Friday, November 01, 2002

Better get comfy, kids. This is a doctor rant, complete with monologue. Oh, and best make sure to have some alcohol or just something to drink now so you won't have to get up later. :)

Okay, I really, really don't want to develop a fear of doctors. Really. Going to the doctor is something I have never been afraid of. If something's wrong, or it hurts, or I need meds for it, I go. This has never been too much of a challenge for me, actually. I'm not saying I haven't been afraid of what's going to happen at the medical practitioners office- doing complex psychological work can be scary, getting my 6th grade shots definitely sucked, and my sigmoidoscopy was pretty d@mn dread-inducing. (If you don't know what that procedure is, get me drunk or at least just in a silly mood, the recap is hilarious. Oh, and try to avoid anything described as using a "long flexible tube" and the word "sigmoid." Just trust me.) But I've never actually dreaded going to a new doctor the way I'm beginning to...

This week I began to think that I had a cavity. I have never before had a cavity. (I made it to 23 and no cavities, AND that's without flossing, which is another story entirely.) I love my East Pete dentist. He's my dad's best friend, and he's been looking after my teeth since they first came in when I was about 8-months-old. When I was four, my infamous gag reflex kicked in when I was getting my teeth cleaned. I told them I didn't want orange, but it was the only flavor of that terrible gritty toothpaste that they put on the spinner that they had in stock that day. And I threw up all over him. It was bad. We lived directly across the street, and Dr. G lived above the office, so we all changed clothers and started over using Crest on the spinner. I couldn't tolerate the actual gritty bad stuff on the spinner until I was 12. Sad, but true.

Also, Dr. G and my dad would yell "Hoooooooooo!" across the street at each other ("Ho!" as in the "Who goes there?" kind, NOT the "Hey Sugar, you lookin' for date?" kind), and my dad and Dr. G would spend a good portion of my dentists' visits yelling "Hooooooooooo!" at each other and squirting each other with the water thingie. Good times.

But this past week, I noticed one of my teeth really, really hurt. It hurt more when I drank hot or cold or sweet stuff. There was an actual, bonafide black dot on my tooth. I figured it was a cavity, and it did really bug me, so I thought I should find a dentist.

Now, in light of the Smelly Russian Doctor incident, I have been much more careful about finding health care people. No more phone book. I interviewed a number of psychologists, all of whose names I got from the APA, before I started therapy with Susan (Shrink #6 for me personally). I really, really like her. She is the AntiFrances. So when I saw her Monday, I mentioned needing to find a dentist and asked who she would recommend. This seems like a good idea, right? Consult one trusted, excellent health care professional to recommend another one, right? She recommended this dentist she's seen for years, and she said, however, that he takes a holistic approach to dentistry, focusing a lot on nutrition and minerals and what have you. She said he has a unique personality, but that she thinks I'll really like him. Okay, great. I made myself an appointment.

It was today.

So I get there. There are a lot of big bottles of minerals for sale in the waiting room. I fill out a standard form about my medical history. The form had a place to list "the person who referred you to our practice so we can thank them." I jotted down Susan's name. Then I get taken into a normal smelling, non-paint peeling dentist-y room. Excellent. I don a bib and hop in the chair. I start out with Debbie the Dental Hygienist. I say my tooth hurts; I show her the little black spot. She pokes it with the little hook and says it's not a cavity. O-kaaaay. Now, it's early in the morning, and honestly, I'm starting to get a little nervous because there are books all around the office with titles like, "Treating schizophrenia with herbs" (I am so not making that up. That was the title.)

I'm always very thirsty in the morning and my mouth dries up when I'm nervous, which anyone who saw my thesis defense first thing in the morning can attest to, as my lips kept sticking to my teeth, like, a lot, until I just grabbed my professor's coffee cup and sucked it down. We have it on tape. I keep running my tongue over my teeth like the love child of Mrs. Doorman (10th grade English teacher) and Mr. Ed (TV star horse of the 50s). It's bad.

But I digress. Debbie the Dental Hygienist says I have dry mouth, and I say, yes, and she says it's because of all the meds I'm on. This is true. The drugs that keep bad things from happening when I laugh too hard absorb water from other parts of the body, too. She says that meds drain your bodies of minerals, and since it's not technically a cavity, the best way to treat it is to take some minerals. (If you haven't already guessed from all the foreshadowing, "minerals" are going to be mentioned a lot from here on out. Let's make this a drinking game. Any time you read the word "Mineral(s)," everybody drink, okay?)

She says my dry mouth is bad. I laugh and point to the little cup and the sink and ask for a cup of water. She says, "Oh, God, don't drink city water, I'll get you some mineral water." (Everyone ready? Drink!) So then the actual dentist comes in. He's nice, about 50, balding, short, clean, no noticeable funky lunch meat smell. I say, hi, I'm (My Name Here). He says, "I'm Doctor Steven Green." (This is his real name. I don't care. He gets all mean and judgmental and self-righteous in about two minutes. Google away, world!) Then, dead serious, he said, "You can call me Stevie." Ha ha ha.... um, NO. he noticed that Susan recommended me and mentioned that he's treated her family for year and gave her boys lots of minerals (drink!) as they grew up. Huh.

