My busy brain is constantly finding things that are wrong. I think about things that have gone wrong or that I’ve done wrong. I fret over things that might go wrong or the worst possible outcomes. I think about “what ifs” until I’ve worked myself into tears. When something bad happens to me I curl into my little ball and just want to feel sorry for myself and others to say “There, there. It will be okay.”  All this real and imaginary “wrongness” has caused me to take up the lovely habit of grinding my teeth very hard in my sleep.

This last Thursday I went to the dentist for my usual cleaning and check up.  I’ve always enjoyed my dental appointments actually. They made my teeth all clean and bright and all the attention was focused on me and someone saying, “What great teeth you have” since I’ve never had a cavity and never needed braces. No pain, no bad news, no huge medical bills since insurance always covers cleanings.

Then, after 42 years of my lovely pearly whites getting a clean bill of health, the absolutely worst happened. Cavities. Not just cavities, but also a broken tooth! My grinding habit has led to consequences I hadn’t realized were possible. I do it so badly that I wake my partner with the irritating sound and have gradually flattened many of my back teeth and apparently broken one. All this leads to less protection for my teeth, especially for the inner areas that need that hard exterior to keep the nerves and roots safe from decay and disease. Well, I botched that up pretty good obviously.

The advised treatment: 2 fillings and a composite to rebuild the broken area.

I wasn’t actually scared because I was too busy being pissed. I mean, 42 years is a long streak to break ya know? I could have rescheduled for the fillings or just do it then. I always think it’s best to get things done and over with if you can. Back in the room where the fillings were to happen I noticed one of the square panels overhead had a light out, messing up the pattern on the ceiling.  This at least had me preoccupied momentarily. I hadn’t even really noticed the two minty q-tips that had been stuck in my mouth and left there until the minty flavor was followed by what felt like gigantic lips and a tongue that I no longer had control over. Extremely odd sensation.

Even when the dentist sat down next to me and started explaining the procedure I wasn’t panicked, mostly because by then I couldn’t feel my face much less the inside of my mouth.

There are a few things the dentist fails to mention about “the procedure” that if you haven’t experienced a filling I will forewarn you about. First off, the drill, even if you can’t feel it, sounds like a construction zone inside your head. There’s a drilling sound so loud it’s like standing next to a pneumatic drill working on gigantic screws going through concrete.  This was followed by what I swear was a jack hammer. Even vibrating me enough to notice through the numbness. Then a more drilling which immediately is followed by the smell of burning rubber.

For those of you around my age you will probably remember the Bill Cosby joke about being in the dentist chair with instruments in his numb mouth and drooling and trying to say he smelled smoke. There was a time when many of us went around giggling saying, “Moke! Moke!”

Needless to say, I no longer find this funny.

It really does smell like smoke!  Exceptionally foul-smelling smoke, like your tire caught on fire! This, I was informed by my dentist, is the smell of decayed tooth being drilled out.  Thank you for making me entirely disgusted with my own mouth!

Once the dentist was done drilling out the ICK the tech came in to fill and fix.  That part was not bad. (Unless you include the part when it felt like she needed to just unhinge my jaw to pull my mouth open far enough to reach my top teeth in the back.)  The dentist came back in and said all was well, gave me some instructions and sent me on my way still numb and drooling just a tad.

I went home, took my recommended ibuprofen and promptly dozed off. 2 hours later, after apparently grinding even harder due to the numbness and managing to bite the crap out of the inside of my cheek, I woke up in tears. The right side, where both a filling and repair was done, was completely fine. The left side felt like someone was trying to rip all my upper teeth out.

Having never had a filling before so I called the dentist’s office to see if this was anywhere close to normal. I was sobbing so I’m not sure she heard me very well, but just moments later the tech who did my fillings called me back and asked me to come back in to make sure all was well. They took x-rays to make sure no voids were left where they filled and the dentist came in to show me the x-rays and explained how my left filling was so deep it pushed against the wall protecting the nerve and probably bruised the nerve. A prescription for a few days of “the good drugs” and I was sent off.

The rest of the day and night I stayed in a fetal position with a swollen cheek and sore mouth wishing someone was there to baby me.  I even text my best friend who is 1000 miles away because I know she’s been through these things AND without numbing or pain medicine because she’s allergic to nearly everything. I told her she was my hero. I couldn’t possibly imagine doing all that with no relief. During our texts I found out she was also having unexplained jaw pain and, of course, without pain killers.

I was without a doubt feeling sorry for myself anyway.

The next day I received a message that jaw pain turned into also a shortness of breathe and chest pain. Her blood pressure was way too high and she was admitted to the hospital. Tests revealed she’d had a heart attack.

My best friend is 37 years old. She’s recently lost 40 lbs, quit smoking, began eating better and exercising. She has a husband who adores her and two great teenage boys. Things like this aren’t supposed to happen to people like her. ESPECIALLY since she can’t have anything for pain or any kind of sedative. (Did I mention she’s 1000 miles away from me?)

Saturday morning things weren’t going well and a heart cath was done sooner than scheduled to find she had a 90% blockage in one area and a stent was immediately put in. Thankfully tests showed no significant damage to the heart.

I’m so grateful her husband was by her side for the entire weekend because when any pain began he was on top of it and had nurses checking on her immediately. His presence was the only thing that eased my mind.

Imagine for a moment going through all of that with no more than Tylenol for pain and nothing to keep you calm or sedated. Suddenly my mouth wasn’t so bad. My teeth didn’t hurt that much. The cold drink was just a minor annoyance. The fear of another cavity down the line just a blip on my radar.

I can’t possibly find the words to convey how much respect I have for this woman. I said it before, and I’ll say it again, she is my hero.

I love you, E!

Monique P.

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