The root canal I had been dreading for weeks somehow exceeded my capacity for sorrow and anxiety yesterday. (What do you call a mix of sorrow and anxiety? Hysteria? Sanxiety? Aorrow? I’ll go with sanxiety.)
At precisely 9:30 a.m. yesterday morning, my friend Susan arrives at my house to pick me up to take to the endotontist. Into her Passat, I load the Pack and Play, the car seat, a bag of baby toys, a bottle, a diaper bag, my purse and little Katie. I slump into the passenger seat, show Susan my 10 mg Valium as it disappears down my throat.
I’m a pretty calm person, but I have unrealistic, stupid anxiety about root canals. I hate them. I fear them. The sounds. The smells. The instruments. The strange gloved hands in my face. I’ve already had two root canals, and each left me traumatized in this weird, irrational way that is entirely foreign to my being. I shed tears throughout the procedure.
“Oh, you’re going to be feeling fine in about an hour,” Susan, a nurse, tells me. “You’re going to be singing a happy song.”
Great, I think. Anything to get through this.
Susan drops me off at the dental office. We unload all the gear including the baby and bring it into the quiet waiting room. The nurse at the front desk takes one look at all my gear and I can immediately tell this is not going to go over well. Her face says, does this look like a Montessori play room to you? But part of me doesn’t care because it’s my mouth, my procedure, my hell, I’m paying for it, and I don’t have childcare. My husband is gone for a year and this is the type of stuff solo parents occasionally have to do in a pinch. We all have to suck it up. It takes a village, right? (By the way, I couldn’t ask Susan to watch Katie because Susan already has a newborn of her own). Besides, Katie comes with me to my normal dentist appointments, and it’s never been a problem. The nurses make googley eyes at her, sometimes they even hold her — I don’t ask or expect them to, they’re just lovable like that. For for the most part, Katie sits strapped into her car seat on the floor, sucks her Pacifier and stares at me. She’s a pretty chill baby.
I can tell it’s a different story at this office. The endodontist comes out — a man — and proceeds to tell me that his staff are not babysitters, they are not allowed to touch the baby, this is a very delicate procedure, there is no room in the operating room for a Pack and Play, he can’t have his other patients distracted, etc., etc., — and he’s absolutely correct in all of these points but the overall effect is that he makes me feel like a terrible person for having the audacity to bring a child with me to a root canal.
I’m already a wreck. I’m already stressed and annoyed. The 10 mg of Valium — the palliative that was supposed to have me dancing an Irish jig on the ceiling by this point — was like chewing a child’s Flinstone vitamin; it didn’t work. At all.
I burst into tears and turned to face the wall. One of the attendants proceeds — I guess in some Becky Crocker-like impulse to try to smooth things over — to make small talk: “How old is your baby? Where did you get your Pack and Play?” I look at her with red eyes and tell her I can’t talk right now. I turn back to the endo and tell him I can’t go through with the appointment. It’s too much. I’m too stressed. I don’t have anyone to watch Katie. All my friends are busy. My husband is gone. The Valium doesn’t work and can someone please hit me in the face with a frying pan.
“No, no, we can still do it!” He says, his eyes and body language telling a different story.
“Hold on,” I say. “I need to make one phone call.”
I rush outside, make a call to the one friend who has always been there for me during Jake’s deployments. Naturally, I’m blubbering like an idiot when she answers. Naturally, she thinks someone has been murdered. But no, it’s just me. I’m at the dentist’s office and I don’t have a babysitter. And my Valium doesn’t work. How you say, First World Problem? My friend is out of town. But she rushes into action anyway — because that’s the kind of person she is — and makes a couple of phone calls. “Don’t you worry,” she says. “We’ll get someone there!”
I proceed with the root canal. The attendants leave the door open so I can at least listen for Katie babbling in her Pack and Play in the reception area while a hole is drilled into my brain. I don’t really hear much. Maybe the Valium is working. Just a little. My jaw throbs. I have to go to the bathroom. I excuse myself to go to the ladies room. I walk out into the hall with my jaw jacked open and the dental equivalent of one of those disposable paper toilet liners sticking out of my mouth, and I see Trudy, the loveliest woman you would ever hope to see looking at you on your way out of water boarding session, the kind of person who radiates happiness and good cheer, sitting in the lobby area with smiling Katie in her lap.
I die from happiness. I can’t physically express any of this because of the horrifying state of my face, so I extend my thumb in the universal language of Fonzie. “Thank you, Trudy,” my thumb says. I feel infinitesimally better when I return to the torture chair. Yet I still weep like a child through the remainder of the procedure because my jaw kills so bad.
I spend the rest of the afternoon in a daze. That evening, I watch Brave with June and Katie, nursing a stiff rum cocktail. I swear the Valium never worked.