The March 19th post shows a kid wearing a soccer shirt with my name on it. I realize that a fan club had not been formed without my permission, and concluded that ‘Alexis’ must be a soccer player. But, my idiocy was revealed publicly the day before yesterday. Alex, the great guy at Virgin Media (who I misnomered Ned) said of my ignorance: “I cannot believe you. That is Alexis Sanchez and he plays for the London Arsenals and you just came from living in London for two and a half years.” I did not mention it to Alex at the time, but worst of all, I am writing the biography of a sports writer. I clearly have a lot of catching up to do, and I am seventy-three. It is less painful to write it out and not use the numbers.
I am mindful of my years and my cholesterol levels this morning, so I am eating oatmeal. It is not my favorite breakfast; my favorite breakfast is a Bloody Mary. It is not that bad for me, because there are vegetables associated with it. But, other than on a fateful morning one week ago, positioned in First Class seat 1-A, I do not have Bloody Mary’s for breakfast.
I have been in Canada exactly one week today, and I am feeling increasingly serene. Life is just easier here (compared to London). I did say in an email to an unnamed man: “I am becoming increasingly peaceful, slight nudges from London ills as you will read on blog, but I plan to spend the day dealing with all of that and get it totally out of the way. Life here is so much easier. All manners of people welcoming, and it must be clear to the folks here that I am utterly foreign in so many ways.” One more reason for the serenity is because ‘Tracy from the bank’ told me that I am getting a 30% raise, as I am paid in USA retirement dollars and will live within the Canadian economy. I was also informed that if and when I apply for a Canadian pension, I would get arrears. The Canadian pension will not be large, as I barely worked here before moving to the United States, but as they said at the bank, money is money. Parenthetically (particularly with arrearages.)
I love bubble baths. They are my favorite indulgence. Cousin Gail has the best stuff. It is Lavender Johnson & Johnson Baby Bubble Bath. It is heaven. I have stocked up. So, when I get up tight (or just when I feel like it), I take myself to the bathtub, pour in some bubble bath, turn on the water and climb in. Not only is it instantaneous heaven, but it also has the greatest byproduct. I already had the softest of skin, silky and velvety, but now it is really, really silky, soft and velvety. There’s nobody around to stroke it, but one cannot have everything.
So now the moment everyone was waiting for. (There is a sequel to this, but wait until tomorrow.)
THE CONCLUSION OF MIND THE GAP
This time I was listless. I didn’t miss the corn that much, and I married a man who didn’t seem to mind women with a buck space in the middle of their teeth. However, my husband’s best friend, Dr. S., was new to the practice of dentistry, and seductively offered a rescue mission using a new untested theory: to cure the gap by reintroducing braces and correct the bite that Dr. Q ignored, and through the use of retainers which would force the back teeth to grow toward one another, eventually meeting.
It sounded like magic, and I believed him. Things were going well. Perhaps, at the time I was the oldest living person wearing braces, but I was on my way to recovery.
I was never really sure of Dr. S’s motivation in offering this new and improved care. He didn’t even bill us. But later, while on a solo visit to Edmonton, I suffered a dental emergency. Dr. S. fit me into his busy schedule, seeing me after hours and then attempting to probe areas other than my mouth. I did not succumb. I have never succumbed to the physical demands of dentists. I have my pride.
But, back to the story. I was driving to work one morning with my new braces and retainers, engrossed (I suppose) in the dream of my new found beauty with the realigned bite. In this state of reverie, I failed to notice that the car in front of me had stopped. I slammed on the brakes, but crashed into the stalled car. The Ford Falcon was totaled, and I ate the steering wheel. A plastic surgery consult ensured that there would be no permanent damage to my swollen and bruised face, but my teeth were another story. Still buck teeth with a space in the middle, but now one faced front, and the other pointed back. There was no time for restorative work, as we were moving to San Francisco. In 1967 I went to San Francisco with flowers in my hair and strangely askew front teeth.
Next came Dr. P. – a dentist in a group practice on Geary Street. Dr. P. exuded self-confidence. He was a large, boisterous man with a crew cut and a commanding presence. He looked misplaced. He should have been in Vietnam ordering Marines to attack and slaughter. “Why didn’t those other guys see this? The muscle between your teeth keeps them apart. Cut that sucker out and they’ll come together.” I was a sucker. A restoration of hope coupled with the belief of beauty. I was scared stiff, probably post-traumatic stress disorder from the first surgery, but NO was not a word in my vocabulary. This was post Novocain, but prior to mind-altering drugs. I was conscious during the procedure, but suddenly felt dizzy and nauseous. I lost consciousness. I was told that I had a grand mal seizure, aspirating blood, and perhaps dental equipment. I practically died right there in the dental chair.
But, I lived to go through another round of braces, root canals and then crowns that minimized the gap. Gap free, but not dentist free.
Dr. P., sensing a need for a continued business relationship, followed my move to Marin. Another new theory was postulated, promising a better profile. Gold crowns would build up the back teeth, so that the upper molars would meet the lower molars, resulting in a regular bite. It was an arduous process involving tens of visits, and hundreds and hundreds of dollars later. The new profile was not as I expected, but I was armed with a new weapon: If I opened my mouth in direct sunlight, I could blind passerby’s with the reflection from the gold.
