Tuesday, September 06, 2005

PainWatch 2: 90 minutes in the chair

The refrain, uttered between grunts, was: "Westerners' teeth have longer roots than Koreans'."

Wisdom tooth extraction today.

I arrived early for my 5PM appointment. Thanks to the pencil map drawn by the nice receptionist/intern last time I was at the clinic, finding the office without Sperwer (sorry, man) was easy.

I wasn't expecting to have the tooth removed today, because the tooth-separating rubber band they'd stuck in my mouth on Friday had popped out so quickly. Dr. Lee thought differently, however, and engaged in a titanic wrestling match with my upper left wisdom tooth. For a while, it looked almost as though the tooth might win, but Dr. Lee persevered through muscle cramps (no joke; I gave her a brief massage afterwards) and doctorly frustration to snatch victory from the jaws of Kevin.

It began with a quick inspection of the tooth by someone other than Dr. Lee. A round of injections left me feeling more or less numb in the tooth's general area, then there was some probing and suction-- and at some point they cut a flap of my gum and peeled it back.

I felt none of this, and can't say I tasted the blood, but could guess at what was going on based on the dabbing and suction and occasional drilling. The weirdest thing about the drilling was the cranial vibration. You realize just how thoroughly you are a piece of meat while lying back in the dentist's chair, your skull (and double chin) humming away to the rhythm of a drill bit.

Before the tooth-wrestling began in earnest, the staff did something rather disturbing: they threw a heavy cloth over my face that covered everything except for my mouth, which poked through a large hole at the bottom of the cloth. I would have preferred to keep the use of my eyes, but I was effectively blind. Through the cloth, everything was shadowy movement accompanied by insistent tugging and rocking and cajoling (I'm still talking about what the ladies were doing to my tooth, mind).

It was hard work for Dr. Lee. She strained. She panted. She took breaks. Her assistants dabbed the sweat off her brow (I heard them doing this for her, and heard her thanks). Dr. Lee kept asking me if I was OK. I would grunt, "Ahh-haahh," or give her a thumbs-up.

For the most part I was numb, but the anesthetic was either insufficient or may have begun to wear off about two-thirds of the way through the procedure, right as the wrestling match was intensifying. I tensed and grunted a little too loudly at one point. Dr. Lee stopped immediately, asked if I hurt, and I said, "Yeah, a bit." (There was a bit of pain, but the pressure was enormous, and that, I think is what forced the grunt out of me.) I kept my fingers laced over my stomach the entire time; instruments were dropped onto and lifted off my chest during the course of the extraction. A second round of anesthetic was injected into my gums. Coooooool.

Dr. Lee knew she was up against a worthy opponent, too. "Your teeth are very strong!" she said. Yes; that cavity took years to get as big as it did. I inherited dental toughness from my mother, who didn't get her first cavity until she was 40.

Pull. Tug. Shake. Repeat. No outright yanking, praise Jesus. Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera. I would have liked to take pictures of the procedure.

We had several false starts, too-- a few moments where Dr. Lee was sure that this time, Lord, this time, the tooth would be coming out. But no. The tooth clung to me like an alien parasite, roots clawing desperately at my jaw for purchase.

When the end came, Dr. Lee was talking to the tooth in Korean, asking it to pull out neatly (actually, she said "nicely, nicely"-- ch'ak ha-gae, ch'ak ha-gae). I was too numbed by the second round of local anesthetic to feel the moment of actual removal, but Dr. Lee joked to her assistant in Korean, "It's twins!", at which point I started laughing (despite the mouthful of dental instruments).

I lay back and enjoyed the stitches they sewed into my gum; the process was as painless as can be. The left side of my mouth hurts a bit now, though; most of the medieval instruments (I imagine pliers and saws) were inserted at an angle from that side of my face, so my lip's left corner is a bit raw.

The mask came off my face and I was a free man. It was 6:20PM, almost exactly 90 minutes from the time I first sat in the chair. A Frenchwoman and her daughter were in the clinic as well; the girl was getting a mold of her teeth made. I spoke to mother and daughter in French for a few moments. Stumbled a couple times, unlike the previous occasion.

Strangely, I felt guilty about how long the procedure took; the office normally closes at 6PM.

The staff advised me to use an ice pack to reduce lip and cheek swelling, to gargle five times daily with the clinic's special brew of antiseptic mouthwash, and to avoid getting crap caught in my gums during the three-day infection window. I asked Dr. Lee whether I should just avoid eating anything for three days and she said, "Yeah, that'll work, but you'll be hungry."

The biggest disappointment was that I wasn't allowed to take the tooth with me as a souvenir. A shame I didn't bring the camera: the thing was a bloody mess, and I immediately adored it. It would've made a great photo for the blog. Heh. My twins.

So now I have to gargle and chug Ibuprofen, and I'm on a three-day fast. Wish me luck: what worries me most is my stomach making noise during class.



Jason said...

Did you tell him that your teeth's roots are actually a bit shorter than Westerners?

Good show, though. Go to Iceberry and suck down some patbingsu for the tooth.

Kevin Kim said...

No temptations! I'm fasting now!

Thanks for the congratulations. My gumline and I appreciate the sentiment.

As for my roots... alas, the X-rays showed quite clearly that my roots were of the long, evil, curved Western variety. Thanks, Dad.

(By the way, Dr. Lee is a woman.)