I’d Rather Have Piranhas Nibbling My Toes


I would rather have a school of piranhas nibbling on my toes and a family of tarantulas crawling up my legs.  I would rather be headbutted by a raging bull or punched repeatedly in the nose by an angry midget.  I would rather slam my finger in the car door, tweeze my armpits, or lick battery acid.  I would even rather spend an entire day attempting to teach common sense to Ann Coulter or enunciation to Ozzy Osbourne.

Painful, torturous propositions all–but I would gladly endure any one of them if it could take the place of (and have the same end results as) the horrifying experience that awaits me later today.  Nothing incites such heart-thumping dread, such knee-knocking apprehension, such stomach-churning nausea, and such hyperventilating TERROR as entering a room filled with shiny, industrial-looking machinery and sharp instruments, reclining in a plastic-coated chair (complete with armrests for gripping), and having a dentist mutter those two little words that mark the beginning of the end for me:  “Open wide!”

I’m not exaggerating.  A trip to the dentist’s office turns this tough ol’ broad into a yellow-bellied, whimpering sissy-girl.

If you’ve ever seen Little Shop of Horrors, then imagine Steve Martin’s character–a sadistic, maniacal dentist who enjoys inflicting pain–and know that this is who I see coming at me with an evil gleam in his eyes and a set of forceps in one hand and a drill the size of a Volkswagon in the other.  In fairness to my dentist, that’s not how he really is–he’s actually a pretty nice guy, a neighbor and a friend.  This isn’t about him.  It isn’t even about the pain, really (well, not entirely); I mean, I’ve given birth to three children and three kidney stones, so I am well acquainted with pain and consider myself to have a fairly high tolerance level.

It’s about sensory overload.  It’s the sight (and feel) of the humongous needle boring into my tender gums, it’s the feel (and sound) of that gigantic drill grinding its way through my teeth, it’s the squeaky sound of the scaler scraping plaque from between my molars, it’s the smell of tooth decay being burnished away, and it’s the metallic taste of blood and decay intermingling.

And more than anything, it’s about my imagination getting the best of me.  I can’t help it.  I am a freak.

I try to take the best possible care of my teeth on my own so that the anguish of dental visits can be postponed as long as possible.   And I have been doing pretty well, avoiding those visits for several years now (yes, I know, I should be ashamed).  Or, at least, I had been doing well until last weekend.  That’s when I was munching contentedly on a crunchy potato skin and suddenly bit into something rock hard and unrelenting.  And when I spit the mouthful onto my plate for analysis, I discovered a rather large chunk of tooth within the mix.  My fear of going to the dentist is so overwhelming that, for just a moment, I fervently hoped that the tooth might actually belong to a worker at the restaurant where the potato skins had been prepared–but no such luck.  My probing tongue quickly located a gaping hole that the tooth had apparently just vacated, as well as a tiny sliver of tooth still hanging–a sliver so razor sharp that it was now cutting into my poor tongue.

Oh no.

Combine my overwhelming fear of going to the dentist with my obsessive fear of germs, and you might have some inkling of the dilemma I was now facing.  I was in no pain–couldn’t I simply ignore the missing tooth?  After all, the hole was all the way in the back of my mouth, so no one would ever see it.  Eventually, the hole would seal itself–wouldn’t it?  But, in the meantime, how many food particles would get trapped inside?  How long before the food particles and bacteria combined forces to create a nasty infection–followed by horrendous pain?

As much as I hated the idea, I knew I had to make the call.  Unfortunately, my dentist was in the hospital and unavailable, so he referred me to his dentist and assured me that the guy would take good care of me.  He even contacted his dentist to let him know to be expecting my call.

That was on Saturday.  On Monday it was late afternoon before I finally garnered enough courage to pick up the phone, afraid that if I called too early they might actually try to work me in that day–and I wasn’t ready.  Following is the actual phone conversation I had with the dentist’s receptionist:

  • Receptionist:  “Good afternoon.  This is Dr. D’s office.”
  • Me:  “Hello.  My name is Karen E., and I am actually a patient of Dr. K’s …”
  • Receptionist:  “Yes!  We’ve been expecting your call all day!  Dr. D can work you in at 4:00 this afternoon–can you get here by then?”
  • Me, blood pressure rising and breath quickening:  “Oh, no, I can’t make it in today.  I have a meeting and a ball game tonight.”
  • Receptionist:  “Well, then, how about 9:00 tomorrow morning–would that work for you?”
  • Me:  “No, no, tomorrow’s not good, either.  I’m not psychologically prepared for tomorrow.  Maybe sometime later in the week?  My tooth isn’t hurting right now …”
  • Receptionist:  “Okay … I have a 4:00 open on Thursday; how would that be?”
  • Me:  “Do you use gas?  Or anesthesia?  Because I’m pretty sure there’s not enough tooth left to actually pull, and he might have to cut out what’s left, and I may need to be knocked out in order for him to do that.”
  • Receptionist:  “No, Sweetie, we don’t use those, but you’d be surprised what Dr. D can do with just a little bit to work with–he’s very good.  So would 4:00 Thursday work for you?”
  • Me, thinking that “having just a little bit to work with” implies digging and cutting and hurting:  “Okay, I know we’ve never met, but I need you to understand that I’m a freak.  I mean, I’m terrified of going to the dentist and I’m terrified of needles, and I WILL hyperventilate and I will jump and jerk and squirm.  I will probably yell obscenities and dig holes in the armrests with my fingernails, and there’s a very real possibility that I might bite something, and …”
  • Receptionist, laughing because she apparently thinks I’m exaggerating:  “Sweetie, we have lots of patients like that, and I promise you everything will be fine.  Besides, your dentist has told us all about you, and we’ve already called in your pre-meds to your pharmacy.”
  • Me:  “My pre-meds?”
  • Receptionist:  “Yes, Dear, your Valium.  You can take one pill an hour before your appointment, and if you’re still nervous when you get here, you can take another one as long as you have someone to drive you home.  So would 4:00 Thursday be okay?”
  • Me, out of arguments:  “Okay, I guess 4:00 Thursday will work.  I’ll see you then, and I’m sorry in advance.”
  • Receptionist:  “No problem.  We’ll see you then.”
  • Me, hanging up and thinking, “No problem?  She still has no idea.  I tried to warn her.”

