Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Death of a Dentist

       My dentist is a very nice man, but just seeing him come around the corner into the examining room breaks me into clammy sweats. I've taken in stride a number of uncomfortable medical procedures performed on unmentionable parts of my anatomy, but having a dental cavity filled leaves me feeling like a soaked dishrag.
       I know why I feel this way, and it still doesn't help. My first dentist was, believe it or not, my godfather, a long-time family friend. He was a large person, topping 300 pounds, bald, and usually with a cigar sticking out from one or the other corner of his mouth. Unfortunately, my baby teeth were persistent devils, wouldn't fall out to provide space for their successors, so they had to be pulled. This was always done under nitrous oxide, which induced terrible dreams and had me throwing up for hours after I awakened. Consequently, routine dental checkups came to be events which would keep me awake for several nights beforehand.
       When I was ten, an X-ray showed the need for another extraction. I jumped out of the chair, and told the dentist and my mother I wouldn't have it done unless I could "have the needle" I knew Mother got for her dental work. They both agreed, but when I sat back down, the dentist threw his hairy arm across my chest, slammed the nitrous mask over my face, and pushed. I started hitting, kicking, screaming, until finally I lost consciousness.  
       After I woke up, my mother scolded me for kicking "Uncle Doc" in the shin, and so hard. In between barfs, I told her I was sorry I hadn't kicked him higher, and that I'd never let the liar near me again. Nor, I added, was I terribly pleased with her. Several solemn promises later from both miscreants, I relented - what's a ten-year-old kid going to do? - and got my dental maintenance and repairs done under local. But the damage was done. There's no way I can anticipate a dentist-visit with anything short of terror.
       So, when I began to write murder mysteries, you know what was one of the first ideas to come into my head. But I've never written Death of a Dentist, and I doubt I ever will. Whenever I think about spending every day of a coming year and more in a dentist's office, I get the cold collywobbles.

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