Is it safe? Countdown to pain

I had root canal therapy yesterday without anesthetic. That’s right. Read it again if you have to, suck up exactly what that means. Root canal therapy without anesthetic. If you’re squeamish, don’t read on.

The reason I had no pain relief was, the dentist told me, that he needed to know when it hurt so he could stop. He pushes thin needles into your root canal, you see, and if he goes in willy-nilly because I don’t feel a thing, he could push too far. When the anesthetic wears off, I’d certainly feel it then. I thought it was a good idea then, and I think so now: my dentist is an excellent one, and I trust him completely.

So he said – I’m going to do six things – and most of those left me reeling in sharp, breath-taking but happily short-lived agony . His was a countdown to pain, the relief felt at one completed annihilated by the anticipation of the next. Needless to say I grabbed his arm and begged him to stop. I have never, I am certain, felt pain like it. Now I know how The Marathon Man felt.

There are some events in life, small moments, that makes us almost instinctively repeat a phrase or gesture. Often these rituals are funny ones. So, for example, when I press my foot on the pedal of the rubbish bin and the metal lid makes a clang – I feel a knee-jerk reaction to exclaim: “The Emperor has arrived!”, as if the sound of the bin were nothing less than the emperor’s gong.

Today I feel I’ve added another one. Whenever I go to the dentist again, I know I’ll feel an almost uncontrollable urge to say: “Is it safe?”

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One thought on “Is it safe? Countdown to pain

  1. Many years ago, still in Germany then, I had root-canal treatment, anaesthetized, and presumably safe. But when, as you described, needles were used for tests, I happened to swallow one of them – which in turn got the entire dental practice into panic mode and me into A&E where I spent half a day with getting X-rayed in order to re-discover that needle in my body. ‘Is it safe?’ – depends on the perspective and the context, I am afraid.

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