Remember every even slightly negative thing I ever said about living in Germany? For today, let’s forget all of that. Just for today, let’s say that Germany is paradise and I’m never coming home. I’m turning in my popcorn for pretzels and my Budweiser for Beck’s. Today’s a day for rejoicing.
What, you ask, could incite such a change of heart? Only my extreme hate/fear of dentists. If you know me, there is no way you haven’t heard this before. But, to reiterate, I am extremely suspicious of the whole profession. I find the doctors themselves suspect. Dentistry and I have been at odds for some time now. It’s not so much that I don’t ‘believe’ in cavities, but I do think that some dentists take liberties with the definition of the word. That’s all I’m saying. And besides my general misgivings about the field, I also suffer from the common fears of sharp metal objects, blades, saws, drills and bright lights in my mouth.
So, with all that in mind, you can imagine how terrified I was when my back molar started feeling sensitive last year. As any proud denta-phobe would, I ignored it with all my being. But as time passed, it was undeniable. I had to see a dentist.
So I went, and while I was expecting to be told that had a shameful cavity, the news that was given to me was far worse. I needed *GASP* a root canal. Pardon? He showed me an X-ray that meant nothing to me to confirm it; there was nowhere to hide.
The mere term ‘root canal’ suggests scenes of horror. Patients squirming in pain, drills screeching, dentists hammering away, buzz saws humming (ok, maybe the buzz saw is just in my phobia induced nightmare). And despite the reassurances of my friends and family that modern dentistry includes plenty of anesthetic and that the procedure is generally uncomfortable but not painful, I was not convinced.
Before I left Michigan at the end of the summer to return to Europe, my dentist assured me that Germany has world-class dentistry. He explained the process to me, foolishly including words like pulp, drill and file. And I couldn’t help but think was just a little bit too pleased with himself while seeing the concern spread over my face. So, keeping with tradition, I decided to put the appointment off for a while. I procrastinated on making said appointment for four months, to be exact.
When I finally got to Germany, I gave in and called a dentist. Of course, due to pesky insurance companies and something called ‘pre-existing conditions’, I couldn’t tell them straight out that I knew I needed a root canal. So I went through the rigmarole of telling them my tooth hurt (by reading straight out of a phrase book), biting on that uncomfortable paper thing while I got an x-ray, taking a giant needle in the gums for the glorious numbing effects and letting them poke around (sans gloves…which is apparently how they roll) in my mouth only to be told that, wait for it…I need a root canal. At least that’s what she pointed to in the phrase book.
During the two week wait for this procedure (throughout which I lived with an odd-tasting temporary filling), I played it up in my head quite a bit. Despite the fact that I had already visited the office to find it extremely clean, modern and run by a lovely and gentle she-dentist, I somehow convinced myself that I would arrive to find a dirty, archaic torture chamber staffed by a mad scientist. When I did arrive, and all was just as bright and squeaky clean as I had left it.
Palms sweating, I took my seat. Using the only language we share in common, the dentist smiled and gave me a thumbs up. The procedure started. No anesthetic was given. I was nervous. Sure, I wasn’t in any pain at the moment, but I could tell that at any second I would be reduced to screaming and tears. The drill-type thing came out. I clenched. The drill drilled. No pain. Files were used, suction applied, putty put in place, the buzz saw sound was deafening. No pain. I stayed silent, sending out a special thanks to the ball of karma for giving me such an unbelievable pain tolerance. When the procedure ended, I used my choppy and child-like German to ask why there had been no pain, perhaps expecting to be given an answer like, “Only because you are the most brave and pain-tolerant patient we’ve ever seen.” Turns out they removed the nerve of my tooth during that last appointment. Which would have been terrifying, had I known. I thanked the ball of karma for the language barrier and my dental ignorance.
My root canal was completed in less than an hour and with less discomfort than any teeth cleaning I’ve ever received back home. So for today, I’ve put a hold on my moratoriums against both dentistry and Germany. I might even floss before bed while I watch a dubbed version of South Park.
image by astro