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Location: United Kingdom

Some people know me as OrangeBlossomer because that's me on Twitter. This blog is a random collection of daily musings about life and stuff I love, such as journalism, dog (sadly my dog died in 2010 so probably no more), women, love and lack of love, boobs (only seldom but it does get me extra online traffic), taichi (I practise) and spirituality (should practise more). I have a day job as a jetsetting publishing foreign rights manager but I am also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and a writer/columnist at heart. Writing is my opium.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

My root canal treatment enlightened me. Really...

Photo by Alen Vlahovic / CC BY-SA 3.0
If you thought meditating regularly and studying Buddhism were the only way to achieving enlightenment, you may be amused to hear I recently reached nirvana on my dentist's chair.

For dramatic effect, I could have bellowed something along the lines of "Eureka", as Archimedes did in his bathtub, except I was undergoing a root canal treatment at the time, and my tongue and the bottom part of my mouth had been muzzled by a green latex sheet called 'rubber dam', which dentists use to isolate the tooth being treated. While Hannibal Lecter would have not only chewed himself free but also swallowed the darn dam thing in a show of defiance, average mortals like myself end up looking as charming as Donald Duck being waterboarded.

The worst part of root canal treatment is not to do with pain at all. Pain management in dentistry is so advanced these days even the pinch you feel when the anaesthetic injection goes in has less of an ouch factor than the bill the receptionist presents to you upon checkout.

The worst part is really being immobilised for an hour and a half per session, with nothing but the ceiling to stare at, while your tooth is being drilled open, prodded into, filed, disinfected, then stuffed shut again. You can't even look up the dentist's nostrils for a laugh because surgical masks cover their noses, and the blinding miners' helmet-like lamps they wear round their heads ensure you are always the observed, never the observer. Isn't that why bright light is used in torture scenes in movies?

So I am lying there, like a corpse at an autopsy, legs and hands crossed for want of a more comfortable position, my upper body in rigor mortis tension, and since the situation was not really conducive to daydreaming about holidays, food or men, I decided to use those 90 minutes mindfully, for reflection, with my eyes wide open.

Whenever I am on the reclining chair at the hairdresser's with my head stuck in their hairwashing sink, I shut my eyes and blissfully enjoy the shampooing process, but closing your eyes on a dentist's chair somehow feels wrong. I did not want her to think I was so relaxed I had fallen asleep and she needed to clamp my mouth open, nor did I want her to take me for a wimp when I really am not afraid of dentists.

It was then I became a little enlightened.

It dawned on me, during my open-eye/open-mouth meditation, that the dentist treating me was, regrettably, not my original trusted dentist of many years but her temporary replacement. My dentist had gone on maternity leave, but she had warned me of the need to have a root canal treatment two years before; I had only myself to blame for having put it off for so long, and for reasons I now know were idiotic.

Had I not been so obstinately protective of my savings (the one I keep "for a rainy day") and paranoid in my visions of imagined poverty, which I came to believe the dental treatment would lead me to, I would have been in the care of a lovely dentist, who would have asked me if I was okay during treatment, would have told me to email her in case I had any questions out of hours, would have sent me home with plenty of advice on pain relief in case the treated tooth started to throb in the middle of the night, as it did.

Dentists are like hairdressers – once you find one you like, it's a commitment for life: you swear loyalty to them for all (your capillary and) dental needs.

Letting go
Although I do not consider myself a stingy person, I have always had a primal fear of parting with large sums of money. What if I needed the money for an emergency and had to incur debts? What if I never recouped the money spent and couldn't buy what I needed as a result? A year ago I had just moved into a new flat and needed to furnish it. Wasn't buying a dining table for my new home a more pressing issue than a weak tooth that could wait a year or two? 

The untreated tooth got infected for the third time in two years, just as London Book Fair opened this year. Sod's law. I had also lost one of my contact lenses a week before the fair, so I spent the week selling books to my customers while partially disabled  – with only one fully-functioning "eyeball" (as I call my contacts in jest) and half a mouth to masticate with. The idiocy of my indecisiveness suddenly hit me. After more than a year, I still hadn't purchased a dining table and my bad tooth was playing up again.

