I write these words sitting in a hard chair in the dentist’s waiting room. The nearest chair to the door. Just in case there’s a fire.
Not that I’m a coward. Far from it. I shall be refusing the anaesthetic. For a root filling. That’s how hardcore I am.
“You may depend upon it, Sir,” opined Samuel Johnson, “knowing he is to be hung in the morning will concentrate a man’s mind wonderfully.“
The condemned man waits, savouring his last few moments before the pain, the suffering and the inevitable rite of passage. We all have to die, we all have to lose teeth. The only true freedom, according to our most unhelpful philosophers, is the ability to choose when and life’s great unpleasantries occur.
I’d love to claim, genuinely, that I have always refused proper pain relief because I’m driven by the most profound philosophical understanding of life, the universe and everything. The truth is more prosaic. Something in my constitution says that I need double dosages of all drugs, for them to be effective. The after effects take longer to wear off. The pain induced by the dentist’s drill is temporary in nature. As soon as contact between the grinding bit and your tooth ceases, so does the pain. I can then enjoy the rest of the day, untroubled by numbness and comforted by the massive endorphin rush created by enduring the treatment.
The trick is to take yourself to another mental place for the brief duration of the work. I’ve had a dozen or so fillings and I can tell you, hand on heart, that the pain isn’t that bad. It’s a bit like when the school bully grabs your testicles and lifts you up the wall by them. You’re going to need to shift your focus to your place of safety for the period of the attack and the chances are that you will survive.
I wish I could say the same for a root filling. About twenty years ago a different dentist cleaned out and filled one of my bigger teeth’s roots. I felt everything. It was pain beyond belief. There was nowhere else for my mind to run to. Agony filled my consciousness. The only question was whether my young ego was stronger. It was and I walked away on air that day.
* * *
I write these words numbly at home, having probably chewed off half my face by now. The dentist refused to treat me free from modern medication. He said it was unethical. When I told him I’d already completed the same procedure without it, he demanded to know the name of the dentist. “Not for a root filling,” he said, “good God, no!“
He did agree to minimise the dose so that I wouldn’t be too numb for too long. So I could feel some of the grief but not all of it. It’s every bit as much a part of the sensual world as bathing in milk, scoffing chocolate or blowing yourself stupid with drugs. Just without the pleasure.