Here's the basic conversation:

Debbie the Dental Hygienist (DDH): She thinks she has a cavity, but I think the thing you will find most troubling is her severe dry mouth. (Christ, it's not like I have leprosy, woman; if it bugs you, gimme some more water, then, dammit.)
Mean Judgmental Dentist (MJD): (looking at my medical history form) Hmmm, well, let me tell you that I really believe in dealing with the whole body, the whole person, especially in regard to nutrition.
Me: (nodding)
MJD: I must say that I am extremely concerned.
Me: (nodding, eyes narrowing)
MJD: I can tell right away, from your skin, your obesity and your posture, you have grave, grave nutritional problems. Me: (Thinking: JIGGA, f*ckin' WHA??? Nice to meet you, too, baldy. And, for the record, I'm 18 lbs lighter than I was when I left PA, when most of you saw me last, and even then, it wasn't like I have to be lifted out of the house by a crane to go meet Richard Simmons. Also, I was just looking at my skin in the rear view mirror on the way over thinking it's cleared up a bit since the sun is lower in the sky and I'm not smearing sunscreen on every hour on the hour...) Oh. Well, yes, um, about the meds? See, I'm looking around at your books about holistic healing and herbalism here, and um, I went through a very serious, life threatening depression last year, and I really have stabilized on this medication, so... While I plan to eventually go off of them, I'm really not in a position to do that now.
MJD: I can tell from looking at you right away that you're not stable.
Me: (Clearing my throat) Look, I came here because I think I have a cavity. I would really like you to look at it and tell me what you think.
MJD: Look, one can look at dentists as carpentars, just go to them to fill in the holes, or one can see them as medical professionals, as doctors, whose opinions deserve respect.
Me: (Hotly, all mad and articulate, a la Thomas Paine) Look, I don't want you to feel that I'm being disrespectful here. I obviously respect your years of study or I wouldn't be here requesting your opinion. I feel kind of stupid here because I'm wearing this big blue bib, but I feel I should tell you that I am very sensitive about the things you mentioned, such as my weight and my skin, and I would really prefer not to discuss it with you.
MJD: Then you're not working on your issues!
Me: I am working on them with Susan S., thank you, not with you. My tooth hurts. Would you mind telling me what you think? (I lay back and open my mouth. I also start thinking about running away.)
MJD: Listen, (my name here), this is all about regaining a lost grace and seeking harmony.
Me: (and here I thought it was because I've recently developed an addiction to Grape Kool-Aid and hate flossing) Oh... I'm sorry.... (my voice starts getting shaky. I HATE that I'm a crier now.) Would you mind just looking at the cavity?
MJD: (reaching for dentist's mirror and- finally!- checking out the painful tooth with the little black dot on it) Sure. Then you can run away.
Me: Look, I'm just extremely uncomfortable. I wasn't planning on discussing my weight and stuff, and... it caught me off guard.
MJD: Okay. Let's just do this so you can run away from thinking intimately about your issues. (I am so NOT making this up.)
Me: Look, frankly, I met you five minutes ago. You don't know me at all. I'm very uncomfortable. (I am also flat on my back staring into a bright light wearing a bib)
MJD: I'm sorry, I just can't help being anything but honest.
Me: I guess.... (gulping, not gonna cry, I am NOT!) It doesn't strike me as honesty; it's really kind of insulting.
MJD: Well, this spot isn't really big enough to be a cavity. There's no active decay.
Me: Oh. But it hurts...

MJD gets a phone call. He and Debbie squabble over my head whether it's appropriate for him to take the call. He decides to. "It's *my* shrink on the phone," he says, smiling. the second he's out of the room the tears start falling. DDH hands me a tissue and tells me, "He doesn't mean to be insulting. He just cares so much." I regain my composure and take some deep breaths. She says "mineral- (there's the word! everybody drink!)- water will help."

I decline.

MJD bustles back in and says, "Now that we're old friends, I'm going to explore this pain in your tooth." He asks me all these nuanced questions about it, is it a throbbing pain, does it wake me up at night?
Me: Nope. Just feels like an ache.
MJD: Does it extend into your jaw, give you a headache or happen when you're unhappy?
Me: Nope, just an ache in my tooth. A toothache.

He has me do all these exercises, including one where I have to bite his thumb. I'm not biting hard enough, apparently, and as he pushes me to bite down harder. I consider biting it off. How very Shakespearean of me. Also, I keep hearing a line from an episode of Friends where the manager Terry (the dad from ALF) hired Natalie Merchant or someone to sing at Central Perk and Phoebe quits because she's not getting paid, you know? and she stands outside the coffee shop singing loud, angsty songs, including the line, "You're ALL invited to bite ME!"

He decides that despite his assessment that it's not a problem (How is a black spot on my tooth that wasn't there two weeks ago that hurts a lot NOT a problem, exactly? Not a huge problem, I suppose, not like having- I don't know- an imbalance of GRACE AND HARMONY, but let me remind you all that This. Is. a. Dentist's. Office.

Blah blah blah tired of this story now blah blah blah. He tries to sell me some minerals (drink!), and I decline. he fills the black spot so that there will be less of an "awareness" of pain. Whatever. Although while he's in there, he also sands off these two little stained spots off my left incisor that I've had for a while. I didn't think the spots were removable because there around this little cap I got from a chipped tooth, but I guess that's my little Dentist from Hell Bonus Prize or something.

Well, that and the pamphlet he gave me with his take on the interconnectedness of dentistry and harmony. I'll save it to show most of you at Thanksgiving. He writes in it that he has evidence that anti-depressants cause cancer. Damn. I hope finding an oncologist won't be this bizarre.....

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