In the Time of COVID. Day 35
April 22, 2020
The Tooth That Turned It’s Back On Me
Last week we were supposed to get blood panels done before our medical check ups. We drove to Morro Bay to the laboratory. When we pulled up across the street, a Casa Flores Nursing Home bus was parked in front. We hesitated for a moment. No way we were going in there. Just no way in hell. Our doctors have put off our appointments until June and those may be by phone. It has since made me think just how fortunate we are to have doctors at all. It brought to mind a tooth from long ago.
I had a tooth that I liked very much. It was a good tooth and it served me for many years. I chewed mama’s fried chicken with that tooth. I chewed her potato salad. When I was introduced to tacos and burritos that tooth was a willing pal in the adventure. We went everywhere together, that tooth and I. We hitch-hiked and snagged boxcars. We had a big time.
Some friends last a life time, others are lost along the way. Some haunt our memories.
We’d been staying in a remote southern Mexican village. I was young and slender and fit. I had a whole mouth full of white shiny chompers. Over the weeks we chewed through some great local comidas. Life was perfect.
It started as a dull throb, just a little sensitivity. So I chewed on the other side, gave my buddy a rest. My tooth throbbed like a heart beat. My tongue gave him a massage. That tongue was always ready to come to it’s aid, ever alert. Within a couple of days that throb became a swelling and the pain danced along the nerve chords of my jaw. It ran up into my eye. My tooth started to scream.
A doctor in Seattle had but me together with an emergency medical kit. It included pain killer of some sort. I self-medicated and it just made me feel groggy but it still hurt like hell. I discovered if I pooled warm beer in a pocket of my cheek around the tooth, the effervescence muted the pain briefly. Then I was high on beer and pain killer and the tooth wouldn’t chill out.
All night I was racked with pain. I’d had it with that damn tooth. Some friend it had turned out to be. I stumbled into the street. The village had three dentists and all of them learned their trade in the old time. I lugged a quart of beer with me and went to the first dentist.
His waiting room had six scared patients. They were in no better shape than me. I can see you on Tuesday, he said. That was in 5 days. No way, I stumbled into the street. I staggered to the next dentist. The door had a sign that said “ Gone to Tuxla Gutierrez”. Damn, Damn, Damn…..
I came to the third dentist. Two guys were in the waiting room. The dentist said he could see me when he was done with the patients ahead of me. Deal!
I stumbled to the corner and entered a little store. I bought a six pack of warm beer and went back to the waiting room. I invited the guys to have a beer. They drank up. I medicated. When the dentist let his current victim flee, the guys pointed at me and waved their hands for me to go first. They still had some beer to drink.
The dentist had a blood splattered smock. His gear was an old belt driven drill and the spit tray was clogged with bloody wades of cotton and layered with lottery tickets. No running water or cool minty mouth wash in that place. At a far wall, a carpenter was chiseling a wide door frame in the mud adobe wall to the back yard. There was dust on every thing.
The doctor sat me down. I opened my mouth. He took a metal probe and pinged my tooth (it was like being shot) I guess he wanted to make sure it was the right tooth. By that time I was quivering in agony. He took a big needle and plunger, stuck it around that tooth, jabbed away. I almost fainted.
He stepped to the back wall for a smoke, when he finished he pinged my tooth again. No change , just as violent a reaction. Again with the needle. This went on three times and he lost patience. He grabbed some pliers. He clamped it on my tooth. If I was a bomb I would have exploded. He placed a knee on the arm rest and jerked that tooth out of my mouth. My limbs shook uncontrollably. My nervous system was on complete overload. He grabbed a gob of cotton ball, poured alcohol on it. Pulled out a lighter and torched the ball. Once his marshmallow was flaming good, he plunged it into my bloody socket and cauterized the wound.
I looked into the spit tray and there was my old friend. We were done for good, that tooth and I. I asked the doctor for a prescription for pain. He said “Why? There is the pain.” He pointed at that tooth in the blood bucket.
I paid him 20 pesos (at that time about $1.75 US). I stumbled out of the office and found my hammock. I lay there for 3 days. My landlady brought me chicken broth. She nursed me back to the world.