I went to the dentist Thursday and, four days later, my bladder is still sore.
Let me explain. The scheduled procedure was for four small fillings, to take about two and a half hours. I’d have both novocain and nitrous oxide to dull the pain and any other sensations that might get in the way.
The only thing the drugs don’t suppress is the need to urinate. I don’t know what it is about going to the dentist, but almost as soon as I’m reclined in the chair, I begin to feel the pressure building in my bladder. I guess it’s partly psychological, knowing that since I can’t go, I have to go. Or maybe I just have an adverse reaction to hearing Lionel Ritchie songs pumped over the Muzak.
I’ve been through this before, and tried to plan ahead by draining myself as much as possible before leaving home. I still remember a root canal from about five years ago, when two hours into oral surgery I had to tap Dr. Anderson on the shoulder and ask to be excused. He sighed, took several minutes to extricate himself from my mouth, and I stumbled down the hall in search of much-needed relief.
In the restroom, I almost had the urine shocked right out of me. There’s a full-length mirror on the wall behind the toilet, so you can’t help but get a thorough look at yourself. With all the numbing and the nitrous, I hadn’t realized the dentist had left the rubber sheeting attached to some metal clamps protruding from my mouth. I looked like a cross between Steven Tyler and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
I peered over the apparatus, did some simple triangulation using the mirror, and managed to get a good enough aim to deposit a high percentage of my ejecta into the bowl. Then, it was back to the chair where, within another ten minutes, I had to go again.
I’ve tried to convince myself that a trained medical professional would understand the need for patients to attend to certain bodily functions. I know dental school concentrates primarily on the mouth, but surely they have at least one class that covers what happens when a person’s bladder becomes engorged with liquid. (Left unattended, it explodes all over not only the patient, but the dentist, his assistant and, in my case at least, many of the front-office personnel).
As I settled into the chair for Thursday’s work, I considered asking that they install a catheter along with the various tubing they were shoving into my mouth. Instead, I asked the assistant if a bathroom break would be okay at some point, and she said yes.
She briefly reviewed what we’d be doing during this visit: the doctor would numb me up, then drill and fill the four tiny cavities they found during last month’s check-up. She’d concentrate on keeping me comfortable, adjusting the nitrous as needed and doing occasional suctioning. My job was to lay there like a beached mullet.
She fitted the tubing into my nostrils and turned on the gas. As subtly as possible, I began taking huge gulps of the drug into my lungs, mindful from previous visits that they didn’t charge by the cubic foot, and that the one good thing about this whole operation would be a rare Thursday-afternoon high.
“Feel anything yet?” she asked after a few minutes.
“Not sure,” I mumbled through the gauze. “Maybe a little.”
She cranked it higher, and soon I discovered a previously unknown appreciation for Shania Twain’s “Feel Like a Woman” (especially the part where she yelps).
The dentist arrived in the room and began his work. I’d feel “a little pinch” as he administered the novacain and, sure enough, there followed a surge of pain so great as to jolt my entire body several inches out of the chair.
“Sorry,” I said, as if it were somehow my fault that I’d been jabbed in the jaw with a sharp needle.
Several more “pinches” followed before he left the room to give me a few minutes for the numbing to take effect.
When he returned, it had somehow become my job to participate in the procedure. He wanted to know if he’d given me enough anesthetic, and asked how the novacain seemed to be working.
“Does it feel more like you’ve got a fat lip, or more like a tingling?” he asked.
It seemed like a slight distinction, and I paused for several seconds trying to assess the feeling. Under most circumstances, I am only vaguely aware that I have lips and, if pressed, I could tell someone how they usually felt (fine). Now, however, I couldn’t quite put an adjective in place.
“Puffy?” I finally offered. “Numb?”
I guess that was good enough, as Dr. Anderson proceeded with the poking and the prodding and, worst of all, the drilling.
The pressure in my loins was slowly increasing. I knew I’d have to interrupt the procedure at least once, but was trying to hold back until roughly halfway through so that a second bathroom visit wouldn’t be necessary. One interruption during an appointment is quirky; two or more might require a referral to the urologist several suites down the hall.
Soon the doctor stopped the quiet mumbling he’d occasionally whisper toward the assistant, and addressed me directly.
“Davis, I’m going to have to contour your gum tissue to better access the decay,” he said.
Why was he telling me this? Was I supposed to give my approval? If it was merely a play-by-play account, I wasn’t interested. Only later did I discover that this was an unanticipated $200 maneuver not covered by insurance, and I should’ve said “please don’t”.
“Contouring the gum tissue” involves — rather surprisingly, I thought — the use of fire. The assistant temporarily disconnected my nitrous/oxygen mix so we wouldn’t all blow up, and soon I saw a swirl of smoke rising from my mouth. It created the not-unpleasant smell of cooked meat, giving me the rare opportunity to learn how appealing my grilled carcass might be to a cannibal.
Before he re-attached the gas, I figured this was my best opportunity for a bathroom break. I headed down the hall, took care of my business, and returned within a few minutes.
I must’ve dozed off shortly after this, since the next thing I knew they were wiping me down, removing cotton from my mouth and preparing me to leave. Before standing, I glanced into my lap to make sure I’d produced no liquids more embarrassing than drool during my sleep. A renewed fullness in my groin confirmed I had somehow held it in.
When I got to the checkout desk, I was told about the extra charge for the gum contour. I mentioned I thought I’d need a cap on another tooth, asking for an estimate of that work. She quoted a figure well north of $1,000, adding that I only had about $150 of coverage left on my dental plan for 2011. I was tempted to ask what I could get for that amount (A cleaning? Grills — maybe not diamonds but I could probably afford topaz — on my front teeth? A couple extra hits of nitrous?) but instead excused myself to the restroom while she finished my paperwork.
At the toilet, I sighed in relief as I wrapped up my visit. Lionel Ritchie asked “Hello?” and wondered aloud if it was he I was looking for.
No, Lionel, I thought. I was only looking forward to getting home before I had to pee again.