Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Open Wide

Dr. Hyde, Painless Dentist

Dad, by the time you read this they'll have taken your teeth. For years we joked,  "The teeth are fine, but the gums gotta go."

Hard to joke now. Dentists were people mom taught me to fear. My earliest recollection of dentistry is of the waiting room at the kiddie dentist. There were rocking horses, and a combination corral-play pen, the walls were covered with wild west wallpaper. The corral was full of toys, each worn down by the compulsive handling of little kids who played desperately trying to forget that they were waiting to see the doctor.

Seeing the doctor wasn't fun. I always had a cavity that needed filling, and that meant the needle, the high pitched whine of the drill, the numbness and the helplessness. No matter how hard I brushed I always seemed to have cavities. I could sit out in the wild rest room counting the cowboys and Indians on the wallpaper, nervously thumbing through the HighLights Children Magazines, fidgeting my wait time away while hope lived that this time he'd say "No Cavities!".

Of course we found out later that the doctor had the disturbing, but lucrative, habit of drilling & filling healthy teeth.

Of all the dentists I've had, Dr. Hyde stands out. Here was a man a young boy could hardly forget. Perhaps he was a strange man, with a name that conjured images from Robert Louis Stevenson. He was an intense, short, dark, with hairy forearms. He had thick but dexterous fingers with beautifully manicured fingernails. Hyde's bulging hyperthyroid brown eyes were usually laughing, he always seemed to be so close to your face. Inside the comfort zone, grinning as he picked and probed with those awful stainless steel hooks. His sarcastic, facetious, patter would make me laugh, even with a numbed mouth full of cotton and cavities.

I liked Dr. Hyde, as much as any patient could like a dentist. It was mom's belief that Hyde was a "painless" dentist that made me a believer. Dr. Hyde was the only dentist mom really trusted. I just rode with her faith, accepting Hyde as a dental saint -- blind belief made it easier for me to go see him.

Like all kids I was terrified of the needle. I noticed how it was always kept out of sight, hidden away from the patient’s eyes, kept secret and segregated from the other shining chrome picks, probes, packers and mirrors. It was supposed to dampen the patient's anxiety to keep that needle out of sight. What you can't see... I knew Hyde was preparing the syringe when he'd turn his back to me. I'd be racked out in the chair, a bitter plastic drainage vacuum hanging from the side of my mouth like a cane hung from a rack. The hollow sucking sound echoed in my ears as the saliva drained from my mouth. The acrid smell of filling compound drifted faintly on the breeze, as the hissing concentric swirl of the spit-sink babbled in my ear.

With a few expert furtive moves Dr. Hyde would prepare the needle, a bit of banter, his free hand misdirecting my eyes. He had a special way with the shot, jiggling the gum and cheek with his thumb and forefinger he would slip that needle in and numb the area before you could shrink from the spike. "Say Ah now Dennis, that's right, let me just grab...." and he'd begin his patented gum and cheek shake, the chrome cylinder flashed past my free eye quickly, the simple patter, the big fingers shaking my cheek, a thin cold faint pain deep in the jaw fading immediately to tongue swollen numbness.

That's how it usually went; except for one unforgettable visit.

It was a typical six month checkup. I'd been through the cleaning, and x-ray.

The offending bit of dark foggy decay had been waved in front of my face on the film. I was now stretched out and waiting. I'd been picked, and probed. The dreaded cavity had been found! So I lay there, open mouthed and passive, waiting for the needle. Hyde turned his back as usual, the nurse presented the tray. His hands moved preparing the Novocain.

Suddenly Hyde is in my face, we were eye to eye, the antiseptic smell of his breath predominated. With a wink he produced the silver syringe and held it directly before of my eyes. It was a huge ballistic chrome barrel topped with a hand-sized plunger. I was mesmerized, the needle was immense.

Hyde's smile was crooked, grinning he asked, "How'd you like one in the eyeball?"

Before I could squirm my cheek and gum were jiggling and I was numb.

The doctor had a memorable sense of humor.

1 comment:

wiredinstructor said...

My current Dentist is a former student of mine. Scott was my student in both the 7th & 8th grade. In his 8th grade year he put a ski tip through his jaw and lost most of his front teeth. He told me it was the reconstruction process that first got him interested in Dentistry.

Believe me before I let him at me with a needle I made sure there were no 'lingering' issues from our time togehter in middle school.

~ D.