On a sunny Thursday at 1:35 p.m., I had a root canal. The two words, “root” and “canal,” may be harmless nouns, but for an hour-and-a-half I was attacked by ruthless verbs — drugged, drilled, hammered, tugged, sucked, banged and x-rayed by a 35-year-old balding linebacker of an endodontist named Christian. And that was not all.
After I had been prepped in the dental chair by his assistant, Christian walked in smiling and said, “Hi, how are you?”
“I’m good,” I said and extended my hand. In fact, I wasn’t good. My tooth had been aching for a week, and I would rather have gone to traffic school than to see Christian.
I’d been frightened of dentistry since as a child I was taken to a dentist named Dr. Servine, a thin-lipped man with blonde hair and round wire-rimmed glasses who reminded me of a Nazi.
Christian sat down on his rolling stool and scooted close. “Open wide,” he said and quickly installed his paraphernalia — rubber dental dam, metal clamps, a plastic block to keep my mouth open. He then injected something into my right lower gum and left the room. I closed my eyes and began to hover somewhere near my body.
When he returned, he said, “How are you doing?”
“OK, good. Now, if you feel any pain at all, I want you to raise your left hand, OK?”
“What kind of music would you like — how about Simon and Garfunkel?” He quickly set up his iPod before I could say, (if I could have spoken), “How about a Bach funeral cantata?”
“Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again . . . ”
“Now,” said Christian, “You’re going to hear some drilling, nothing to worry about.”
Whirr, grr, the smell of overheated tooth dust reaching my nostrils. “ . . . and the vision that was planted in my brain, still remains . . . within the sound of silence.”
“How’re you doin’?” he asked after more pounding, poking and yanking. The middle finger of my right hand began to twitch.
“Yalrga,” I replied.
“When you’re weary, feelin’ small, when tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all.” More drilling, pressure, fried tooth dust; I knew he was headed down into my collarbone. “I’m on your side, when times get rough.”
I had just settled into something of a reverie when it happened.
Christian broke into song. Now, it was a trio — Paul, Art and Christian. His articulation was flawless, he knew every word, and — and he was completely tone deaf.
“ . . . like a bridge over troubled waters, I will lay me down.” His pitch, if you could call it that, wavered without a care.
He stopped singing long enough to reassure me by saying, “I’m running into some trouble here, nothing to worry about, but sometimes these canals are hard to find.” Oh, God. I retreated back into a trance, my foot keeping time with “Slip sliding away. ” Christian chimed in again. “ . . . you know the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip-sliding away. ”
“OK, he said, “you’re gonna smell some burning rubber now.”
“It’s rubber. We fill the canals with rubber, but we have to heat it up. Don’t worry, I won’t burn you.”
“Coo-coo-ca-choo, Mrs. Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know, wo wo wo. ”
“Let me get one more X-ray,” he said. “We’re just about done.”
“ . . . God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson, heaven holds a place for those who pray, hey hey hey, hey hey hey. ”
“Looking good,” Christian said, humming along, still searching for a tune. At last he stopped singing and removed his tools from my mouth.
“Yep, all done,” he said.
I got up and wobbled out to the receptionist’s desk. I steadied myself against the counter, fished out my credit card, and was handed a receipt for $1,510. Christian walked over and gave me a week’s worth of Amoxicillin.
I slipped my credit card back into my purse, stared in his direction for a long time, then began to hum.
— Rosie Sorenson
Rosie Sorenson is the award-winning author of They Had Me at Meow: Tails of Love from the Homeless Cats of Buster Hollow. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and others. In 2007, she won an honorable mention in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.