Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Majestic Grand (Root) Canal

The bloody crown (covering tooth #191) gave me so much gyp over the weekend I nearly sawed my own head off and, as a last resort, made (and kept) an emergency dental appointment. As you can tell, things had gotten desperate.

This tooth has periodically bothered me for a couple of years but has the annoying tendancy to stop being problematic the second my backside hits the dentist's rack chair. Even with numerous X-rays and the rather lower tech method of banging on the tooth with the handle of a dental mirror the damn thing would be just fine for another six months or so before flaring up. Intolerable.

Finally, the wretched tooth began hurting for real on Thursday. I figured out that it was sensitive to heat2, and managed to control the pain by rinsing the area with ice water. While waiting for the water to ice down I would alternate between biting down on a small rubber ball while screaming quietly and begging for death.

Thus passed the weekend, for which the Stevieling had been consigned to a retreat for bloody annoying teenagers and which had therefore been allocated to the private intimate goings on between myself and Mrs Stevie for some time now. We tried not to let it bother us. Indeed, Mrs Stevie (who tends to ignore me most of the time), mistook my shrieks of agony for screams of pleasure during some of the more intese moments. I reasoned it was probably better not to correct her misunderstanding, although there were times I longed for the sweet oblivion her large skillet used to bring3.

The dentist rapped, banged and X-rayed, all the time humming merrily to himself, but failed to uncover the reason for the pain. Luckily I had a backup plan: I had also made an appointment to see an Endodontist (a specialist in root canal surgery). This proved fortunate since the dentist who had put the crown on about 15 years ago had forgone the root canal process at that time. He may have been put off by the way I had inadvertantly reached out and crushed his scrotum during the crown procedure. I don't know. The Endodontist couldn't see me until Tuesday, which would also require I take a day off work.

In the meantime I used ice water to reduce the pain and tried taking Tylenol, which proved to be about as much use as a one-legged man at an arse-kicking contest. Pain relief :- nil. I eventually took Ibuprofin, contra-indicated by Doc Rubberglove since there may be interactions with my other meds. By that time I didn't care and was viewing death in a positive light anyway. Things had deteriorated to the point that I wasn't far from salvaging an ice skate and a good sized rock and having a go myself.

The Ibuprofen actually worked like a charm and I finally got a few hours of sleep. Naturally, the one thing that works is the one thing I'm not supposed to take under any circumstances. Figures.

Tuesday dawned and I removed my watch before showering, something I rarely do4. When I came to put it back on there were no numbers, cascading arrows, blinking colons or any of the other things that mean "watch working" in todays world. The battery had obviously finally gone flat. Not a good omen, if I believed in such nonsense. Of course, there is no sense in taking chances especially on a day that offered intense pain anyway, so I span round three times anti-clockwise while throwing salt over my shoulder and kissing my lucky rabbit's foot. Pausing only to don my lucky underpants, lucky socks, lucky T-shirt, lucky jeans, lucky amulet, lucky bifocals and lucky sneakers I left for the Endodontist. On the way there I pondered that a lucky rabbit's foot isn't very lucky for the rabbit.

I have had problems all my life with pain during dentistry, and it always hurts to have a dentist do dentistry on me even after several applications of whatever magic numbjuice they keep in their syringes. I can honestly count the number of painless dental procedures I've had on the fingers of one hand5, and I have British Teeth™ that required extensive filling with copious amounts of mercury amalgam by the age of 14. In a typical visit, the dentist applies anaesthetic, drills, pries my hands from wherever I have managed to grab him6, applies more anaesthetic, drills for as long as he can while dodging my frantic attempts to claw his eyes from their sockets, applies more anaesthetic, straps me down, dons ear protection and drills as his expensive chair gets clawed into ribbons and I attempt to bite the end off the drill. It is all very tedious.

