioned that such things sometimes reflect previous damage. I took that home and, while running it around my hamsters wheels that night (instead of sleeping, of course), I remembered the BSDS and my "undead" teeth. Is it possible, I asked Dr. G the next week, that those teeth had had fractured roots since third grade and they just were stable and not a problem until we started shoving them around? Well, ....maybe. But, in any case, by that time it was clear that there was no point in going on with the retainer aligner.


Root canals cost about a thousand dollars each. Implants cost about $1500. The Invisalign process costs about $5000, and a visit to the dentist every six weeks or so.(?) If I finish getting my teeth fixed before I die, we will have spent $20,000 to 40,000 on the process. It is my theory (and hope) that I have now had the last of the remnants of that third-grade trauma and the BSDS finally removed from my mouth. And if I ever get access to a time machine, I'm going back to see Ken's upstairs neighbor and say "Why don't you mind your own business?"




This has been:

Donna Camp
1088 East 40th St.
Brooklyn, NY 11210