Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Cruddy Dentist Appointment


(100% miscarriage free!!!)

The hygienist gazed down at my gaping mouth, nudging a gum line here, scraping at my indomitable cloak of tartar there. Through the scratched hygienist-provided glasses, styled much like the safety goggles I donned during my brush with Chemistry junior year of high school, I watched a frown tug at the edges of her thin lips. She prodded a tender spot in one of my right side molars. I flinched. She withdrew the hooked torture device.

“How often do you floss?” She asked, brown eyes impassive behind her own set of safety glasses.

“Once a day—“

“Oh good.” Her frown eased.

“Once a day, uh, every other day,” I said, not wanting to lay my dental lies on too thick. I should have added one more clarifier: once a day every other day for the past two weeks in compliance with my system. Kt’s Dental System: brush twice a day, floss whenever the yen strikes until one month before your next rendezvous with the dentist, at which time flossing should be increased to once a day. My system brings me mixed results. Most of the time I get away with a lecture and no cavities. Most of the time I am more honest.

This time I lost my nerve. I wanted her to like me, to respect me as a vibrant participant in the health of my mouth. Why the flossing lies? I may has well have ripped a loud fart while in the chair and pretended that the hygienist was the one who had beans for lunch.

As the scraping more intense, as the blood-drenched cotton pads piled up on the tray looming beyond my upturned chin, as the hygienist wondered aloud why my gums were bleeding so much, my house of flossing lies crumbled. This time around I had grown lazy.

“I should really be flossing,” I said to my image in the mirror nightly.

Mr. Crud overheard me. “Why start now?”

“My system,” I said.

“Oh yeah right. Failproof.” He said.

“You made a dentist appointment yet?” I asked.

Silence. Mr. Crud disappeared into the kitchen on an important frozen soy yogurt procurement mission. I took that as a no.

The hygienist nudged a sticky spot on a molar. I dug my fingernails into the armrest. I deserved this pain. Last summer I ignored the postcard advising me to make an appointment for my yearly cleaning and check-up at Willamette Dental, the Costco of dentist offices.

After a brief period of having a crush on the dentist of my youth because he reminded me of Bo Duke*, I developed a distrust of the dental arts. I didn’t have an especially bad time of cavities in my youth. I became acquainted with the burning smell of drilled tooth, the burn of a floppy novacained lip as the numbness wore off, but I wasn’t one of those kids who bit dentists or required restraints. All was reasonably copasetic until one traumatic Memorial Day weekend when I was thirteen.

After breaking a band of my braces on a carrot stick at lunch, an ache took root in my right incisor. As the day wore on the ache turned into a buzzing pain that I couldn’t ignore even as my classmates zipped around me, excited about the three day break from junior high school hell that awaited us at the end of the day. By Friday evening, my tooth was throbbing and neither megadoses of Tylenol nor numbing gel could soothe my pain.

There was no emergency room for orthodontal emergencies so I waited it out, spending most of the weekend crying and unable to sleep, until Monday when my mom got me in with Dr. Zeller.

I explained what happened and the brusque, hairy man tilted me back in the chair and got to work. He gave me nothing to numb the pain, but ripped the broken band off, almost causing me to yelp out in pain. As he shoved the new band on my tooth, silver hot pain flashed through my gums to my face and nose. Tears poured from my eyes.

“Quit crying,” Dr. Zeller said in his heavy Eastern European accent. “It’s not zat bad.”

I cried harder. Not so much because of the pain. I had pretty much hit a plateau with the pain, but because I realized that this was not the solution to the pain that had kept me up at night. (If I could travel back in time right now, I would deliver Vicodin and a flask of vodka to 13-year-old me in hopes of preventing the deep scarring of that weekend.)

After Dr. Zeller finished instilling a deep hatred of all things orthodontic along with a new band around my tooth, I collapsed in my mother’s arms. “It hurts worse,” I wailed.

After another appointment with the John Schneider doppelganger, I was diagnosed with an abscess. I wanted to kiss him more than I had during my long gone days of Bo Duke worship. John Schneider referred me to a specialist who reminded me of Gene Wilder and blessed me with laughing gas while he performed my first—and hopefully last—root canal. Gene was a strange man. His assistant was a super hot lady in the early 80s mold: blonde hair winged and hairsprayed to a crisp with shoulder pads that offset her slim figure. He was my savior but I also couldn’t help but imagine “adult things” happening in the chair after I had skedaddled with my newly renovated tooth.

If I had been reluctant before, the abscess--and youthful belief in immortality even where teeth were concerned—had turned me obstinate. My mom’s grasp on my dental life loosened during the college years. My teeth yellowed from a diet heavy on coffee and cigarettes. As long as nothing hurt or was falling out, I paid no heed. Thanks to all the hard work put in during my youth, I survived with few tooth problems. I still had recurrent nightmares that my teeth were falling out so quickly and forcefully that I was choking on them, but by morning I ran my tongue over my dingy yellows and breathed a sigh of relief.

