A Traumatized Triathlete

Overcoming childhood trauma is difficult enough, but now add a visit to the dentist office, and you have yourself a pretty difficult hurdle to overcome. It’s a sunny California afternoon, and the dreaded 4 pm bi-annual prophylactic visit at your friendly neighborhood dentist is approaching fast.

You have rescheduled the appointment one too many times, and they stopped sending you reminders as you apparently don’t want a smile as magnetic as the happy family on their reminder emails. They no longer take you seriously. The night guard you had ordered the last time you were here most likely won’t fit you anymore; it has been too long. That bi-annual visit has now turned into your annual visit. You know better than to procrastinate on your teeth, but you just can’t quite harness the willpower to walk into that office.

Well, today is the day. You are wearing your big girl pants. All morning attempts of finding a reason big enough, a reason so valid and urgent that justifies rescheduling just once more, have failed and so you must go. It is 3:56 pm and you better leave the office now so you can arrive fashionably late, like always, at 4:11 pm. Lucky you, there is a parking spot right outside your dentist’s office, so you can't blame the parking situation either. Trenching your way into the office, you hear the faint noise of drills and suction tools. You hate this moment. Those few minutes right before getting into that chair. They are terrifying.

Let’s fast forward, shall we? You are in the dread dentist chair, and to your surprise, it feels like it is one of those anti-gravity chairs. Your legs are situated above your heart, and the subtle tension relieve relaxes you. This may not be so bad after all!

Today Lucy is your hygienist. Lucy hands you some rather cool sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glaring light that is about to highlight the coffee, wine, and food stains that, which I come later to learn, create a sticky residue on your teeth trapping plaque and thus bacteria’s. And that people, is how we get cavities and root canals. We think we eat healthily, but we all drink coffee, tea, wine or eat. So that stain is going to lead to bigger issues, especially if you are like me and you skip your bi-annual visits.  

“How are you today? We missed you!”

You have never met Lucy, and Lucy doesn’t know you. She is a new hygienist, and obviously, this is a cover for “hey slacker, do you have any tooth pain because, oh, I don’t know, you haven’t come to see us in over a year?” But before I have the chance to answer and explain my absence and make my way back into dentist heaven, she has a mirror down my throat with one hand and in the other a sharp tool. She starts scratching.

“Oh, Aeyynnnaa (that is how Lucy pronounces my name) this is going to need some work. It is time for new x-rays, are you alright with that?”

This is, of course, a trick question. If there is any chance of returning to the Good side of my dentist, who right now is on vacation, the only answer is “yes.” With a mouth full of tools all I can bring out is a “mhmm” and gently nod my tilted head. The images of the sharp tool getting stuck in my gums are all too vivid at this point, and so any head movement amplifies the waterfall running down my armpit.

“I really should not have worn that light blue cotton shirt. Crap! “ I think to myself.

Lucy reaches for what looks like a drill to me. It’s black, with a stainless steel tip, a tiny orange ring around it attached to the bigger control unit next to my chair; my chest tightens I am officially a nervous wreck.

“Oh I can definitely see stains, are you a smoker? You know smoking is bad for our teeth and health. But of course, coffee and tea can also a tee…”

“Stop right there Lucy!” I wish to say, but instead, all I can do is press my head into the headrest in hopes to escape, my eyes widen, but the dark sunglasses hide my primal cry for help from Lucy. It hasn’t occurred to me until this very moment, of course, since I haven’t been to the dentist in over a year, those sunglasses may be a kind gesture to protect my eyes from the glare, but my dentist has just severed the only way I can communicate fear with her.

Images of childhood trauma race through my mind at the speed of that tool she is using. Bzzzzzeeeeeeeeeeeeeiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii. I so desperately want to speak, my eyes frantically move from left to right, I fear my tongue will get in the way of the drill. I want to tell Lucy she is wrong to put me in the category of a smoker. I am a triathlete, I eat lots of food, three times the amount of her regular clientele and I drink and eat sugary foods during training. But the tool goes on and on…Bzzzeeeiiiiiiii-grrrr—grrrr-----Bzzzzeeeiiiii.

My light blue shirt has soaked up all my sweat, I can sense droplets running down my back and my legs are starting to cramp. I finally bring out a noise loud enough for Lucy to hear me and Lucy stops.

“Are you alright, dear?”

With a deep inhale I explain to Lucy I am nervous and need a moment to straighten up, but not before I get the chance to ask her if that really is a drill she is using.

She laughs and chuckles her response: “Oh no dear, that would be barbaric. This is like a pressure washer for your teeth. Not to worry, your teeth aren’t that bad! We will have them spick and span in no time.”

All Lucy sees are my eyebrows rising above the hipster sunglasses, but she gives me a moment to relax.

“Well Lucy, you are right, that would be rather barbaric, but, that just so happened to me as a child, so…I am a bit uncomfortable at the moment.”