“Do you have more than one hygienist?” He stopped at the reception desk on his way out.
“Yes, Janice is our regular hygienist. Nathaniel stops by once a week or so.”
“Good. Book my appointments with Janice, only.” He said pointedly.
“Sure, I’ll schedule your next one right now.” She made a note to his file and pulled up the appointment calendar.
I looked around for a cappuccino machine. I wouldn’t mind a decaf Americano. Hmm. Apparently, there exists an urban dental office without a fancy coffee machine. Or sparkling water. Not even a regular old water cooler. Hmm. Pretty good selection of magazines, though. Current, too. I flipped through The New Yorker and stopped at “Your Handy Guide to the Dewey Decimal System“.
“Danica?” I looked up, surprised to hear my name pronounced correctly. He strode toward me, hand outstretched. “I’m Nathaniel. Nice to meet you.” A firm, professional handshake. “Likewise.”
“Follow me, please.” He gestured for me to enter the room to the right and handed me a universal remote. “Any music, any TV shows you like.”
“That’s okay; I’m good. Thanks.” I like my music without medical associations. And, unless he had somehow bootlegged the upcoming season of The Walking Dead I was indifferent to TV programming.
“You sure?” He looked at me over his shoulder.
I nodded, hung up my jacket and put my bag on the small chair in the corner. I leaned back, adjusted, and adjusted some more trying to fit comfortably in the reclining chair. These things must be designed for six-feet tall men.
Nathaniel scrubbed up and leaned over me.
Are they using energy saving light bulbs? The lights were bright but also evenly diffused. Three…four different types of bulbs affixed to the drop ceiling.
“Do you use whitening toothpaste?”
“Yeah, stop doing that.”
“Nah, don’t buy into that Hollywood bullshit.” He turned my head to the left, and tilted up.
“AAAAAH!” I jerked away from him.
“Sorry,” he looked me in the eye. “Whitening toothpaste contains abrasives that are wearing away your enamel. This increases tooth sensitivity. It’s also not good, generally.”
“It’s recommended by four out of five dentists,” I grinned.
“The fifth actually cares about patients’ health and can’t be bought,” he smiled back at me. “Look, our teeth have natural color and they’re not meant to glow in the dark. So, stop it.”
“Okay.” Seemed like sound advice.
He pulled his rolling tray of gleaming silver tools closer. “Here’s the thing.”
“We have fourteen minutes.” I looked at him blankly.
“So, we can power through this.” Power? Through? Dentistry?? Was this guy even certified? “Or, we can book you another appointment.” Oh.
“Let’s do it!” I sat back and folded my hands together.
“Great!” he nodded. “Hang tight with me, okay?”
“AAAOOWWW!” My frontal lobe jolted. The base of my brain throbbed. That water is cold. I guess it takes a few minutes for the mechanism to heat the water? I’d never considered that before.
“Just relax,” he advised, not missing a beat. Right-o. We’re soldiering on. He pulled and pushed, positioning me with the little mirror; I tensed reflexively. Don’t fight. Unless you want to come back and miss more work time. I slowed my breathing and unclenched my fists.
“AAACHKKK!” Breathe. “Bear with me,” he urged.
I thought of a study I’d read somewhere that POWs being tortured experienced higher levels of pain when they anticipated pain. It wasn’t the actual pain but the anticipation of more pain that made the torture worse. Okay, I told myself. Breathe into it.
I relaxed my body into the cushiony chair and focussed on the ceiling tile indentations. I should have taken painkillers before coming here. But, who could have predicted powering-through-dentistry? Ten, twenty, fifty…. Did those indentations serve any function? They must; they’re a universal design. Or, was it cost-saving with mass production? It wasn’t even pure pain, exactly; it was interlaced with oddly sensitized discomfort.
“AAAAGH!” My legs lifted off the chair. #**@^!!!! Keep your face still. The heels of my boots hit the cushion with a thud. Exhale. “ARRRRGHCHHTTT!!” You are one with this experience. Anticipating his movements, I turned and titled, his instruments catching a symphony of light. “RRMMMFFFF!!!” My legs kicked in the air — was I laughing? Holy cow. What is going on?
“We’re okay,” Nathaniel called to the receptionist who had appeared in the doorway. “Yarhhhh.” She looked at each of us before turning and leaving.
I must need a bunch of teeth pulled. *&%%##!!!! Catching my breath, I noticed my arms and legs tingling from tension. I stretched my arms, bending my elbows, rotating my wrists. “YEEOOOOWAAAAAHHAHAAA!” My laughter mingling with my howls. I kept my face still, not wanting to be stabbed in a tussle, but I couldn’t keep my legs from kicking.
“Perfect,” he finally declared, leaning back.
“Really?” I could hardly speak through my laughter.
“Yeah,” he assured me. He must be mistaken. I’ll see the dentist soon and get this sorted.
He nodded, “We came in with a minute thirty-six to spare.” I bet he’s an extreme heli-skiier. “Awesome,” I replied, still laughing. Or, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare zombie survivor and jackal assault master. “It was a pleasure meeting you,” he said, reaching for my hand. Or, an old fashioned secret-closet sadist, probably with a masochistic streak.
Dusk had begun descending over the city when I stepped into the street. I forgot to check in the mirror. I brushed at my mouth for traces of that goopy paste. Good chance there’s some on my face, possibly my hair too. But, I didn’t stop. I crossed the busy street with a spring in my step. I felt fantastic! Invigorated! Fully engaged and embracing this beautiful life. What was going on?
Like being at the wheel of an out-of-control Land Rover, careening to inevitable crash — crunching metal reverberates at the base of your brain, sparks electrify your nerve endings — you roll, trapped, until you hit a cement wall. Struggling, you crawl through shards of glass and turn back to see a burst of flame. Every cell in your body hums as adrenaline and cortisol flood your system. Hurtling to the edge of oblivion, you’ve never felt so alive.
Damn! Best. Hygienist. Ever.