My next wake-up call came on my first birthday in Portland. The day had been ordinary and a bit depressing. I missed my faraway friends and family. The fellows I knew in Portland offered to take me bowling to lift my spirits. Well, they were already going bowling but decided that it would be no ordinary bowling trip but a bowling trip in honor of my birthday when my friend Rusty heard homesickness weighing down my voice.

To treat myself before the big bowling for Kt night, I dialed up my favorite Thai restaurant and swore to salvage whatever happiness I could from my birthday in the form of culinary indulgence. I got the Pad Thai AND salad rolls even though it was enough food to feed two of me. Damn the expense! It’s my birthday and I’m special.

I bit into the first salad roll and noticed something hard mixed in with the vermicelli noodles and cilantro. I spit the hard nugget out, thinking, “Shit, it’s a tooth.” Then, “Wouldn’t somebody notice that their tooth fell out? Does this mean I can’t finish my salad rolls? Yeah, it would be kinda gross to eat tooth salad rolls. But they’re so delicious.” Then as my tongue grazed my right incisor, “Shit! It’s my tooth!!!” I dropped my salad roll and ran to the bathroom. My previously voluptuous incisor—filled out so gorgeously thanks to a bonding procedure done when I was 10 and my incisor was judged to be too small—was nothing but a pointy nub. I felt dizzy. In addition to being my first birthday away from home, this birthday would mark my last day of being on my parents’ medical and dental insurance. They weren’t here to call up John Schneider and schedule an emergency appointment. I felt small, alone, terrified, and hideous. I was not the independent adult I had claimed to be when I told my folks I wanted to move across the country. I was a dumb little girl who somehow broke a tooth off while biting into a freaking salad roll. The punky bike messenger who I had my eye on would never kiss me now. He might christen me Dracula or something equally sensitive. And I would have to laugh and pretend that it was hilarious that my tooth had randomly fallen out. Well, at least he wouldn’t be calling me fat. (Which I was no longer so there was no danger of that, but once you’ve gone fat, you never forget.) I couldn’t kiss anybody now, not with this tooth-dagger lurking behind my lips.

I sat down on my bed and started to sob. Worst. Birthday. Ever.

My phone rang. I collected myself as best I could, praying it was an uncharacteristically late call from my mom. Maybe she had telepathically sensed my moment of need. Viva the mother-daughter bond!

“Hey Kt, where are you?” My friend Rusty’s lazy drawl dashed my little girl hopes.

“I’m, hiccup, still, sniffle, here.”

“What’s wrong?”

I spilled my tale of broken tooth woe. My hopelessness refreshed, the tears flowed freely.

“It’s okay, we’ll figure this out.” Rusty said, morphing from dude to trusted compadre seamlessly. “You still coming out bowling? I’ll buy you a beer.”

“Sure,” I said.

I took a few minutes to scan the phone book for dentist offices. I remembered an office that had advertised same-day emergency appointments. I left messages at the offices that I was confident I could find. I had lived in Portland a month and barely ventured anywhere that I couldn’t reach by bike. Getting lost on my way to the dentist’s office might shatter me for good, serve as the final evidence that I couldn’t hack this life so faraway from everything I knew.

Feeling better about my prospects of a fixed tooth and very ready for some bowling and beer, I hopped in my car and vowed not to smile. The jagged tooth didn’t look totally hideous, but it limited my hook-up chances, which was really all I wanted for my birthday. Every time I imagined my jack-o-lantern countenance tears welled in my eyes.

The trip to the bowling alley was supposedly straightforward. “It’s at the end of Interstate,” Rusty had said.

Interstate was a new road in my slowly expanding Portland consciousness. Leaning over the steering wheel, I negotiated the rainy night. Interstate was a boulevard of liquor stores, slumping gas stations, and no-tell motels with garish neon signs cutting through the low-rent gloom. I passed one bowling alley but didn’t think it was THE bowling alley. The parade of amazing signs continued.

“Portland, I love you,” I said. It was an oft-recurring phrase in my early days with each new discovery in my newly adopted home.

Maybe I was dazzled, maybe it was the rain but the next thing I knew a sign reading “I-5 Only” appeared in my headlights and I could find no turn-offs in my brief and frantic search.

“Goddamn motherfucking shit,” I screamed.

The tears restarted. I had no clue where I was. I had never been on I-5. I knew enough to get on the southbound highway and felt a wave of relief wash over me when the lights of the city appeared on the horizon. The tears dried as I switched into TCB mode and made my way back to my apartment. As I parallel parked near my building, I experienced a momentary swell of pride in my Portland navigational skills. I didn’t feel so lost and hopeless. Even when I was thrown into a new city, I could find my way home.

