Posted by: Kate | January 21, 2010

Throw me a Party

Hell, a party may not even suffice.  Let’s get a full-on ticker-tape parade going.

Because I?  Me, the person who spent thousands of dollars on dental care last year because I cannot tolerate the machinery and noises and fundamental physical intrusion of another person’s hands inside my mouth.  This person right here.

I just got through a dental appointment without freaking out.  And without being heavily medicated.

OK, you’re right.  A parade might be a bit much.  I’ll accept just a medal and flagrant adoration.  Really, I’m flexible.

I understand that there are people out there who can relax in the chair, who even find aspects of it interesting or pleasant, and who leave with a smile and love the feeling just-cleaned teeth.  I’m nowhere near any of that yet.  But I didn’t lie in the chair and weep; didn’t even cry, really, not so’s that anyone else would notice.  I didn’t dig my fingernails into my palms until I bled, which has happened several times before.  I didn’t flake out and cancel, and the fact that I was 15 minutes late was a function of heavy traffic and my need to get a ride to and from such things, not some deep, Freudian avoidance technique.  (Unless, I suppose, my friend Carolyn, who was playing the role of chauffeur for the day, was having some sort of sympathetic resistance… but even she, despite unlimited awesomeness, can’t claim credit for simple weekday rush-hour traffic.)

I just… got through it.  A few moments of breathing too shallow, a few moments of tensing up, a span of time in which I curled my knees up as high as they would go so that I could hold onto my legs and clench there instead of digging into my vastly pregnant belly. (They have some sort of ultrasonic tooth cleaner, and while I typically describe myself as hard of hearing, the reality is that my hearing is skewed upwards; I cannot hear low pitches at all, and some mid-range frequencies are silent to me – such as Willem’s alarm clock and when they “bleep” out swearing on TC, but high pitches come through louder than usual, and I can hear fluorescent lights, computer monitors, dog whistles… and the ultrasonic cleaner at the dentist, apparently… with painful clarity).

But, really, anyone observing would see me as being somewhat uncomfortable, maybe a little uptight, but not the sobbing, sniveling wreck that I have been on prior occasions.

I attribute this to several coinciding factors.  One is simple acknowledgment that there really can be better living through chemistry.  I had two Ativans (anti-anxiety medication) left from an old prescription, saved up for just this special sort of occasion.  I took those about an hour before the appointment, so they were just starting to really kick in as I walked in.  Ativan doesn’t give me a buzz or a drunk sort of feeling; one “takes the edge off,” in the sense that I can stop hyperventilating or obsessing, and two makes me feel this deep, all-over ennui, such that I really don’t get much revved up about anything at all.  I know my speech gets a little slurred on it, but I think that’s more a case of just not caring enough to bother enunciating, as opposed to being oversedated on it.  It doesn’t work well if I let myself get worked up into a full-on anxiety attack before taking it, but if I know something – such as a dental appointment – is coming up and keep myself low-key and take it an hour or so in advance, it does the trick beautifully.

A little further back, I took a child-sized dose of Benedryl at bedtime last night, both because the night before I couldn’t sleep because I got so miserably stuffed up (just another fun pregnancy symptom that nobody warns you about ahead of time), and because I tend to be very reactive to the soporific effects of many medications… a 6-year-old dose can knock me out, cold, for a good four hours or more.  And last night it worked beautifully; I was soundly asleep before 11:00 and didn’t get up once before the alarm went off at 5:55.  This is unprecedented in the history of this pregnancy, and though it meant a frantic and ungraceful hobble to the bathroom then, I was thrilled to have finally gathered up a bit of uninterrupted sleep.

Returning back to this morning, another helpful factor was that Carolyn was running a bit late, and called to let me know.  Rather than pace around the house and work myself up, I took that time to get the baby’s carseat installed in the minivan.  I’ll have my friend L’s girls for a while this afternoon and plan to take them to pick my kids up at school, so baby K can use it then (just barely, the kid is 25 pounds and just turned a year old)… and now I can relax a bit, because that’s one more thing I can check off the list of Things That Need Doing Before I Give Birth.  Now there are only about 5,000 things left to do, no problem…

Keeping busy and productive like that, that was good.  Then when Carolyn arrived, she was calm and pleasant and able to engage me in entirely non-dental conversation for the drive.  She dropped me off at the door and agreed to come back at 10:00, and sure enough, she was on time and waiting for me when they paroled me from the dental chair.  Her presence is calming for me in any case – I don’t typically gravitate toward people who are always up and bubbly and intense, so it makes sense that my closest friends are people I find soothing and safe – and so having her around and knowing that she is both willing and more than able to throw a tantrum on my behalf if anything were to go wrong, that was just priceless.

And, as a last little bolstering factor, I brought my iPod and headphones, and spent as much of the appointment as possible plugged in to music I like, eyes closed, focusing hard on the notes and lyrics, with occasional distractions of baby-kicks and the like.  Obviously there was an endless string of interruptions, instructions on when to open and when to rinse and when to lie back down and disappear again, but I would say that I was able to deliberately zone out for at least half of the 90-minute appointment. (This is a place that specializes in sedation dentistry, which means they’re used to phobic patients, and deliberately schedule exams, cleanings, x-rays – for non-pregnant people, of course, so mine will be at the next checkup – all at the same time, instead of expecting multiple visits… I would always prefer one long visit than 3 shorter ones).

So.  Yeah.  Pretty amazing stuff, really.  I’m riding on kind of a high about it all right now, and daring to think that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to avoid the crippling migraine that typically follows any sort of dental encounter.

And I don’t need to go back in for six months.  I can put it all firmly out of my head for that long… and then, Willem and I are scheduled to be there at the same time, so we can just get a babysitter and he can be my chauffeur and cheerleader.

Sigh.  It seems a little ridiculous to be 32 and to be feeling so damn proud of myself for managing my own reactions and emotions, and for just plain behaving appropriately, at the dentist.  But I am, because I did.



  1. I am so proud of you!!!! Hope you got a sticker! 🙂

  2. I don’t think it’s ridiculous at all. This is a challenge you’ve been dealing with for your entire adult life. I commend you for the way you handled everything. You deserve to be damn proud of yourself.

  3. Yay for you! Good on you for not just ‘coping’ but doing pretty darn well!

  4. That’s really awesome! Great job! I love my Ativan. 🙂

  5. If I could eat cake, I’d make you a big chocolate one, shaped liked a tooth and covered in white frosting! Good for you!!!!

  6. I just wish I could book in for a general anaesthetic and get all my teeth fixed at once. Broke a molar flossing of allthings a couple of weeks ago and dreading the next visit. I’m not scared of the dentist . . just the bill!

  7. Oh, dental appointments. I hate them so much I went EIGHT YEARS without a dentist appointment of any kind. Luckily for me I have awesome teeth and ended up with no cavities and amazingly little plaque (I know, everyone hates me now).

    Anyway, the POINT of this comment was that I was so tense and curled up at that cleaning that the poor dental lady kept asking if I was okay. I was stressing her out SO MUCH. Next appointment? XANAX.

  8. This is awesome. You made it through the whole appointment without a major freakout. Way to go!

  9. You had a great battle plan and all the factors came together perfectly! That is indeed an achievement to be majorly proud of when it comes to managing PTSD. This will be one of those psych-up memories to use for the next challenge: “I did that, so I can do THIS.”

    A major mountain climbed!

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