I let out a long sigh through my nose while the dental nurse shoved the suction tube into my mouth making a hoovering noise. What folly, I thought, then accepted that was that, and there was nothing I could do to change the fact it was not my dentist of choice who was digging down the canals of my tooth.

As a stress-control strategy, I have been practising living in a state of permanent surrender. If I work late, arrive at the station and realise I have just missed my train and have to wait another half hour for the next one, instead of becoming angry or stressed, as I would have in the past, I just accept that this is the situation right now: work is busy, my days are long, yes I am very tired, yes I may be eating dinner at 10.30pm again, or pass out on the bed straight away, without the energy to cook or eat. I accept all this without attaching any emotion. Then I look for the positives: an extra 20-30 minutes means I can go buy a snack or a coffee, check my Twitter feed, or get my Kindle out and read another chapter of whatever I happen to be reading.

Whether I stay cool or lose my rag, my train will still take 30 minutes to arrive, so I choose to be 'zen' and tell myself all is well and perfect. 

Surrendered to the moment on my dentist's chair, I realised that we save things for the future because we believe tomorrow there will be a better reason for us to do anything: spend our money, start an adventure, learn a new skill, take better care of ourselves. We tend to think the future will always be a better time to do something than the present, whereas in reality the present is always perfect as it is. The future can only become an improvement on the now when we make the best of our present. 

You must be wondering if the dentist injected me with a hallucinogen instead of anaesthetic. But that is what I instinctively realised without being aware. We carry a large amount of untapped knowledge inside ourselves, and it only takes a small trigger for us to be re-united with it again. 

In the days following my dental treatment I happened to read Pema Chödrön's When Things Fall Apart and found her Buddhist teachings resonated with what I had been reflecting all along.   

"The real transformation takes place when we let go of our attachment and give away what we  think we can't. What we do on the outer level has the power to loosen up deep-rooted patterns of holding on to ourselves," says Pema.

"We don't experience the world fully unless we are willing to give everything away."

Realising the pointlessness of attaching oneself to money, or anything else, for a future that may not come liberated me to spend money, time and energy more freely but wisely. That camera I always wanted to buy, the training course I wanted to do, the challenge I wanted to set myself, the targets, the dreams, the truth I wanted to reveal. All good things that will enrich me as a person.

Why on earth was I in a state of permanent waiting, as if I were in a Beckett play

I understood at last it was not the actual money spending that would make me poor but my poor thoughts robbing me of much of life's opulence. No wonder I felt I never had enough of anything.

Maybe I can see this now because I've reached a stage in life when you hear about deaths almost as often as you hear about births in your inner circles. My own dearest friend passed away last year, in his early 50s. The certainty of death is sobering for the human mind; it reminds you to live and live and, not tomorrow.

I paid the dentist's hefty bill and thought no more about it. Later this week I'll be back there to have a cavity filled – child's play after what I've already been through. 

The treated tooth eventually needs to be capped with a crown, but Dentist tells me it is best to wait a couple of months in case the treatment was unsuccessful and requires a second treatment, which, apparently, can happen in 10-15% of cases.

A wave oft nausea rises in me. I feel like screaming, "WAT? I just paid you the equivalent of an entry level monthly salary in publishing and you tell me there is a chance your treatment was a failure?!" 

I don't (scream), of course. I am enlightened.

"I see," I say and leave the room with dignity. I will save the screaming for when it actually happens, for chances are it will never happen.

I will be safely 'crowned'. 

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Blogger Dr. James DeFinnis said...

“Dentists are like hairdressers – once you find one you like, it's a commitment for life...” – I agree. It can be hard to find a dentist that can understand you and make you as comfortable as you can. So if you found one, you better treasure him/her. It’s sad that your dentist was not around when you had your root canal. But it’s a wise decision to have it with other dentist before it worsens. How is it now, btw?

James DeFinnis @ Back Mountain Dental

13 May 2014 at 21:37  
Blogger Andres Smith said...

Yeah, this is really strange that you got nirvana and enlightenment lying in dentist chair. Anyways, I really loved reading your experience. Thanks for sharing.
Torrance dentist

3 June 2014 at 07:20  

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