One week you go to Provence; the next, the dentist. I just got back from a two hour session at the dentist office… the first half of the process of replacing an old crown and an old filling. That’s what happens when you get old (enough). Shit! The work that was already done, ok, a few decades ago needs re-doing. Who knew? It probably didn’t help that I was a total sugar junky my entire childhood, and only a bit less so as an adult.
High maintenance. People used to use this term related to, I think, a woman who has expensive tastes and “needs” which will cost her boyfriend or husband a shitload of money.
For me, I think of old cars… how they require steadfast regular and ever more expensive maintenance as they age, that is, if you don’t want to run them into the ground, and instead want them to provide safe transport for a long time.
That’s how I feel about my body. I want and need safe transport for as long as my spirit is living in it. I mean, of course, if I have any say in the matter. Some physical issues are totally out of our control. It’s not an even playing field and we each work with what we’ve got in terms of our gene pool, our epigenetics, our histories of illness and injuries, and whether or not we’ve got decent health insurance and some spare money to spend out-of-pocket.
Some people just need out of cages. Mostly I’m thinking of the immigrants on the US-Mexico border, but also a lot of prisoners who shouldn’t be in prison. If I imagine myself in a cage run by ICE or a prison cell run by the State or a private corporation, I know my health wouldn’t stand a chance. I’m just acknowledging here that there are different levels of what I’m talking about…
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fearlessness because of a little necklace I inadvertently bought at the Girls Garage garage sale in Berkeley a couple of months ago. The necklace was obviously made by one of the girls and came along with quite a few other trinkets and stuff in one of those little compartmentalized plastic boxes, which had a $1.00 price tag on it. One dollar for the whole bloody thing — the box AND the treasures inside. How could I resist?
I found the necklace inside and decided to wear it, which of course had me pondering the question of fearlessness and whether I was. Or wasn’t. The necklace feels a little like a caption, sitting as it does just below the face, so I didn’t want to be a fraud. I thought it might be better if it read — fearless-ish.
Actually fear is a good thing. We need fear to warn us that we might be in trouble, to help us avoid the trouble if possible. Fear shows the part of the brain called the amygdala is working. But too much fear, too often? it’s exhausting. Especially if we don’t have a toolbox of positive ways to work with it.
When I was a little girl, I was terrified of needles. The second the doc said, this little girl needs a shot, it would take several adults to wrangle me into relative stillness and hold me down for the assault. There were four flailing limbs and a writhing torso they had to subdue. Why, I thought, did they expect me to go willingly to slaughter?
Because of this fear, I spent my childhood refusing novocaine whenever I went to the dentist for the multiple cavities my sugar habit and poor dental hygiene brought me. It wasn’t ’til I was a full-fledged adult that I decided to give novocaine a chance, and man, what a relief!
Hot cocoa with oat milk and a mochi muffin. Slightly more upscale than my childhood Baby Ruth, Sugar Daddy, and Big Hunks, but a habit decidedly still sweet.
I left my last dentist several months ago because although I loved her, her office staff, and dental hygienist, I’d had to have a lot of dental work last year, and that’s when I realized just how much she chatted with her assistant while working on me. Not just a sentence or two here or there but a full on visit as-if-over-a-cup-of-tea-and-not-me AND tell-me-all-about-what-your-nephew-is-doing-with-his-life-now-that-he-graduated-college, AND did-you-hear-about-so-and-so’s-vacation-to-Tahiti? It was too much private-life information and besides, I really felt she should be focusing on the work inside my mouth. Apparently she felt she could do both. I’d never had a dentist talk so much about nothing important. It made me feel unsafe, unseen, and I felt I couldn’t ask her to stop, because she might get angry, so I left instead.
Not that long ago I started seeing a new dentist. He’s a super nice guy a short drive from my house. He came highly recommended.
Today I felt anxious the minute I started climbing the steep outside staircase to his office. I really haven’t felt all that anxious about dentists over the years. It’s kind of a new thing.
