Tooth is gone, nightmares remain

Published 4:03 pm Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Poet Ogden Nash was quoted as saying, “Some tortures are physical, and some are mental, but the one that is both
is dental.”

I’d have to agree. Let me tell you why.

Several years ago, I had an awful dental experience. In fact, torture is probably the best way to describe it.

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At the time, my wife and I were living in Kazakhstan. I woke up in the wee hours of the morning one day with a really sharp pain in my jaw. It wasn’t unusual for our apartment, which was in an old Soviet building, to be near freezing despite the heat being on, so I figured the pain might very well have come from clenching my teeth all night. I took something for the pain and went back to sleep. A day later the pain was back, and the left side of my face looked like Mike Tyson had landed a pretty good jab.

So, I scheduled a dentist appointment at a westernized clinic. I’m not sure how much you know about Kazakhstan, but when it comes to medicine, it tends to be a little behind the times. So, it was reassuring to walk into the clinic and see that it looked like you would expect a dentist’s office to look.

I saw a dentist who told me that the offending tooth needed to come out, but that their oral surgeon would be out of the office for the next three days. This was bad news. She gave me the address of another clinic and told me it had an oral surgeon that would be able to help.

What you need to know now is that this clinic was not westernized at all. It was government run with Soviet-trained dentists.

Not long after arriving, the oral surgeon led me to the room where he would perform the extraction. It had three chairs in it that faced a very large, open window. So much for sterilization. There was a lady in the chair to the far left of the room. She was screaming at the top of her lungs, while one person held her head still and another pulled her tooth. At that moment, it was all I could do to fight the instinct to leap out of the large, open window and make a break for it. But against my better judgment, I stayed and we got to work on the tooth.

Even though I had an X-ray that showed clearly which tooth was the problem, my oral surgeon elected to take a metal tongue depressor and whack my tooth with it. When I jumped back he asked, “Eta zoob?” That means, “This tooth?”

I thought, “Well, I did just jump in pain, but then again you did just hit me in the mouth with a metal object, so I guess it’s a fair question.”

After giving me a shot to help with the pain, he took a pair of pliers that looked liked they came straight off the shelf at Walmart, a scalpel and one of those small mirrors dentists use and laid them all on my chest after having me slump down in the chair because it wouldn’t lower like it was supposed to. He also had me hold the X-ray for him so he could look at it while he worked. Then he began wrenching on my tooth with the aforementioned pliers. I could feel everything he was doing, and since the girl two chairs down was screaming I figured I might as well join in. To that he replied, “Eta normina.” That means “It’s OK,” which I suppose things were for him.

After what seemed like hours, but I’m sure was probably just minutes, he ripped — literally — the tooth out of my mouth and presented it to me on a piece of gauze. I suppose it was my prize for surviving. He took some alcohol and mopped the blood off my face, which apparently went all the way up to just below my left eye, and then said “zaconchilez,” which means “finished.”

It took a day or so for the swelling to go down. I’m still waiting for the nightmares to end.  Sometimes, if I’m quiet enough, I swear I can still hear that woman screaming.