Dr. P. eventually retired, probably with the proceeds of my dental care. By now, dentists were a way of life, sort of a Stockholm syndrome. I had to have one.
Ever noticed this about dentists? You go to a new one, and they always criticize the work of their predecessors, insisting on removing prior filings and redoing the work. Doctors never do this; never criticize the prior surgeon’s appendectomy and re-perform surgeries. They rarely accuse your prior doctor of a missed diagnosis and launch you on a completely different regime of treatment. But, go to a new dentist and you have a whole new set of problems.
The new dentist, Dr. V.P., said all of my teeth were loose and were going to fall out. They wiggled. Apparently my front teeth had never recovered from their acquaintance with the steering wheel, and the newly reacquainted back molars were crashing down on one another with such velocity that is was jarring them loose. It was impossible not to trust Dr. V.P.- he was a friendly, folksy guy, dressed like an adolescent, and played cool albums over his sound system, rhapsodizing about the artist as he prodded your mouth. Even better, he freely administered nitrous oxide, even for minor procedures like teeth cleaning. My kind of guy. But, the complexity of the case called for a new referral to another specialist, this time a periodontist. Dr. H. was incredibly handsome, and he knew it. Most of the patient-dentist interaction was with the technician. Dr. H. would swoop in to consult, rather like a star’s cameo appearance in a Robert Altman movie.
But even with the two of them double-teaming, they were not able to restore dental health. More surgery, more pain, but no more promises. Now, it was a life or death struggle. The seizures returned and did not limit themselves to the dental chair. The prescription drug Dilantin controls seizures but has several effects. One is gum hyperplasia. That is the one my body picked. The swelling of the gums coupled with loose teeth was a recipe for disaster. Bacteria crawled into the pockets, creating painful abscesses that required more dental visits and sometimes extractions.
I was called in for another consultation with Dr. H. and Dr. V.P. There was a new theory, a new technology. My upper teeth would be removed. I would then be fitted with implants. Implants were screws – screws in your jaw with teeth attached. They were permanent; I didn’t have to take them in and out. No one would know that they weren’t the real things. Implants also somehow insured that there would be no bone loss.
I was not amazed. I was immune. I had grown up. It had taken almost forty years, but finally my innocence was irretrievably lost. The sense of hope, the sense of wonder, did not spring forth. I could also read the fine print. Implants, the literature warned, were not indicated for people with gum disease. Gum disease was my presenting symptom. Even the scare technique (photographs of a toothless old hag with no jaw bones because of bone loss) failed to frighten me. Vanity had deserted me as well.
The least intrusive procedure at this point was to remove all my remaining upper teeth, about five and get an upper plate. An upper plate is not something you keep on the highest shelf of the china cabinet; it is dental speak for false teeth.
This involved a referral to another specialist, a ‘surgeon’. (Some things had changed since those Saskatchewan days, when the dentist did everything- probably even sweeping the floor.) This was a typical surgeon, albeit a dental one. No talk, just action. A friend gave me a ride home after the procedure. I was single and living alone at this point in my life. I awoke lying on the floor of my bedroom. I apparently had a seizure, but fortunately had not aspirated any blood and gore. I had again lived to tell the tale.
Despite my conservative choice, there were still more surprises. Dr. V.P. misfitted my false teeth. The teeth were ill fitting, and made me look like a kamikaze pilot. They kept breaking in half, generally at a most inopportune moment. (But when would it ever be opportune to have your teeth crack in half and jump out of your mouth?) Another series of x-rays and consultations concluded that I had a severely distorted occlusion. My jaw had been broken when I was about twelve. I had not received any medical treatment at the time, so my upper and lower jaw was completely out of alignment. This condition had not been diagnosed by Dr. Q., Dr. S., or even Dr. P.
Dr. V.P. was strangely reluctant to refer me “out”, as the expression goes. But after three sets of broken false teeth, he referred me to a prosthodontist (false tooth guy). This guy looked and acted like Woody Allen. He didn’t attempt to sell me implants, gold crowns or new profiles, and didn’t try to seduce me. He just gave me false teeth that work. I think I am in love.
I have recovered from Stockholm syndrome and my addiction to dentists. Twice a year I grit my remaining teeth and go to the new guy’s office to get my teeth cleaned. But no more braces, elastics, retainers, surgery and other invasive procedures. Pass me that corn on the cob.
(This piece was inspired by “Parallel Play: A lifetime of restless isolation”, an article in the August 20, 2007 edition of the New Yorker. The article, written by Tim Page, chronicles his lifetime struggle with Asperger’s disease. This framework, called the personal story, has been used by many New Yorker authors to chronicle their struggles with disease. An on-line search of New Yorker archives revealed that John Updike has written a personal history chronicling his psoriasis; Lauren Hillenbrand used this style to describe her chronic fatigue syndrome; Stephen King his recover from a near fatal encounter with a van driven by a hit and run driver. Other lesser known writers have used the personal history vantage point to describe alcoholism, AIDS, bypass surgery and blindness. Disease, thankfully, has not played a major role in my life, but my tooth story seemed to rise to the occasion in that it set me apart and shaped.