“This is a numbing gel.” The dentist swabbed my upper left gum with a clear jelly that smelled like Ron Jon surf shop – that sweet, pineapple coconut scent of Sexwax, or of tropical Life Savers.
“Close your mouth on that to hold it in place,” the dentist said, then walked out of the room. I closed my lips and my eyes and pictured Cocoa Beach. Sapphire waves curling onto tan Atlantic sands, surfers with hemp anklets, the smell of coconut oil.
After shooting me up with the real anesthesia, the dentist settled behind me with an inspection mirror in his left hand and the dreaded drill in his right. I lay back in the chair with my eyes closed, trying to hold on to Cocoa Beach. The left side of my mouth was numb, and my cheek felt fat, and I sensed pressure on my molar as the dentist pushed against it with a whirring metal bit.
I tried to ignore the whine of the drill scraping back and forth, shaving tooth with every pass. Tried to push away thoughts of hard white flake spraying out of my mouth, or collecting on my numb tongue, where I couldn’t feel it fall. I listened to the uwheee-uwhee-UHWEEEE of the drill, felt the pressure of the bit gouging deeper, braced myself for the jolt of pain that would race from the center of my tooth to the base of my spine when sharp, spinning metal hit a nerve that hadn’t been numbed.
I tried to think about sand dunes, and sea oats, but found myself thinking about what this would be like, back in the old days, without anesthesia. Lying back in a chair, with a dentist grinning over me, my eyes bulging as the drill shredded nerve endings. Uwhee-uwhee-UHWEEEEEE!!! I tore my mind away from that, only to have it land on an image of a leg being sawed off. Where all the poor amputee had for pain was a leather belt to clamp his teeth on. His eyes bulged in agony before he finally passed out.
I switched back to my numbed tooth instead of unanesthetized amputation as the drill droned on. Uwheee-uwheee-uwheee. I felt nothing. No jolt of pain. Hardly even pressure. My mind wandered to safer shores – to a blog post I’m working on, to a story I heard on NPR, to the powerful link between our senses and memories.
Now, the left side of my face feels like it’s drooping, and there may be spittle dribbling down my lip. But thank God for anesthesia. Because tomorrow I’ll be in another chair. A plastic surgeon will lean over me, a silver scalpel in his hand, and slice skin cancer from my face. And thanks to that anesthesia, my brow may droop, and I won’t feel my forehead, but at least my eyes won’t bulge in agony before I finally pass out.
The last time I had skin cancer removed, I got a free facelift. Maybe this time I’ll get an eyebrow job. Or a great scar I can say I got in a knife fight.