We Cater to Cowards

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A Sedation Dentistry Saga

(based on a true story)

This one is for everyone out there who suffers from severe panic attacks at the very thought of going to the dentist. I am the Queen Bee of this universal phobia and its unfortunate victims.

Lucky for us, in recent years, so-called sedation dentistry set out to change all that by reducing the number of visits required to get years of dental work done while the patient blissfully sleeps…or so we are told.

This begs the question – what happens when sedation dentistry fails? What then?

This was the question that inspired me to write this absurd sedation saga. Believe me, it’s way cheaper therapy than a $9,000 dental bill. But I digress…

***

Prudence Mc Cane had never met a dentist in her entire life that didn’t scare her to death.

The very thought of walking into any dentist’s office made her weak in the knees and violently nauseous. She had reluctantly warmed many a dentist’s examination chair over the past thirty-five years and the experience had never been even remotely pleasant. She’d never met a dentist she could trust.  She was certain that today would be no different.

Now, a severe toothache forced her to yet another dentist’s door.

As she cautiously approached the frosted glass door at the reception counter, a bright yellow sign with black lettering shaped into a smiley face caught her eye. It read, “Welcome to Dr. Choo’s Sedation Dentistry Office. Relax…We Cater to Cowards!” Her hand trembled as she slowly slid the door open.

A cheery woman of Asian decent eyed her kindly over bifocals, sizing up the petite brunette in an instant.

“Yes? How may I help you?”

“I – I’m Prudence Mc Cane and, um, I – I’m here to see Dr. Choo …”she bit her lower lip and felt her face flush. “They told me over the phone to come in an hour early…?”

“Very good. I’ll tell the doctor you’re here. I have the forms you filled out online last week ready to go. Dr. Choo will be with you shortly. Have you taken the sedation medication prescribed when you made your appointment?”

“Yes ma’am – I took the first pill right before we left home an hour and a half ago. My husband dropped me off and is out running errands. You can call his cell phone when its time to pick me up…here’s the number…” Prudence handed the woman a sticky note with the cell number scribbled on it.

The woman took the note, paper clipped it to Prudence’s file, pointed to the waiting room and handed her a small Solo cup filled with water. “Thank you, dear, just have a seat over there, take your second pill and we’ll call you shortly.”

Prudence sank deeply into the nearest chair, swallowed the pill, exhaled slowly and opened a magazine. She hadn’t slept a wink last night and now sheer exhaustion and the powerful sedation drug made it hard to even lift the magazine. Words swam in horizontal waves across the page. Sighing, she laid the magazine in her lap, leaned her head back and closed her eyes.

Instantly she flashed back in her mind to when she was four years old.  It was her very first visit to a dentist. That was long before the days of the “child friendly” dentist concept was the norm.

She remembered feeling calm in the waiting room while her mother read Highlights children’s magazine to her. She had no fear.

Soon, they were ushered into a small examining room. Then she was informed that her mother could not stay with her. Instantly, panic overcame her.

As the door slammed shut, she found herself staring up at the biggest, tallest, meanest looking man she had ever seen in her life. His dark eyebrows formed one long line across his forehead making him appear even more menacing.

She screamed at the top of her lungs as he picked her up and placed her on the chair. She fought him valiantly while chocking back tears and crying for her mother.

His voice was gruff and forceful, saying, “Sit still, little girl – I can’t work on you when you are acting like this” and “Open your mouth – now!” The painful memory ended abruptly at that point. Her brain had blocked it out decades ago.

“Prudence Mc Cane?” Prudence opened her eyes at the sound of the nurse’s voice. “Dr. Choo will see you now.”

She moved in slow motion, struggling to stand, shuffling toward the open door the dental assistant was gesturing for her to enter. Moments later, she found herself  in a  consultation room sitting across a small round wooden table from Dr. Choo.

“Good afternoon”, he said softly. I trust you understand what we are planning to do today?” Prudence nodded her head, which now felt like a large bowling ball balancing precariously on her delicate shoulders.

“As you know, our method is geared toward total patient comfort. We make every effort to ensure that our patients experience absolutely no pain or discomfort while we attempt to do in just one four hour visit what would normally be done in several visits. We’ll take care of that toothache and fix all the other problems too. Any questions?” He did his best impression of a re-assuring smile.

“Yes…are you sure these pills will work, because I am still feeling very anxious…?”

“Not to worry – the medication we use works extremely well – even for our patients who are professional athletes, averaging six feet, two hundred eighty pounds – knocks ’em out cold!”, Dr. Choo assured her. Have you taken your second pill?” Prudence nodded. For the first time that day, hope began to rise in her heart.

“Good. Let’s get you over to the examination chair and get you comfortable. You’ll go to sleep and when you wake up, all the work will be done and you won’t remember a thing!”

An assistant helped Prudence lay back on the chair and covered her entire body with a preheated blanket. How nice, Prudence thought. Next, a set of tiny headphones were carefully positioned, piping soothing music directly into her ears.

She closed her eyes as the doctor flipped on the bright overhead light and felt herself begin to relax. Maybe this is going to work after all, thought Prudence, as she drifted into blissful sleep.

In what seemed like mere minutes, Prudence found herself in an upright position, blanket tossed to the side, headphones off. She was sitting sideways on the chair, feet on the ground. “Are we all done?” she asked, still feeling groggy from the medication.

“Your husband is on his way now”, said the assistant, looking at her with an expression of extreme pity. Then the words Prudence dreaded came.

“I am so sorry Mrs. Mc Cane, but we can’t work on you – you kept trying to turn on your side, yanked instruments out of your mouth, and fought us like a tiger. We’ll refund your money. We suggest that you go to a specialized sedation dentist across town that uses I.V. medications. I’ll give you his business card.”

That figures, Prudence thought to herself. She had no memory of fighting the dental staff off, but she didn’t doubt they were telling the truth.

Embarrassed, Prudence thanked them for trying and fought back tears as she made her way down the elevator and out to the parking lot.

As she got in the car, she turned to her husband and said with a sigh, “You know you’re truly a hopeless case when you are rejected by a sedation dentist.” Then she paused and chuckled a bit.

“That whole, ‘We Cater to Cowards’ thing really had me fooled for a while there, you know? So I guess they’ve never met a Queen Bee coward like me before!” She burst into laughter.

They both had a good laugh on the way home – that was until the good drugs started to wear off. Now they were back to square one.

You had to either laugh or cry.

***

So here’s to all my fellow dental-phobia comrades out there…may you someday finally find nirvana while strapped to a dental chair!

Good luck with that, by the way. If you ever find a cure, please look me up.

If we could find a cure and bottle it, it would be like hitting the lottery for millions of poor souls like us who would rather be hit by a freight train running full steam ahead than to visit the dentist.