Thursday, January 25, 2007


The Resume (A Random Anecdote)

Job #12: Outgoing Intern

At 7:30 the next morning, I was on the outskirts of the city in an area that had "desperately needs urban renewal" written all over it. Ten or 20 years ago, this must have been a posh area indeed, but now all I saw was block after block of forlorn 70s-style ranch houses with sagging roofs and peeling paint. The multi-tiered concrete shopping plazas looked dingy and positively Third World. Most shopfront windows were soaped-over or papered with lease notices. The ones that were open were pawn shops, convenience stores, hair salons, and at least one dentist's office.

I knew this, of course, because I had called a dentist in this part of town yesterday, after my stunning toothache had subsided. I'd had toothaches before, but this one redefined the genre. It felt as though my whole head was just one big rotten tooth and all the world merely so much pulpy gingiva.

The worst part was not the toothache, though. The worst part was that I had no dental insurance. My coverage under my parents' plan expired on my 21st birthday, the day I'd had my wisdom teeth removed (and that operation was covered only because the doctor had originally scheduled it the week before but had had to postpone for professional reasons. He called the insurance company and got an extension), which meant I was on my own. So I spent the afternoon alternately dabbing clove oil on my gums (a surprise gift from the previously indifferent Dotty, who had taken pity on me) and calling dentists in the metro area to determine who had the cheapest rate for an office visit.

Dr. Rancher was the most economical by a wide margin. Where most dentists were charging 40 or 50 bucks just to look in my mouth, the gruff assistant who answered Rancher's phone informed me that an office visit was $18, including an X-ray if I needed it. I should have wondered about such a low rate--and the fact that when I asked if the doctor had any cancellations or openings for tomorrow, the gruff receptionist snorted and said, "Yeah, we got cancellations. Everyone cancelled tomorrow. The whole day's open. You pick a time." I picked the first available time, of course.

And now here I was, parked in the cracked and debris-strewn lot of the office complex where Dr. Rancher plied his trade. His was apparently the only business still left in the plaza, and evidently it had been that way for some time; the leasing notice that took up every window of the second story was missing several letters that had long since peeled off and fallen to the empty interior floors above so that RENTAL SPACE AVAILABLE! PHONE NOW! simply read:
__ONE _OW!

The front entrance was locked, but I found a side door with a broken latch and let myself in. After a few minutes of wandering around the empty first floor (the reception desk in the front was almost completely covered with slick black garbage bags full of broken tiles of drop-ceiling and stacks of old phone books), I made my way up the darkened stairwell to the back of the plaza, where I could hear someone coughing. The last door in the back hall was lit and I could see "J. RANCHER, DDS" etched on the frosted glass.

Inside, a fellow was sitting at the receptionists' desk, feet up, reading the newspaper and making terrible slobbery sucking sounds as he worked a hard candy around his mouth. I introduced myself and said I was there to have my appointment with the dentist. The fellow stayed hidden behind the paper for a long, awkward moment, then he flicked the top edge of the paper down and stared at me.

"Fill that out," he said gruffly, and I realized this was the ray of sunshine I'd spoken to on the phone yesterday. He slurped slightly now and glanced at a battered clipboard next to his scuffed cowboy boots. I grabbed the clipboard, then looked around. "Umm, do you have a pen I can use?"

This time there was no awkward pause. "Nope," he said from behind the paper, then made a long sucking sound to punctuate this.

I looked around helplessly. "Well...uh...I didn't happen to bring one. So..."

With a huff the man threw down his paper, got up, and disappeared through a door behind him. I heard him rummaging around back there for a bit, then he came back out front and shrugged. "Guess I don't have one. Well, never mind. Why don't you come on back and we'll have a look."

Maybe it was the lack of sleep from having a toothache, but for a moment I thought he was suggesting I come in the back to help him look for a pen. But then I saw that he was wearing a white smock and the lightbulb went off.

"Um, you're Dr. Rancher?" I asked, following him into a large, spare examination room.

He nodded and pointed to the chair. Before I could even get both cheeks onto the seat, he hit a switch and reclined the back of the chair so quickly, I almost did a backwards somersault off of it.

A second later, a blinding light was in my eyes and I could feel his hands prying my mouth open. I could smell his hands, but they didn't give off the usual vaguely unpleasant taste and odor of latex I had come to associate with dentists in this dawning age of AIDS awareness. In fact, I was pretty sure Dr. Rancher hadn't bothered to wash his hands since I walked in. Which may explain why they smelled of newsprint.

