NITROUS OXIDE INSIGHTS
by RON VAZZANO
There’s the Erie Canal. The Panama Canal. And the Root Canal. This last of which I encountered for the first time ever, last month.
No big deal here, this being commonplace and hardly life threatening. Yet no day at the beach either, as this dental rite of passage has long been synonymous with that dreaded euphemistic phrase uttered by white-coated professionals: “you may experience some discomfort.” We lay people and patients call it for what it is. PAIN.
To ward off such anxiety in the dental chair—call it a throne as many of us have been crowned there on several occasions— I have gone under the influence of nitrous oxide. (To which I attribute the preceding bad pun as well as what might follow for which I claim no responsibility.). The goal has been to temper any “discomfort,” not so much physically—though it does help to dull the number of piercing shots of Novocain in nerve sensitive areas, but without which such a “procedure” as root canal would be unendurable—but equally important, psychologically. Or maybe it’s just me. Call me a wuss. I’ve been called worse.
With a nitrous infusion now wafting through my nostrils, they proceed to put goggles on me. (“What are these for?” “I will be working with sharp instruments.” I had to ask.). Then something made of rubber gets stuffed into my mouth that challenges the gag reflex. I feel that I am now in the hands of terrorists. I would gladly tell them whatever they want to know if I could speak—the mouth kept wide open by some sort of doorstop device. But as the nitrous begins to peak, the terrorist illusion gives way to one of a car. They might be mechanics probing under my hood. A small tune-up and I’ll be out of the garage and back on the road in no time. But that playful notion is literally drilled out of me.
Suddenly, Dr. Whitecoat Professional—wall-mounted diplomas implying competence—goes all Con Edison on me. He proceeds to jack-hammer my street with no prior warning or explanation. There are now sounds coming from down below, that in all my visits to the chair, I’ve never heard. Weird variations on a drilling theme in the key of Eek sharp!
One particular adagio drill bit passage, reminding me of a mandatory machine shop class I had to take as a high school student at Brooklyn Tech (♫ “Tech alma mater, molder of men”♫), somewhere in the deep recesses of the previous millennium. And in the absence of any sign of gracefulness in the execution, there is pressure, penetration and screaming metal, hell-bent on reaching China. And while I feel no actual pain by this point, I am sweating. Audibly. What if he slips? His assistant will no doubt cover up the evidence of this unfortunate accident, which could result in years of expensive litigation…and all to no avail.
In need to go elsewhere, the brain heads off to the movies. Appearing on its screen now, is that crazed dentist played by Steve Martin in “Little Shop of Horrors.” Followed shortly, by the dental scene from “The Marathon Man” with Dustin Hoffman and a menacingLawrence Olivier. (“Is it safe? Is it safe?”) And though such imagery and attendant associations race along, time seems eternal.
I was in that chair for about a week. And as I wandered into the dessert of resignation by say the sixth day, a thought seeped in and took hold, and repeated itself through the nitrous haze. That with all the advances in science and technology, with all its robotics and killer apps— even in the sci-fi sounding year of 2015— reality is literal, not virtual. We look to science, or God, to eliminate the discomforts that come with living. And neither can do it.
Oxygen now finally freely flowing, and having come back fully to my all too common senses, it was time to leave to go pick up my computer that had crashed and was in the shop. Okay, I’ll admit to “going Brian Williams” here. My computer did not crash at that particular time. Nor was it even shot at. I misremembered. You know, the nitrous oxide and all.