The Endodontist, who looked to be about 12, determined by using his state of the art computer X-ray rig7 and by banging on every tooth in the area with the handle of his mirror8 that I needed a root canal. I said that was ok and warned him that I might need a second application of anaesthetic but he waved away my concerns. I warned him that I was a tad nervous with any dental procedure, and the prospect of having the living, probably infected nerve tissue pulled out of my tooth with a bent wire hook had me more tightly wound than usual. He smiled and told me it would all be ok.

And it was. He injected me about thirty seven times, pulled off the crown (commenting that it was a nice job and he wanted to save it if he could) drilled and at my first twitch immediately applied more face-be-loose. It was the second painless surgery I have ever experienced. Even the soreness I expected after my face shrank back on my skull was a fraction of what it should have been.

And afterward, I got the first good night's sleep I'd had in days.

This morning I woke after a night of unbroken sleep, glanced at the blank face of my watch and wandered into the living room to check the time. The clock, one of many we have around the house, read 7:30. I yowled at the Stevieling, who was watching cartoons, to get her mother up and I tore around the house collecting various commuter impedimenta before leaving for my train.

As I drove I remarked that the traffic was blessedly light. I heard the news come on the radio signalling the turn of the hour, and reasoned that I had missed my 8:01 train so I might as well get a watch battery, which I did. I had to drive around a bit because most of the stores were inexplicably closed. When I returned to my car its clock read 7:09.

"That can't be right," I thought. "The bloody clock must have reset when I turned off the ignition."

I turned off the ignition two or three times to see if I could spot the fault on the clock as it happened but it didn't. Then I was blinded by the stupid light bulb that appeared, burning at full luminosity, above my head. I grabbed my cell phone and opened it.


Mr Brain clanked, whirred and got quite hot for a bit and the answer dawned. The clock I had used to get the time when I woke up must have been the only one in the house that wasn't adjusted for daylight savings time.

I drove home and explained the danger to everyone. Their relief at not having been caught in this trap themselves caused them to laugh hysterically. I could have wished that it had manifested differently. A passerby could easily have mis-interpreted the situation and thought they were laughing at me.

I used the time to whip the back off my watch and install the new battery. Numbers appeared. Arrows zoomed about all over the face. Colons blinked encouragingly and I set the time. Then, holding my breath, I pressed the button on the bezel face and was rewarded not with the numbers fading out as they had so many times in the last thee years, but by a bright blue light. I would once again be able to tell the time in the dark! Huzzah! I could finally stop carrying the large four-cell mag-lite with me to the cinema. The bulge it causes in my clothes has resulted in more than one misunderstanding in crowded cinema ticket lines. The cost savings in not having to treat injuries sustained as a result of checking how much longer a film would run would be a welcome addition to my wallet too.

Working watch and working teeth; it doesn't get much better than this.

  1. Numbered after the fashion of the system in the NY dentist Secret Code Book For Teeth. Lower, left, rear molar
  2. By drinking a cup of tea and then hopping round the room while clutching my jaw and screaming
  3. Now replaced by a new pot deemed too fragile for hitting me with. The space-age NASA-developed teflon coating has also been deemed too fragile to withstand frying eggs in so it would seem to be destined to gather dust. Good news for Mr Head
  4. Take the watch off, that is. Showering is, I assure you, a regular and frequent event for the manly Steviebod. I often use soap, too
  5. And not counting the fat, opposable one or the one with the ring on it either
  6. I'm not being sexist here and assuming all dentists are male. It's just that word gets about in the dental community and no lady dentist of sound mind would place her anatomy within clutching distance of the Steviehands during a procedure (I've been known to leave fingerprints in steel while being drilled). This says something about the intelligence of women compared to that of men
  7. No mucking about with film and developer for this child of the new millennium. He took the X-ray and it appeared instantly on his chairside, touch-sensitive computer display. It was like having my teeth drilled on the bridge of the Enterprise
  8. Even on the Enterprise the classics never go out of fashion

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