Just hearing those words makes me jumpy.
Obama jokingly referred to the bank bailout as being as popular as a root canal, which pissed off those who do it, but illustrated perfectly how the rest of us feel about having it done.
So when my dentist told me I’d need the dreaded procedure, and gave me a referral to an endodontist, my hand shook as I signed the form.
Who to believe?
My previous dentist, the hypochondriac, never mentioned root canals.
No, it was my new dentist who opened the can of worms. I switched to him, because:
- My previous dentist no longer accepted my cheap insurance.
- I had a limited pool of dentists from which to choose.
- The new guy, Dr. A, got rave reviews on Yelp. Well, two. But there were only two.
- He seemed friendly when we met, although I could have done away with the handshake.
- He was downright handsome.
After his initial examination, Dr. A told me, “The good news: your oral hygiene is excellent. The bad news: your crowns need replacing.”
My previous dentist never mentioned that scenario, either.
“Good News, Bad News”
I soon learned, this handsome fellow liked those phrases. He also relished the word “extreme.”
In my next visit, while I waited for the Novocain to kick in, he scurried across the hall to examine another patient.
“The good news: there’s no problem with your teeth. The bad news: your gums are receding. It’s extreme.”
While I waited for the squishy stuff to harden into a mold of my teeth, he scurried next door to consult with a third patient.
“The good news: your gums are in great shape. The bad news: you have extreme cavities and you’ll probably need to mortgage your home to pay for the dental work.” (I may have misheard that last part, but the subtext was loud and clear.)
Off with the Crowns!
Replacing my first crown went without a glitch, although I shivered in the chair, having a deep fear of dentists. Had my dentist also been a clown, I may have been scarred for life.
After the procedure, Dr. A said, “You might elect to have a root canal,” then shoved his hand out to shake.
Why would anyone elect to have a root canal?
Replacing my second crown, Dr. A ran into a snag. During the procedure, the nerve was exposed. It was “extreme.” He didn’t offer good news, just the bad.
“There’s a ninety-nine-percent chance you’ll need a root canal,” he said, and shoved out his hand.
Oh, how I hated this man.
I wondered if he was getting kickbacks from the endodontist.
I refused to take the bait. Or his hand.
A second opinion
The pain began. Heat, cold, chewing…everything hurt. With dread, I visualized enduring a root canal, of something going horribly wrong, of ending up in the hospital.
I googled “holistic dentists,” called one, and asked her opinion.
“If the nerve was mechanically-exposed, ozone treatments MIGHT work,” she said, “but I can’t guarantee it. If it was cavity-exposed, you’ll need an extraction or a root canal.”
What!? I thought those words didn’t exist in the vocabulary of holistic dentistry.
The lesson begins
I was in week five of the LIFE XT program, where the instructions for the week were:
Add Gratitude. Use sitting down to meals as the cue to Notice-Shift-Rewire the habit of Gratitude.
Since eating involved heat, cold, and chewing, this proved to be a challenge. Still, I told myself I was grateful to have teeth, and to have a credit card to pay for the fixing of those teeth.
On Sunday, in desperation, I called my dentist on his cell to find out how the nerve was exposed.
His brother answered.
His brother didn’t know.
Dr. A, he told me, was “extremely” ill and in the hospital.
“I’m so sorry!” I said, metaphorically backing out the door, grateful for my health.
Root canal? Or no root canal?
I didn’t need a neon sign to tell me I’d need to deal with the problem tooth. So I scheduled a visit with endo-guy. I convinced myself that after performing whatever tests endodontists perform, he’d straighten and announce, “You don’t need a root canal!”
I was willing to take the gamble.
The day came. I had a plan. If I needed the procedure, I’d visualize lying on the beach. I’d visualize Dave waiting for me in the waiting room. I’d remind myself it would be over in an hour. I’d remind myself of the line I’d recently heard on a tv show: no matter what happens, I’ll get through it. I’d count my breaths: two hundred and twelve of them, the length of time, I was told, a root canal would take. (I ‘d worked out the math in the shower when I should have been practicing Awareness.)
I’d read the reviews about endo-guy on Yelp.
- He had a lousy bedside manner.
- He’d do the work without telling the patient what he was doing, then disappear.
I considered those good reviews. I prefer not knowing what a dentist is doing. I don’t want to be that involved. My new dentist is far too chatty. He even offers a mirror so I can watch.
Endo-guy ran through a list of questions, then performed the “ice” test, applying an ice-cold instrument to one of my regular teeth. As soon as I felt the pain, I raised my hand. He tested the crowned tooth. No pain, then, after several long seconds, I raised my hand. He tested a regular tooth. Up went the hand.
“It took longer for the crowned tooth,” he said, “which could be a problem. Is the pain gone?”
“If it goes away quickly, that’s good. Let’s try again.”
He applied the ice to the back of the crown and my hand shot up, followed by the rest of me.
“That’s a good sign,” he said, and straightened. “You don’t need a root canal.”
Oh, the joy! The relief! I was ready to dance down the hallway.
“Is the pain still there?” he said.
“Well, yes,” I admitted.
“That’s bad. You need a root canal.”
The sun went behind the clouds. I stared at him.
“You can think about it,” he said, “decide later.”
I didn’t want to think about it. My anxiety would shoot through the roof. I’d lose twenty pounds. I’d end up in the hospital, like my dentist.
“What do you advise?”
“A root canal.”
There it was. I could either go home and worry myself sick, or I could suck it up and get it over.
I sucked it up.
After all, I had a plan, right?
The plan goes awry
Endo-guy sprang into action. I didn’t have a chance to back out. He shoved a rubber dam in my mouth and went to work. Other than the shot he jammed through the roof of my mouth, nothing hurt. But the whole experience was so overwhelming, my ability to visualize anything vanished. I couldn’t remember my reminders. Counting breaths didn’t occur to me. All I could do was clench my toes so my focus would be on my feet instead of my mouth. He barked orders. “Open wider!” “Resist against me!” At one point I reached up to brush something from my cheek and he barked, “Don’t touch anything! There’s a lot of sharp instruments here!”
It was all a blur. And then, it was over. Faster than I thought it would be.
And endo-guy disappeared.
The view ain’t so bad from here
I was grateful it was behind me.
I was grateful I’d had the nerve to get through it.
If the alternative had been an infection that reached my bone, I could even say I was grateful to have the root canal.
Gratitude shifted my outlook.
I had a choice. I could be fearful of the bad or grateful for the good. Anxious of what scared me, or thankful for what gave me strength. Leery of the germs on my dentist’s hand, or comforted he was trying to put me at ease.
By adopting an attitude of gratitude, I saw all that was right in my life.
Above the dark clouds, the sun was always shining.