On Lost Body Parts: Teeth

When I was told that I had to have my wisdom teeth out, I immediately decided that, unlike my last surgery, I was going to go down the Scaredy-Cat route and be knocked out. I was confident that in the great USA, this would be a chemical concussion, rather than the empty-beer-bottle approach I imagined the good old NHS would follow.

You can imagine how thrilled I was when the surgeon gave me a prescription for Valium and three other kinds of pills to get through the upcoming ordeal.

Everyone has a Wisdom Tooth Story and I was in no rush to hear another one before my op. Feel free to chime in afterwards, I told various friends, colleagues, and family members, as I’ll be in the gang then and can swap my war stories of blood and vomit and a diet of ice cream.

So there it was.

Despite my most desperate efforts, by the time of the big day I’d heard all the stories: the vomiting blood; the being conscious but not able to move; the swelling up like a hamster; the leaving the operating room looking like a vampire with blood across the face. People love their wisdom-tooth-removal stories.

So, I was expecting great things. I had opted for the Full Unconsciousness Option from the sedative trolley. Don’t think me a cry-baby. It’s just, the back of my mouth is not a good place for me. It’s sensitive. I tried explaining this to my oral surgeon when we were discussing “my options”. I have a…well, the back of my throat…I choke…really easily…I can’t…makes me…gag…vomit. “You have a hyper-sensitive gag reflex,” he offered. He’s a medical man who has an easy way with words. Cool.

He said he wanted to achieve three things: I had to choose a healthy option, an option that would make me comfortable, and one that left us friends afterwards.

I liked my dental surgeon. He looks like he could spend a morning doing tricky things with people’s mouths, then in the afternoon he could hunt bears or trek across continents. And he didn’t want me to pick the sedative that would make me hate him. Cute. I bet he says that to all the panic-faced pale foreigners in his waiting room.

So, I have a sensitive gag reflex…does my insurance cover the Full Unconsciousness Option? The nurse checks. It’s tense.

Yes, yes it does.

SOLD. Sold to the man with the chokey throat.

And come back next week.

So, I did. But not before spending $60 on prescriptions for the many and myriad drug options I would require. One valium, a handful of painkillers possibly designed for horses, antibiotics of some manner, and (to use the technical term) anti-throw-up pills. I take a long, hearty drink of water the night before, and then I’m scared to even swallow my own saliva for the next nine hours before my surgery. There have been Dire Warnings about what could happen if I had this op on anything other than an empty stomach.

I take my Valium an hour before (not thinking of the Empty Stomach Paradox). It hits me hard. I’ve never taken anything like that before, and my body went…


I feel like I need to sleep. Like I went to bed at 2 and then someone wakes me at 4 and won’t let me go back to sleep. I feel heavy, lethargic, and very very tired. It takes me about 20 minutes to regain my equilibrium, but it’s pretty good when I do. That anxious knot in the pit of my stomach? Gone. The nervous need to pee, the desperate need to eat something, the caffeine headache building up? These are as nothing to the new Valium-fueled me.

My designated driver gets me to the dental hospital. I walk in, smile at the receptionist, make a joke as I sign the bill for $222.50, sit contentedly in my chair. “This isn’t the you I’m used to,” my driver says. That’s because this is not Me At The Dentist. This is Me On Valium. This is a cooler, calmer flavor altogether.

When the nurse calls my name, and she is dressed in scrubs, I think, “Interesting.”

She leads me to the operating room. We walk by the carpeted rooms, the comfortable rooms, and into one of the all-white rooms with shiny expensive machines that go BEEP.

I sit calmly in the dental chair. We talk about stuff, the nurse and I. The dentist comes in, dressed in scrubs but wearing a bizarre multi-colored African pill-box hat. I am momentarily confused. Looking back, I know exactly what the hat is for. It was to add extra color to this story.

He walks in, smiles; I note the hat. He notes my Spider-Man t-shirt. We talk about the recent Thor movie. The nurse slips the needle into the back of my hand. The dentist asks if I saw the Captain America movie. I mean to say it was better than I expected. How my son loves comic-books, so we see all the movies.

And then, well, it’s the funniest thing.

I suddenly get this sense I must have dropped off. I feel a little embarrassed. Where were we? Talking about Captain America? When will we be doing the teeth thing? My tongue probes my mouth and the teeth have magically disappeared.

I didn’t see that coming.


After that, it’s a montage. I’m not in the dental chair, I’m in a comfortable armchair. The nurse is there. Then my driver’s there. I remember the nurse telling her to bring the car around. I remember a wheelchair. I remember being home, falling asleep in front of Mad Men two or three times. But mostly it’s all gaps and greys.

This is what it’s like to be an alien abductee, I think at one point.

The rest of the weekend is full of people going, “Do you remember when the doctor said…?” “Do you remember getting into the car?” “Do you remember…?”

And it’s a bit creepy when my answers are: “No,” “No,” and “No.”

No one gives in to the temptation to ask, “Do you remember when you slid down the banister howling the lyrics to the Macarena?” I know that’s what I’d have done if the situation was reversed. But other people are much nicer than I at moments like this.

So, for the rest of the weekend, it’s sleep, reading, not doing housework, watching footie and Dr Who, and writing down everything I can remember before it all fades away.

And that is my Wisdom Tooth Story.

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