Thursday, March 13, 2014

Earthquake-proof the Dentist Office

Where do you feel most vulnerable?

I think I have to say for me, it’s when I’m in the chair. Where dental procedures are performed. Where my personal space is invaded. Where pain is involved. Where my airways seem to be impeded. That chair. Compared to other circumstances I’ve faced, say, being in stirrups, (and I’ve given birth three times and each time was by a different method so I can honestly speak to a variety of vulnerable positions), dental procedures evoke a very extreme level of anxiety. The level that makes dentists wish they’d earthquake-proofed their office, such are the tremors that emanate from my body and encompass the chair I’m occupying. I’m not exaggerating.

A couple weeks ago a convergence of increasing pain in my mouth and available funds sent me to the chair. Since we moved last year, I had to find a new dentist. Add another level to the anxiety meter. So at the first appointment, which was for exam and x-rays only, I put it right there on the forms I filled out. About being extremely anxious in the chair and how I would be taking an anti-anxiety medication to get through whatever procedures needed to be done.

I felt hopeful with how the young lady at the counter greeted me and helped me with insurance paper work and forms. And her interest in me as a person came through very clearly.

When my new dentist entered the room, I so appreciated that he kept his distance as we first talked, and that he listened. He asked me from where I thought the anxiety stemmed. He didn’t interrupt as I listed a myriad of circumstances involving dental horrors in my childhood. Topping the list was my first visit at age twelve, a tooth that my parents refused a root canal on, insisting that I would lose all my teeth by the time I was twenty-one anyway so just go ahead and pull it, leaving me there alone because they had things to do, me sobbing with terror, the dentist pulling the tooth and dropping it down my throat, which I gagged and choked on but eventually coughed out, the dentist yelling at me and telling me it was my fault that he dropped it. Yeah, it was pretty traumatic. Other things on the list were fillings done without anesthesia, and being told what a baby I was for complaining about the pain because there are so many other things way more painful.

I’ve had a number of root canals, crowns, tooth extractions and deep cleanings since then that didn’t qualify for horror movie ratings but the initial incidents are ingrained and affect every single new encounter.

My new dentist listened to it all. And then he affirmed me. He said what I’d experienced was horrible and it shouldn’t have been done that way. The next thing he said was so unexpected I still almost can’t quite believe I heard my ears right. Basically he said, “There’s nothing I can do to go back and change what happened. But what I can do right now is apologize for the way those dentists practiced and for what they did to you. I’m saying I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”

Really?!? Yes, really. I’m still processing what that means. And I am working through that forgiveness.

Yesterday was my appointment for the root canal. I took my little Lorazepam to take the edge off my anxiety. My sister became my TLC giver and chauffeur. She even offered to hang out in the tiny waiting room. I couldn’t do that to her. Just knowing she was close by at The Woods Coffee Shop was enough for me.

I still felt vulnerable in the chair. I still felt that my personal space was invaded. And hey, when the dentist said, “You’ll feel a little pinch now” as the needle was inserted into my locally anesthetized gum, I felt it. A few tears leaked out. And my body felt jerky (thankfully no tremors this time). But I also felt respected and heard. I felt the kindness, the care, the concern for my welfare, and the peace and presence of Jesus that friends and family were praying for.

I like what a favorite author of mine Steve Arterburn says in his book, Toxic Faith, “The true presence of God in my life does not provide escape from reality and personal responsibility. His presence should provide a firmer grip on reality and a hope that reality can be faced with all its pain and sorrow.”

The dentist also said he’d like to get to a place where I feel I can trust him. I’d like that too. It will take time. But what a relief it would be to approach the chair without a tremble, as there are more procedures ahead.