But before I could dwell on this, I could hear fresh sucking noises and a moist clicking sound that can only come from someone working a hard candy over one's molars. Incredibly, even as he leaned over me to examine my mouth, Dr. Rancher was continuing to enjoy his hard candy. I kept waiting for some green-apple-flavored pendulum of slobber to drip into my open mouth. But instead, Dr. Rancher began crunching his way through the hard candy. Tiny flecks of the stuff began to rain down on me as he spoke.

"Little swelling on the left side, but can't see anything else wrong," he said, moving the light away. "Let's take an X-ray."

He returned with one of those plastic bite card thingies that I permitted into my mouth only because I had seen him actually open and remove it from its cellophane wrapper.

He jammed it into my mouth and I moaned as the sharp edge of the card bit into my tender gums. "Okay, hold still," he said, and got up to leave the room.

"Wait!" I cried around my mouthful of bite card. "Aren' yoo onna ut a lead hingy on me?"

He pshawed me with a wave of his hand. "It's only a little radiation. You don't really need a lead apron."

I sat up and pulled the bite card out. This was the last straw. "Fine. Then YOU can stay in here with me."

Dr. Rancher stopped, stared me as if I was crazy, then crossed back to the door nearest me and disappeared through it. A moment later he appeared with a very dusty-looking lead apron and dropped it unceremoniously in my lap.

Isn't it amazing how much crap you'll take when you're younger, mostly because you know no better? I actually let the candy-chomping dentist put his fingers in my mouth and take X-rays and the only time I registered anything close to a complaint was when I insisted on lead shielding during my X-ray.

After a few minutes, Dr. Rancher returned and informed me that he could find nothing wrong with my mouth. "You're good to go," he said.

I stared at him for a long moment. "Except for the fact that I still have a toothache!" The dentist--by now I'm using the term loosely--just shrugged. I dropped the apron in the seat and strode out the door. He called after me about owing him $18 and I cried "Bill me!!" and ran out of there.

(By the way, the guy did actually have the audacity to bill me, as I saw when the invoice arrived at the intern apartments a week or so later. I can't tell you what pleasure it gave me to Frisbee that thing into the trash.)

I went to work then, more miserable than ever. My jaw hurt so bad I couldn't eat or drink. I could barely speak. My editor Jim, at this point, was used to dealing with personal injury thanks to his long tenure with Andy, the accident-prone associate editor, so when I shared my experience with Dr. Rancher with him, Jim was extremely sympathetic. He called me into his office where he handed me a tea bag and instructed me to stuff it in my mouth (a home remedy that was intended to help gum inflammation. It sort of worked), then proceeded to make a couple of phone calls. He scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to me.

"The university has a really good dental school, although I'm guessing the guy you saw wasn't a graduate of the program. Anyway, I just called some friends of mine over there in the PR office and they tell me the school has a walk-in dental ER. It's a flat fee of 40 bucks, whether you need a cavity filled or root canal work. Students do the work, but they're supervised by real dentists. I'd say that's your best bet. Here's the address. Why don't you take the day off and go see them?"

Tears in my eyes--and not just from the pain--I nodded gratefully at Jim and took the slip of paper. People since have marveled at my fearlessness to have students poking around in my mouth, but I think now you can understand I how I might have perceived them as a welcome change compared to Dr. Rancher.

By the time I got to the walk-in ER, my jaw was throbbing so badly I was seeing double. I must have looked pretty bad to the receptionist too, because she took me right back to the exam room, a large open bay with several dental chairs. I was seated next to a man who was holding a bloody rag to his mouth and who, I discovered when he took the rag away to spit up a great mass of white and red, had somehow managed to break every tooth in his head. On my other side was a woman who had a string hanging from her mouth and who volunteered the information that her son had lodged a fishhook between her molars during a particularly aggressive cast.

Mine was the mystery ailment and so got a lot more attention from the attending dentist, who brought students over and let them all have a look. At first, I wasn't happy about this arrangement, but then they hooked me up to a tank of nitrous oxide and two whiffs later, I wouldn't have cared if every student had climbed inside my mouth and decided to pitch a couple of tents there.

Then, the attending dentist shone a powerful light in my mouth and started talking about the scar tissue from where I'd had my wisdom teeth removed back in June. He reached in casually with a dental implement--not a sharp one either--and touched a shiny line of scar tissue along the jaw bone. When he did, my head burst into nuclear fire and I let out a scream that took the hair off the man's arm. I'll say this, though, the guy had a great bedside manner. He was exceedingly apologetic and to make it up to me, he cranked the laughing gas up to full. I suddenly found myself in a very forgiving mood.

