Sleeping Through the Pain

The last day of school in the eighth grade was a terrible day for me. Normally the last day of school would be the beginning of summer, but I left school and immediately went to the orthodontist where they pulled three of my teeth and put on the braces I would wear for the next three and half years. I would get them taken off just before my senior year, but I’d get them put back on again a year into college and wear them for another two years.

Five and a half years of monthly, and sometimes twice a month, tightenings, along with incidents like that time I got kicked in the teeth and had to literally unhook my lips from my braces, I’ve learned to tolerate a lot of mouth pain. The pain is still there, but I can shrug most of it off because, well, it doesn’t hurt as much as all those other times.

In fact, during the years I was dealing with braces I developed a sort of zen approach to the pain. I would go to the orthodontist and as I sat in the chair waiting for my turn I would steady my breathing and go into an almost trance-like state. They’d tighten my braces and then I’d go home.

As I got older, I continued to apply this technique to regular dentist visits. And now, twenty odd years later, when I go to the dentist I warn the technicians, “Hey, I might fall asleep, so just wake me up if you need me to answer a question or something.” I even start getting sleepy just being in a dentist office waiting room.

Back in March of 2016, I had to have surgery on my gums to remove a cyst, repair the bone and fix a cleft. I warned the doctor that I might fall asleep. “I doubt that,” he said. He gave me the pain killer shots. “You might feel a pinch.” I did, but it was nothing. “This might burn a little.” It did, but I barely noticed. They stepped out a minute and then came back to begin the surgery. The doctor took his scalpel and made his first incisions. And once I was certain the drugs were doing their job and all I really felt was pressure and the occasional pinch, I went to sleep.

They woke me up to let me know they were done with the surgery and to give me some after-care instructions, then I went back to sleep. They woke me again when they’d finished packing my gums and were ready to send me home. “You weren’t kidding,” the doctor said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had someone sleep through a procedure before.”

This year, since the last surgery didn’t fully fix the problem, I had to have donor gums, just a small section. Once again, I warned the doctor that I would fall asleep. He doubted me, but I did. Repeatedly. The jerk kept waking me up and asking me stupid questions that I couldn’t answer because his hands were in my mouth. I mean, you’d think they’d at least stick to Yes/No questions, but nope. Anyway, I left the surgery annoyed that I didn’t get my sleep time.

Sadly, I also needed a crown this year. And that dentist wouldn’t let me sleep either. But that was more because when they are shaving down a tooth to put a crown on it, it’s really hard to tune it out.

But when I returned for my routine cleaning, I slept straight through.

What’s the purpose of this story? You can get used to anything. And I think most people do, to the things they do every day. Some things are worth becoming numb to, to a degree. But every now and then you need to check in and make sure you aren’t missing anything important. I’d become so numb to mouth pain over the years that I had ignored a cleft and a receding gum line to the point where I needed two surgeries to get it to the point where I might not need a third, but I also might lose teeth if I’m not careful.

In yesterday’s post I mentioned becoming more political in the past year and a half. I hate this term, but it seems to be in fashion and it applies, and so I suppose I am “woke” – in some ways if not all ways. For a long time I was focused mostly on myself and my family. All I wanted was to get us out of debt and stable, and I achieved that… about a year and a half ago. That’s when I started looking around and seeing that lots of other people we not okay.

Of course, I can’t help everyone, but I can help some people, and I can be informed and make sure that I vote responsibly to make things better for as many as we can.

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