The sharp, piercing pain radiates from my jaw at lightning speed; I see stars. My knees have buckled and slammed into the cabinet door of the bathroom sink as I grab the countertop with my free hand. My right hand’s white knuckled death-grip mercilessly squeezes the offending weapon.
Leigh, sitting on the edge of the bathtub, is bent over with one hand across her waist, the other covering her mouth. She too has tears in her eyes.
“I am so sorry Honey! I know it hurts, but the look on your face is hilarious!” The ensuing guffaw, exploding through her pursed lips and her own white-knuckled fingers, conflicts wildly with her words.
I have never hated my toothbrush more than I do at this moment.
This was not how I had envisioned wrapping up my Valentine’s Day celebration.
For two weeks I’ve had “an issue” in my mouth. I knew I had to make the dreaded call to schedule an appointment at Fields Family Dentistry, but I kept hoping it would magically disappear; or perhaps hold off until my scheduled check-up in March. But when the pain of the pain is greater than the pain of the change, change happens. So I made the call.
On Friday morning the 15th, I sat nervously in the waiting area of the Aspen Drive office. A young, cute dental technician opens the door leading to the examination rooms calls out, “Mr. McBride?” and leads me back. I realize my hands are already sweating as I sit in the chair.
“Let me see” she says, looking over the notes in my dental chart. “So you’re experiencing sharp pain on your upper left teeth? I see you were here last month for the lower left? Is the pain the same?”
I try to look and sound as cool as I can, but realize not only do I have a death grip around the end of the armrests, my legs, crossed at the ankles, are squeezing so hard I’m afraid I’ll either break a leg or pop out my fake knee. My heart is pounding and I haven’t even opened my mouth.
“Let’s take a look.” She says. The scraping of a sharp tool on my teeth causes the tension to mount in my forearms and upper body. I’m thinking to myself that this might be a terrific workout for my abs when suddenly the all-to-familiar piercing pain is radiating through my body.
After peeling me off the ceiling and getting me settled, she says, “OK – I see three exposed roots and a temporary filling on number 15.”
Temporary filling? I don’t remember getting a temporary filling.
“When did you get the temporary filling?” she said as she slowly flipped through the pages of my chart.
“I don’t remember.”
“Could you have gone somewhere else?”
“I don’t think so.” I said quizzically. Quite frankly, the thought of going to another dentist seemed wrong, I’ve been a patient at Chuck Fields office since 1987. It is the only…
“1990!” she said, reading from a page deep in my chart. “1990, Number 15, temporary filling – return in three weeks to get permanent filling.”
“1990?” I thought to myself. A gathering cloud of embarrassment starts to envelop me. I am all about going to extraordinarily lengths to avoid pain, but 23 years with a temporary filling! While I found that impressive and embarrassing in the same moment, it paled in comparison to what I was about to hear.
“I was born in 1990!”
Suddenly, the young dental assistant was not quite as cute as she had been just a couple of minutes earlier.
Dr. Harvey, who had expertly fixed me on my last emergency visit, and the formerly cute dental assistant went to work: Novocaine, suction, grinding, scraping, “turn head right”, “move jaw left” – all the fun stuff you get to hear while sitting in a dental chair.
I just try to go to my happy place, which technically would be anywhere but a dentist’s chair. I started to think about just how long I’ve been a patient here, and how many hours I’ve sat in these chairs.
Our family started visiting Dr. Chuck Fields in 1987 when I was still in the Navy, and he was still in his original office on Old Gettysburg Road. When he built his new building, he hired me to lease the excess office suite (which his practice has now grown into). While Chuck has always been a warm and engaging person, I had no idea he had such strong improvisational skills, and how they would come to help me. He is like a ‘Dental MacGyver’.
Aside from addressing the issues of routine check-ups and cavities, Chuck has somehow found a way to repeatedly re-attach a crown to the portion of the front tooth I broke in 6th grade. It is such a small post, he is even amazed, asking me nearly every time he sees me, “How’s that crown holding up?”
During a routine check-up (which always includes both teeth and family) in 1993, I told Chuck that Chris was in Cub Scouts and we were working on his Pinewood Derby model car. One thing led to another and that evening I was back with Chris and the car. Using a scale, a drill and seemingly endless supply of dental amalgam, we carved a hole in the bottom of the car, and filled it up to the maximum weight. We literally spent hours meticulously tinkering until we got the right weight. It was a winning effort!
Eighteen months later, I had been diagnosed with cancer. While undergoing chemotherapy treatment, I needed a root canal. Chuck’s MacGyver instincts came in handy as he went to great lengths to coordinate the treatment and scheduling with my oncologist. Forever an optimist and a perfectionist, he wanted to make sure he did everything right. I don’t think I’ll ever forget him saying, “You know Pat, there is no protocol for endodontic therapy during chemotherapy.”
If you’re going to be a guinea pig in a dentist’s chair, Chuck’s the one to do it with. And who knew a temporary filling could last nearly 23 years?
I really have a hate-love relationship with my dentist; I hate to go, but love it when I’ve been. Just hours after the procedure, not only was I ‘pain free’, but I had also gained the comfort of knowing that all my fillings are now younger than the dental assistants at Field Family Dentistry. And that makes me feel even better!