Nothing terrible happened. But I noticed the chair I was to sit in for two hours was lop-sided. It appeared broken. I asked the assistant, though I felt a little impolite, as if I were to walk into your home and start pointing out the tear in the sofa and that the dining table we were about to eat at was decidedly slanted downhill. The assistant reassured me I wasn’t the first to notice it but that it was just that way because the cushion is new. Bad explanation, I thought. If it came new like that, they should have already returned it. A broken-looking dental chair does not evoke confidence, not to mention it can’t be a good support for the tensed body belonging to the mouth getting worked on for two hours.
I tried to adjust my body to compensate for the chair. The dentist began. His hands are not as small, nor do they move as delicately or efficiently inside my mouth as my last dentist. There’s a lot that can get damaged — the tongue, the gums, the lips, other teeth. Everything is so sensitive and vulnerable in there. The assistant had some kind of poor technique with the water thing they spray in your mouth, then suction out. Several times the intense water stream hit my tongue like a weapon. Each time I jumped. That’d never happened before. There were more issues, all minor, but worrisome.
I wished I’d taken a small dose of Ativan, but then I did have to drive home. So that wouldn’t have worked. Also I felt like I needed to be a sentry, to be on guard duty the whole time — two hours plus in a wonky chair, with scary pokes and prods that seemed extra. At one point I felt something sharp on the other side of my mouth that the assistant wasn’t rinsing out. I held up both hands, my silent command to stop. They stepped back. I slid two fingers in and pulled the sharpness out. She sucked it up from my finger with the suction. Oh, a little shard, he mumbled.
I thought of how I would fire them, but that first I would have to come back for the second part of the crown procedure. He left the room and said the assistant was going to do something about the temporary crown. I didn’t realize she was going to do the whole next part. I could hear him working on another patient in the next cubicle. The assistant prodded my mouth open. I thought, horrified, she’s his assistant, not a dentist , and she’s doing dentistry. Then she plopped something on that little paper thing-y they put around your neck and which lies on your chest. She put other things on the paper — picking them up, putting them down. Using my chest as a little table! Man, I’d never had a dentist or dental assistant do that before. It was weird. I am not your table, I shouted silently.
My mind was racing, hyper-vigilant. Attempting self-guided breathing meditations alternating with thought-images of being experimented on medically at Auschwitz or in the prisons in Brazil in the 1960s. (A dear friend, a Cuban plastic surgeon, had worked on repairing the mouths of a number of these otherwise beautiful young revolutionaries who had been severely disfigured by Nazi-like doctors in Brazil in their medical research on political activists. They were my age. In their twenties. They could have been me).
I kept reminding myself that even though there’s sometimes pain or discomfort with dentists or doctors, we go through it because we trust that they are doing their best for a good outcome. It’s quite different than intentionally-inflicted medical torture.
I recalled once when I worked as a phlebotomist at UCSF some doctors asked me to aid with a patient who spoke only French, to translate. My French isn’t all that good, but apparently there was no one else. They were doing some kind of brain study (a pneumo-encephalogram, I think they called it) where they had her strapped in a big metal airborne chair, injected air into her brain and turned her upside down in the chair in order to get the images they needed. She wept with pain and begged them to stop. I felt I was witnessing torture, and wondered if it was actually going to provide any useful information toward her healing. I’ll never know.
The world is not a safe place on a zillion levels. But it’s all relative. Recently I was at Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. They didn’t actually kill her and her sister, Margot at Bergen-Belsen. Anne and her sister died there of typhus. It reminds me of some of the caged and intentionally mis-treated immigrant children dying from one illness or another in our country. The mis-treatment and the malignant neglect resulting in severe – intended – trauma and sometimes death, perhaps inadvertent, or not. I don’t know.
It’s doubtful I’ll die from a dental procedure, but it did collide with the whole question my necklace raised. I’m definitely not fearless. Not even -ish. . Fear? There’s good reason for it. The point is to notice it and to face it with everything we’ve got — courage, compassion, gentleness, clarity, boundaries, determination. I don’t know. What else? What do you face your fear with? Sometimes I use chocolate.