Still. Worst. Birthday. Ever.

The next day I called in sick. I could not face punky bike messenger with a dagger tooth. My skeptical boss quizzed me on my improbable story, believing that I was in reality too hungover to come into work after an all-night b-day celebration. My tooth hurt way too much to smile or eat or talk, I claimed. And in that respect I was lying. It was my ego that hurt. I could not be seen with a fucked up mouth. I could not survive a hundred conversations about my lost pearly white.

The office that had advertised same-day appointments called me back. “Are you an established patient?” asked the receptionist.

“No, I’m new to town,” I said, believing this would activate the native Portlanders kindness to strangers gene.

“Sorry. We can get you in next week. Maybe.”

All morning the call-backs were a litany of disappointment. Desperate, I tried Willamette Dental again.

“I think we can squeeze you in at 3:00.”

“Thank you so so much,” I said, drifting back into my teary state. I felt grateful enough to offer up my first born child for the promise of a normal tooth.

A new dental bond was forged. Fate assigned me to Dr. Metz, a dentist who reminds me of a cheesy disc jockey mixed with my high school algebra teacher. “Heeeeyyy Katherine,” he says as I lay there open-mouthed. “How ARE you doing today?” I mumble something that doesn’t involve closing my mouth. “Terrific! Now let’s see what we got here.”

After a long stretch of wearing a temporary crown that was so obviously not my tooth it might as well have been gold, Dr. Metz fixed me up with a proper crown. I heard tales of dentists at fancier offices that gave out laughing gas and Valium to relax nervous patients. I saw advertisements for environmentally sustainable dentists. Sometimes I wonder if I should trade in Dr. Metz’s flat jokes, the smooshed together cubicle-offices, and the workmanlike Willamette Dental for something better. Search for a new John Schneider to inspire enthusiasm for flossing. But my gratitude has not yet run out.

After Dr. Metz finished with the poking and prodding and inspection of my tongue during my recent visit, my hygienist continued with the thankless task of de-tartarifying my teeth.

“No cavities,” she said with a smile, “but you have Gingivitis.”

The shock! The shame!! Wait. Isn’t Gingivitis an invention of Listerine?

“Oh no,” I said.

“Don’t worry. It’s reversible. You just have to start flossing,” she paused, “more carefully.”

“I will,” I said, fully intending to turn over a new flossing leaf.

One week later and I have not touched the plastic box of floss that taunts me every night.

“I really should floss,” I say to my reflection.

Oh, I have 5 months until we need to get started with all that.



* As played by the devilishly handsome John Schneider, a name that baffled my 8-year-old brain. I pronounced it John Skender until a fellow Bo Luke lover, Kim Rannells, blew my spelling and Dukes of Hazard-loving world open by revealing the true pronunciation. I could tell that she thought herself more devoted for knowing how to pronounce his name, but I let the moment of superiority go in favor of sharing pictures of the object of our crush cut out from TV Guide. I bragged to Kim that my dentist looked just like the pictures. On my next appointment, I studied my own personal Duke of Hazard, comparing him with the kiss-worn picture in my jewelry box. I was crushed when I realized that I had overstated the resemblance. He had the hair down, but the face was all wrong. I don't know if Kim ever found out about my exaggeration, but if she did, she did not use it against me in the dog-eat-dog world of the elementary school playground.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bummer in Bummertown

Hello my cruddy friends. It’s been awhile, yes? Sadly, the reasons for my absence do not include such awesome news as a bidding ware over my novel or I was sent on a whirlwind tour of the U.S. in the name of promoting crud. Someday. But for now I am the bearer of bummer news. I got pregnant again. I had a miscarriage again. Crap.

Writing about the pregnancy and just keeping my head above water at work absorbed much of my writing energy for the past few months. I started a new blog about pregnancy after miscarriage and proceeded to keep it a secret out of fear. Fear of another miscarriage, fear of opening myself up so thoroughly to the cold, hard internet, plain old icy fingers gripping your neck fear. But the desire to share the experience is finally overriding the fear. I don’t plan on posting all that I wrote about my second pregnancy—or first for that matter—but will post what I write as Mr. Crud and I continue our journey through post-miscarriage world on Crud blog 2 (electric boogaloo): The Peabody Project Chronicles 2 : Adventures in Pregnancy After Miscarriage. Posts about the non-miscarriage, endlessly fascinating stories of my life will contintue to appear with (hopefully more) regularity here.

In between musing on pregnancy and miscarriage, I hope to get going on assembling Crudbucket 8: The Infinite Issue. The writing is done, but the cutting out of odd pictures and taping to paper has not yet begun. As always, thanks for reading, commenting, caring, and keeping the cruddy faith.