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Sunday, October 31, 2010

In the High Chair!

Starting a new life in my 45th year was bound to bring some level of concern. I was starting a new life in a new country. Apart from the every day difference of culture, language and politcs, I was going to have to overcome a different medical system. In short, I was going to have to find a dentist.

To say I don't like going to the dentist is beyond an understatement. I am not sure when my irrational fear began, but as a child I had three teeth that constantly needed to be filled. In the late 60's, early 70's, the injection was of little relief to the pain caused by the drill. I would sit in the waiting room, shaking, as the sound reverberated throughout the surgery. I recall one particular time when there was a traffic accident outside the surgery and the waiting room was converted into a makeshift triage. My dentist's practice partner approached me with a cup of hot, sweet tea. I looked at him and responded, in a whisper, that perhaps I should not have a sugary drink before seeing Mr. G. (as my dentist was affectionately known). He looked me, bemused, and said, 'You weren't in the accident? But you look so white, and why are you are shaking?' When Mr. G. retired, the practice partner, who shall remain nameless, became my dentist, and constantly recalled the incident, with far too much relish!

My first visit to my new dentist, in the USA, was both an amusing and terrifying experience. Most people with whom I have come into contact are very complimentary about my accent, and are very friendly. When people say 'have a nice day' in Austin, and the surrounding areas, they sound genuine. As I entered the surgery, a young, bubbly receptionist almost squealed when I introduced myself, 'Well, hey Miss Tracie, good to meet you!' She thrust a clipboard in front of me and asked me to complete all three pages of paper attached. Before I was able to take a seat, a heavily pregnant lady appeared from the rear and called, 'Miss Tracie?' It has become the norm for me to feel like a character from Thunderbirds, so I turned, smiled and followed her to torture chamber. It took less than a minute for me to explain that I was terrified and for her to realise she probably should have listened to the voice inside her head earlier when it told her to stay in bed!

After trying, and failing, to take x-rays due to my 'extreme gag reflex', the only solution was to turn on the gas. I have never been given anything stronger than a numbing injection in the chair, and whilst it was a new concept, all involved, including myself, voted in favour. I was given a pink mask that was attached to a tube which was connected to the cylinder under the computer behind my head. Within seconds I felt very, very relaxed. Could this be the way forward? Two and a half hours later, it was decided that perhaps a second visit would be advantageous as the staff were in need of respite and I was, in colloquial terms, as high as a kite!

As I floated through to the reception, I was handed a printout upon which was my 'Dental Plan', broken down into prioritising sections of treatment needed, each accompanied by a rather large number preceded by a dollar sign. I was more than happy to make another appointment, being sober enough to make sure my words were formed correctly before allowing them out of my mouth. I have been known to verbalise my thoughts before my brain has approved. Words will spill out from between my lips whilst I am shouting within to 'stop!'

By the time I was back at the office, I had come down to earth with not only a thump, but a miserable temperament, and stared with abolsulte horror at the final figure on my dental plan. I called the surgery and rescheduled my appointment stating I would like to be booked in for the treatment which I considered to be most important.

My next visit coincided with Halloween. The receptionist, who this time resembled Pippi Longstocking, had pig tails, sticking out at perfect right angles from her head. Her painted freckles were beautifully applied and her stockings were horizontally striped. Other members of staff were dressed in varying degree of costume, including the still heavily pregnant lady, who took one look at me and failed to hide her abject horror! She excused herself from the general reception area and I am quite sure that she hid herself away, as I did not see her for the rest of the visit. Pippi, on the other hand, was delighted to see me, and squealed, again, 'Hey Miss Tracie, Happy Holloween'. Why had I not thought to dress like Lady Penelope!

Armed with my mask, I was led through to the cubicle which was now decorated with sculls and cobwebs, black and orange material and bats. Obviously the staff had been absent on the day the Teeth Technician Convention gave advice on 'How to make your patient comfortable'! The dental nurse entered, her greeting as bright as Pippi, but her costume less dramatic, and explained today's procedure. She left, leaving my notes open to the page that showed a diagram of my teeth and was headed with large red letters, 'PATIENT NEEDS A LOT OF EXTRA TIME!!!' This was underlined three times.

Until this time, I had considered it very ingenious for the dentist to put an interesting piece of art on the ceiling above the chair, to take the patients mind off the torment that was about to commence. Today I was introduced to the new method of dental hypnosis. It was a television. I was offered a remote control and earphones. I declined. What I did not decline was my pink mask which was returned to me attached to the tube which was connected to the cylinder under the computer behind my head. Soon, the mask was in place, the injection was taking effect and the drilling was about to start. And I didnt care! Then, I woke up. My wits may have been dulled but my ears were working perfectly, as I heard the nurse whisper, 'we need to turn the gas down next time'. And I didnt care!

I managed to walk with some dignity to the front desk and the term 'open wallet surgery' was never more accurate as my purse was relieved of many, many greenbacks. I left the surgery with my daughter, who is my chauffer each time I have to visit the dentist, as it is definitely unsafe for me to drive whilst under the influence of the powerful relaxant afforded me during treatment. I got into the car and started to giggle. I giggled all the way back to work, where I walked through to the back office, sat on the floor, and giggled some more.

Despite the fact my fear has not subsided, (I still have difficulty walking into the surgery and it is still not possible for me to have x-rays by placing the card inside my cheek) and the fact I am sure my dentist books a holiday each time I make an appointment, I have no pain after treatment. No matter how much my mouth is pulled or tugged, I never have the ache that I used to experience after the injections wear off. That, to me, is worth the price.

My experience with the medical profession in the USA started with a trip to the doctor whilst applying for my permanent residency.....but another story.

1 comment:

  1. I empathize with you completely!! Going to the dentist is and has always been for me too, a fearful experience. Maybe it's something to do with our age group and the sad, insensitive experiences we had as children back in those "days"! Visiting dentists who where totally unqualified to treat children.