Trigger warning: this is about having dental work done. For some people, even the thought of that is unsettling, so I wanted to be clear about what you’ll be reading if you continue.
Piece of Work
Isn’t the needle always longer than you ever expect? Also, its very presence was never mentioned. When I was being scheduled to have a cavity filled, the hygienist was so up, so bubbly. Something in my mind actually thought, “Hey, maybe the technology for having cavities filled has advanced since my last one. Maybe there’re no needles, numbing, weird smells, foul tastes, and drilling anymore.” If only wishing made it so.
I’m going to skip the needle part out of respect to those who “just can’t” with needles. I get it. As the numbing agent spread first to my chin, then my throat, on and on, until spreading as far as my ear, I was struck by the interconnectedness of the pathways in my head—both neural and circulatory. I giggled a little and exclaimed through gauze, a rubber stopper between my teeth, and a number of implements in my mouth a delighted, “Wow!” The dentist said, “We’re going to wait a minute for the numbing,” I hummed (gurgled, really) the Jeopardy! theme song. They were unimpressed.
It has been quite some time since I’ve had any anesthetic for anything, and my wonder at its effectiveness made me think of a scene in Family Guy, a raunchy grown-up cartoon television series. One of the characters has something mildly fortuitous happen to them and they say, “Thank God.” Then the scene pans up to heaven and some clouds where a robed figure meant to be God says, “Thank me for that? Geez. What about the human endocrine system? Or the digestive system? No one appreciates my best work.”
And indeed, what a piece of work is the human body. Many of us don’t really know how it functions until we actually need to know. Many of us only learn how systems of the body work when those systems turn against us. For me, a very slight feeling of a moral failing led the procession of other feelings as I walked to get my filling. “I should brush better.” “I should eat less gelato.” These marched in before, “How does enamel break down?” It’s a challenge not to feel we’ve let ourselves down when something goes wrong with our bodies.
But I think of the bubbly invitation to have my cavity filled. I think of the lack of foreboding by the hygienist. The doctor’s matter-of-fact pronouncement, “I’ll be putting composite on now,” carried no judgment. And even my gurgled Jeopardy! theme’s flat reception calmed me in a way. No one was judging me or the cavity. No one needed me to lighten the mood. The arrangement of dust dictated by eons of genetic selection was out of whack. And this time around, it was nothing a drill and some plaster couldn’t fix. They’re as good for a church roof as the roof of my mouth. Sure, it’s a reminder that there will come a day when a rough implement and new, sticky dust won’t do the trick. But until then, I’ll just keep humming (gurgling) the tune of this Final Jeopardy! we are all in together…whether my audience likes it or not.
And may it ever be so.
Rev. T. J.