And now the day I have put off, the day I have been dreading all week, has arrived.  I’ve been awake since 2:03 a.m., and I am already nervous.  I’m afraid if I eat, I will throw up.  I’m afraid if I don’t eat and take Valium on an empty stomach, I will throw up.  But I have the pills, and I have the driver, and somehow I will get through this.  I hope.

I’m not so sure about the dentist, though.  If you happen to glance at your clock sometime around 4 p.m. (central time) today, you might send up a little prayer that the good dentist ends his day with the same number of fingers he started it with.

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About icedteawithlemon

I have recently retired from a 30-year career in education in one of the best school districts in the world. I hope to spend my second life reading, writing, photographing, traveling, biking, cheering on my favorite baseball team (the St. Louis Cardinals), and soaking up glorious sunshine. In my spare time I enjoy playing with my pet tarantulas, trying out new flavors of chewing gum, and knitting socks for prison inmates. I'm almost positive that in a past life I was one of the Seven Dwarfs (most likely "Grumpy"), and in my next life I'm going to be either a taste tester for Hershey's or a model for Victoria's Secret's new line, "Bloomers for Boomers." I want to travel country back roads, singing Vanilla Ice songs at every karaoke bar and rating bathroom cleanliness at every truckstop. And someday I plan to own a private beach where skinny girls aren't allowed. I want to be a writer when I grow up. "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."--Henry David Thoreau
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10 Responses to I’d Rather Have Piranhas Nibbling My Toes

  1. emjayandthem says:

    ……oh my. I sure hope it goes as QUICKLY as possible. You’re right, there are just some trials in life we just have to get through. Period. Doesn’t mean it’s easy or fun. Hang in there, tiger! MJ

    • Thank you! I really do consider myself a “tough ol’ broad,” and most of the people who know me well seem to have the same opinion of me–but a trip to the dentist instills such fear in me and reminds me of my vulnerability (a.k.a. wimpiness). I am not superwoman after all.

  2. Lisa Pemberton says:

    You are not alone. I am also terrified of dentist!!! I tend to hold my breath. My dentist stops and ask,” are you ok?” I always say yes ( I am shaking like a leaf). He tells me well you are not breathing. I usually need a nap when I leave from all the anxiety. The good new’s for you is by 5:00 it should be all over an you will be on your way home. I wish you the best of luck!!

    • Thank you! I either brace myself so hard that my muscles are hurting afterward, or I jump and squirm so much that the dentist keeps warning me to be still or I’m going to get hurt (like the drill might slip and bore into my sinus cavity!).

  3. Tina Wharton says:

    Oh my goodness, I didn’t know anyone had as much fear of the dentist as I do! I had to have a tooth pulled about a year ago and I had my hands on top of my chest while he was working. When he was done he pulled a few of my fingers up and said “are you okay?” I had them latched so tight together they were white from no circulation. I’ve never been hurt from the dentist so I don’t know why I’m like that except for the thought of “what could happen.” My daughter Whitney falls asleep while their working on her, why couldn’t I be like that! I need to get my wisdom teeth cut out, and needless to say I will put this off for as many years as I can as long as long as they don’t start bothering me!

    • I feel your pain! I know my fears are totally irrational, but I can’t help it. I ended up having to have two teeth pulled today–one of them a wisdom tooth–and it was not pleasant. I still have the other three wisdom teeth that every dentist wants to pull–why would I subject myself to such pain until absolutely necessary?!

  4. Good luck, I’m with you 100% – I mean that figuratively because I don’t want to go near any dental office that I don’t absolutely have to.

  5. bronxboy55 says:

    I’m glad it went well. I’ve noticed lately that everything that used to happen in one visit to the dentist now takes two or three. I think it’s because they spend so much time telling us every detail and every possible outcome of every detail. I’d rather know a little less and get out of there sooner.

    That fifth paragraph had me squirming, too.

    • No kidding! I have learned that I am by no means alone in my fear and dread of going to the dentist–at least for us, why can’t the dentist block off some extra time and do every procedure at once (cleaning, x-raying, filling, pulling, etc.) and be done with it? The anticipation is almost always worse than the actual event–make me dread one appointment instead of several!

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