And as I lay there, I listened to the doctor explain my problem. Apparently after one has one's wisdom teeth removed in the manner that mine were taken out (which is, they were pulverized, not actually pulled, because they were horizontally impacted), it's not uncommon to have bone slivers remain behind in the gums. Usually, he went on, these work their way out on their own (!), but sometimes they don't and can cause infection.

With that, he turned and began working on me. He injected me with novocaine, which I tried to tell him wouldn't help, but it didn't matter, because I had the laughing gas. Then he reached in with a scalpel and split my gums open (I felt it go, and man, even with the benefit of the gas, it's something I could go the rest of my life without feeling).

Then, to my open-mouthed astonishment (and there at the dentist's, what other kind of astonishment would I have had?), the dentist began pulling out several small white shards of tooth. Some seemed as small and fine as sewing needles, while others looked almost the size of a pinkie fingernail.

After he pulled out about five pieces, the dentist looked in, then called a couple of his students over to take a peek too. The dentist informed me that, in addition to the slivers he'd pulled out, I had a bone spur--a not uncommon side effect of wisdom tooth surgery. Apparently the spur had grown, causing pressure against the gum tissue, and increasing my pain. Before I could attempt to ask him what he was going to do about it, one of his students produced what looked like a Dremel with a sanding bit attached to it. Then the student reached in, turned the thing on, and proceeded to sand the inside of my head with it...


gah!! you've now made my entire mouth hurt. good lord, mm. ouch! you poor thing.

I hate dentists. Dentists always find some way to be evil to me. I am terrified of them.

I had horizontal impaction of the wisdom teeth too, and mine healed uneventfully. I had no idea how lucky I was. But they had to knock me out and cut into my jawbone so maybe that inspired them to be more thorough.

The anesthesiologist hit a blood vessel when putting a tube in my nose. It bled a lot, and I had nosebleeds on that side off and on for about 5 years, but they were minor and painless.

Dentists love me because I put up with as much as I can for the sake of being finished sooner. This is great in that if I even whimper they know something's seriously wrong.
Wow. I complain about my weenie little dentist trip this week on my site and then I come over here and read the freaking War & Peace of dentist trips.

Sir, you have shamed me.
Really the only thing I can say is...

There is no amount of laughing gas or novacaine that would have prevented them from having to pry my fingernails out of the ceiling, had I been in your situation.

I would have grabbed that Dentist by the nuts and held on tightly, until he agreed to put me out.
seriously, you need to warn us if this is a story about horrid dental work. i'm still suffering the scars of years upon years in the orthodontist chair...stuff like this makes me i'm going to go have nightmares. thanks a pantload.
I assume I have wisdom teeth, but as they have never emerged, who knows...

Maybe I should go to a dentist. It's been something, 12 years. :>

(But before that I need to go to the eye, I'm slack when it comes to these things)

Anyway, I keep having this sinking feeling that Andy's going to die. I hope we find out that he's still alive and kicking (and missing, and falling on his ass). In fact, I demand that Andy come here right now and comment!

Also. Dr. Rancher? Fabulous name.
Yikes! This SO does not sound like a fun afternoon for you, MM. At least the price was right.

When I had my wisdom teeth out, while I was in the military, I developed what is known as a "dry socket" which necessitated a novacaine-soaked gauze pad to be stuffed into it each day for about a week until it healed. Fun times. The only advantage was, it was all paid for by Uncle Sam.
I just returned from the dentist. Told her I had something lodge between my two front upper teeth. My gums were swollen, which she readily admitted; however, she said there wasn't anything there. Four days later, and whatever it is, the pain is intensifying. Perhaps I should switch dentists.
Oh my God, I just got chills up my arms and all of my teeth itch. How do you do that???
i have this cavity I've been ignoring....this DID NOT HELP MY PANIC A BIT!!!!
AAAAAAAARGH! I've got a nasty wisdom teeth story too, but it involves a cyst the size of a large strawberry. You just don't want to know.
I read this right after you posted but was so gragged out by all things dental I couldn't say a word. Now I can say this: You have my full sympathy.

I hope you're not, no you wouldn't do that, I don't think, uhm you know, doing that sympathy thing because your wife is getting all the sympathy attention now. No, not you. You wouldn't do that. Not you, right?
Ouch - I'm sitting here with a toothache I can't get sorted until Monday. You've put it slightly more into perspective for me though.
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