As the nitrous kicks in, I am floating sideways, seven feet underwater, thinking suddenly about SSL certificates and dolphins. What is this lame music, I wonder, remembering that the RIAA is suing dentists across the U.S. and Canada to get them to pay royalties for the privilege of subjecting patients to Kenny G. Isn’t that “Grazing in the Grass?” Yes, but neutered. Don’t they know people prefer to listen to Ornette Coleman on laughing gas? I try to flatten the fifth in my mind.
The antibiotics did such a marvelous job of relieving the pain over the past few days. I ask whether we can just call it a sinus infection and forget the root canal, call it a day. “Your mouth is a time bomb, Mr. Hacker,” the endodontist tells me in broken English. Not the first time I’ve heard that one. Bite plate goes in. Dental dam goes in. I am submerged, I am Dr. Yeh’s supplicant. Do with me as you will.
These are not your typical dentist’s drills. The bits are long and flexible, and turn slowly. No whining, more of a whirr. She applies them quickly, changes bits with lightning speed, examines each one carefully. How many bits do you need here? 20? I remember the line in the disclaimer I had to sign, about the prospect of a bit breaking off inside my jaw. Fumble for my phone, snap some self-portraits at arm’s length. Suddenly the good doctor pips in triumph, temporarily bringing me up from the depths. “You see? You see? Dead meat! Dead meat!” She is dangling a nerve from the tips of a small pair of pliers. The nerve is about the size of a few intertwined hairs, a tiny darkened bulb on one end, in the process of dying. It is the culprit, the source of the infection. I start laughing, can’t stop. Let me repeat the scene, so I never forget:
I am now gazing at a nerve extracted from my own body, pulled out of my head by a slowly rotating flexible bit, now dangling from a thin pairapliers. I have never seen my own nerves before, and I am laughing hysterically. Dead meat! Dead meat! I am happy.
They stop every so often to make images. New digital x-ray, no development required, images on an LCD on swivel mount in front of my face, instant vision. Dr. Yeh exclaims again. “Four roots, not three! Less than 5% of population have four roots! You are very special!” And the work continues. The fourth root goes very deep. They have to remove another filling to get it all. Three hours in the chair, total. I could do this all day. Suddenly they’re increasing the oxygen in my mixture, desaturating nitrous in my blood. I am above water. It all seemed so vivid while happening, now suddenly a barely accessible memory. Today will be a couch day.