Saturday, August 13, 2011

Show Me Ya Teeth. Or Don't... Seriously, Don't.

Every now and then, I go through a chrysalis stage in attempt to bring my world back to equilibrium. Be it my career, the house, finances, the aging Civic Hybrid, et al; I usually discover some component that is in an unacceptable state of disrepair, and I devote my obsessive attention to restoring it to a quality in which I can ignore it again for 6-18 months. Granted, all of these problems generally surface due to said neglect, and I'm self-aware enough to know this isn't the best life management style by any stretch. But continual discipline toward the maintenance of things is a quality that has always been elusive to me. I think it's because I hate the concept of "baby steps." The mere suggestion that anything can be tackled with slow, deliberate efforts over time annoys the fuck out of me. I am an impatient bastard who generally wants immediate gratification. And let's be honest, babies don't take good steps. They're wobbly, misdirected, require constant oversight, and can't be left alone or expected to do anything by themselves. So the dependency subtext of the baby steps analogy crawls all over me. (I'm not above baby puns, however.) Also, if we are to consider clich├ęs for retirement, I nominate, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." WHO EATS ELEPHANT?? Hyenas. Not people. Move on, unhelpful adage.

2011 has been the year of the dentist. If you were to pinpoint one area of my life that I could never get ahead in, it would be the chompers. 20+ years of fighting with adult teeth has turned me into an embittered, bratty child with serious health issues that were seemingly impossible to redress. My teen years were fraught with dental injury after dental injury, and there began a seething, slow-burning envy for the tooth-regenerating faculties of sharks. FUN FACT: Some sharks can shed up to 35,000 teeth in their lifetime. Humans get 48-52. Thank you evolution, God, or Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Most of us have some level of vanity lurking beneath the surface. If you don't live in Hollywood, then you most likely suppress or conceal it, especially if you live in the bible belt. More and more, I am realizing just how dark and twisted this can make a person psychologically. Taken to extremes, a person can actually pat themselves on the back for denying themselves the most basic of human needs, because they believe the physical body has little intrinsic value, whose glory vastly fades, the material world pales in comparison to the spiritual, blah blah blah. These people are just modern-day Gnostics, and I find them to be the most insufferable motherfuckers of all. What eludes them is the irony that their own divinely laudable self-neglect leads to further problems for their god to clean up. But these are the extreme, false ideals around which I grew up, so in a lot of ways, I'm not surprised by the level of artificial guilt I carried around for wanting to fix something about myself. If everyone realized that feeling good about your self-image actually makes you a more likable person, then this would be a non-issue. I'm not campaigning for a spot on the cover of US Weekly, people, I just want to be able to eat a steak without having to throw it in a blender. Not too much to ask.

When the emergencies could no longer be ignored, the latest pet project became fixing it. All of it. No stone unturned, even though I had no idea what I had signed up for. It was time to blow up the insurance with claims for major, restorative care and a litany of procedure codes to make their unsympathetic heads spin. After charting the course with an excellent DDS, the conversations with those in the know were remarkably supportive and encouraging. It's funny; it didn't matter who I talked to, there seems to be an oft-repeated consoling remark for someone trying to fix their grill: "It's genetics." As in, "Don't beat yourself up, your Mendelian inheritance is just fucked." Which is no sleight to mom and dad; it's just a regressive scapegoat that people tend to wield, generally with disregard for their own volition and little to no specific, scientific support. But gesture noted, it was still little comfort when weathering the cascading waves of pain and the shame spiral. It took 5 months and 6-8 half-day appointments, but I believe I'm finally in the clear. Instead of a boring play-by-play, I thought I'd share the high and low points in a sort of highlight/blooper reel format. No video though. I absolutely banned all recording devices, though I'm not entirely confident that someone didn't nanny-cam me.

Halcion/Triazolam - Given my apprehensions with the work to be done, the dentist's office wrote me this script for happiness in a bottle. (Yes, even better than FFC Claret, *gasp*) It's pretty much a date-rape drug, given my consequent amnesia. Combined with the nitrous, I went on several fantastic voyages in that dentistry chair. It has time-travelling properties, and my love for each of those 14 pills brings me dangerously close to questioning my opinions on recreational drug use. (Sidebar... Potential Vocational Plan B as a conservative radio blowhard! Your hypocrisy never stops being funny, Rush.) Seriously, if it hadn't received FDA approval back in '82, Pfizer could make a killing off this other, equally magical, little blue pill.

"As the world turds..." - It's conventional wisdom now to not drunkenly text, right? The same could be said of Gchat. Feast your eyes on this epic malapropism:

[Fortunator was asking me how I was doing following my first appointment.]

MB: I took these oral sedatives before the appt, so I was drunk" before mom picked me up.

F: yesssssss

MB: Fell asleep several times while in the chair

F: isn't that the point of a sedative?

MB: I mean, I guess. Except that out makes it more difficult when the dentist is asking you questions.

F: he should know better

MB: Ahh well, it worked out. As it turds out I was feeling asleep at key moments. Like when there's a device in my mouth that I need to clamp down on. The release. All very important.

F: are you still sedated? I'm dying laughing over here

MB: turds, really?

F: "as it turds out" I'm guffawing over here

MB: Yes. Very. FML

The moral of the story, kids... when you get gassed, you never know when a conversation will take a turd for the worse.

Ow Ow Wow Ow Oh Stop Ugh Ugh Oh Stop Ow Ugh Ugh I Can't Breathe Stop Ugh - Unknown fact before now: temporary teeth hurt like a bitch. Without getting too specific, if you have to have your teeth "shaped" in any way for a permanent fixture, the interim device/materials will make your life a living hell. In my case, the DDS used a hardened, resin-like, plastic substance which had zero heat or cold inhibiting properties. Be it cereal milk, tap water, or hot pocket, anything I ate or drank was always either too hot or too cold. I didn't know it at the time, but I also had an infection building around a nerve. And the murderous pain built to levels higher than what I experienced before all the work began. For someone who has a pretty high tolerance, I was a weepy, miserable mess for weeks, despite the regular rotation of Lortab 7.5's, liquid gel Aleve and Advil, fast-dissolving Excedrin, and Tylenol PM's. Nothing took the edge off, and I was beginning to welcome the sweet oblivion of a bullet to the head and bid this cruel world adieu. Not even the observation that my state was eerily akin to The Grape Lady was enough to inject humor into this sitch.

This ultimately led to the lowest point in the journey: a root canal orchestrated by Satan himself.

The Moment I Almost Killed Somebody - [This last section a little too detailed for my taste and definitely not for the faint of heart. You've been warned.]

If your dentist's office wants to refer you to a "local endodontist," tell them to go to hell. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200 (as if anything I went through would be this cheap), go straight to hell you heartless motherfucker. If you live in a metro, then you generally have sufficient options when shopping for a good endodontist. You have the convenience of perusing for patient reviews. But when you're in emergency like I was with no time to take off for a Dallas or OKC visit, you'll be stuck with Dr. Mengele. My two tortuous sessions with the Angel of Death were a reminder that some professions just do not suit certain people. In dentistry, you either have the touch or you do not. In sharp contrast to my DDS, who demonstrated competency and compassion with a needle stick (I never even felt it once.), Orin Scrivello attacked my gums like he was marinating a rump roast with a flavor injector. And without a topical anesthetic or nitrous, strike one. He then could not remove the crown on his own to begin the root canal. So I had to "help" him. His instructions to me:

"Ok, I need you to clamp down on this sticky, gummy bear thing. I'll then cool it down so that it will bind that top crown to your bottom wisdom tooth. Then when I count to three, I want you to yank your mouth open as hard as you can, and hopefully it will rip that crown right off."

SERIOUSLY?!? Umm, first of all, why am I paying you when I'll be doing all the work? Sure enough, he counted (rather quickly) to three, and when I hesitated, he actually tried to force my mouth open. With a sickening squelch, the crown popped off and the torture continued. Strike two. Sadistic dentist proceeded to try and isolate the affected tooth by placing a clamp on it. Although I'm sure it's considered an advancement in endodontic practice, the large sheet of mouth-raping dental dam was apparently the only means to accomplish this. And in the process of transforming me into a de-masked Predator, the tension sent the tooth clamp flying across the room. Cling, ping, clang. Strike three, and we're still just getting started. When he couldn't clamp the tooth, he fired up another, unknown device, and there soon followed the distinctive, olfactory recognition of a very specific smell. Burning flesh.

MB: Umm, you planning on throwing some steaks on the grill?

Scrivello: I'm cauterizing your gums. I've not been able to reach the crown line because of the gum tissue in the way.

Greaaaaaaat. Forget ribs, Billy Sims. BBQ gums are on the menu. I would have vomited right then and there if I thought he was capable of clearing my airway. It's disgusting to admit it, but I smelled delicious. For coercing me into considering hypothetical cannibalism, that's strike four. And the last, ignominious turn in this trip through Tartarus came when Jigsaw had to seat the crown. With a few dabs of cement, Endo bore down on the roof of my mouth with his full body weight. Pressure like I have never felt before in my life. Further distressing, he stepped up and onto the chair to leverage more weight, and his hand in my mouth shook violently, as if he were gathering the strength to do an iron cross or a handstand on my molar. Whatever his intention, the dismount was long overdue. And I had the sinking suspicion that I'd be charged for more services than I rendered. Or appeared to render anyway. I left that office in haste, like a dishonored geisha.

Despite the initial rant, my resolution at the close of this entire ordeal is that worthwhile goals can rarely be decoupled from the processes it takes to get there, whether it be weight loss, credit repair, or any other arena of personal betterment. The most successful people that I know haven't taken shortcuts, and everyone has seasons when they're in the proverbial shit. If you don't have a sufficient level of self-love, you will have an abysmal disposition and you can (intentionally or not) unfairly expect those around you to bear the weight of your own validation. You can take care of yourself without becoming a self-adulating, Jersey Shore asshat or betrothing yourselves to the bankruptcy of opulent, social elitists who bleach their asses. We all must endure the vicissitudes of aging. And the course we chart will always be richer and more worthwhile if it weathers hardship and avoids easy street.

Dear reader, if you'll forgive that rather pedantic excursus in what I typically try to keep light-hearted, I assure you the tomfoolery will return. Speaking of which, can we all agree that bleaching your balloon knot is a personal marquee to the world that you are slightly more vacuous than a RealDoll? (Google it. I don't dare hyperlink.)