Monday, June 24, 2013

At the dentists’ office. "BRIGHT NOW! Dental." Not for me, though I need it, but for Mrs. Ditchman, who is having four wisdom teeth removed, and I suspect she will be none the wiser for it. She hasn't eaten in twelve hours. She hasn't had water in twelve hours. Don't mess with her.

“BRIGHT NOW!” implies a speedy sort of service, catering to those with immediate needs of a dingy mouth, but after we dropped the kids off at the sitter we got a call that informed us of an hour delay. Add to it the typical hour of delay you usually get at a dentist's office, and, well, you end up sitting in the waiting room, broodily ruminating over the big, sunny, illuminated-from-behind sign on the wall: BRIGHT NOW! I may be here all afternoon.

Someone else here is named "Marci." When the name is called, two people start and one person responds. I see this as a serious problem, and nudge Marci about it, (my Marci.) I submit to her that the other Marci is gonna be pretty surprised when they hold her down, put her under, and she wakes up with a bloody mouth and fewer teeth, but my Marci doesn't seem concerned. I guess she thought it through and figured that she had nothing else to lose, since there's no worse thing that could happen here than having four teeth removed, but I'm thinking how about maybe, eight teeth? Ten teeth? It would be prudent to ask the other Marci what she's in for, but my Marci just pats my leg.

Minutes pass, with time-filling paperwork and deep, mouth-watering soul-searching, and we hear a big truck rumble to a stop out front. Someone behind the counter yells to the back, “THE OXYGEN'S HERE!” and a burly guy with a nice smile wheels some tanks in. “Oh, good,” Mrs. Ditchman muttered. “You’re gonna need that,” I add. And then another big diesel rumbles up. A paramedic. “Let’s hope you don’t need that,” I joke. She just looks at me. Unfunny husband strikes again. And then a woman in a lab coat comes and takes her away.

I have been informed that I cannot leave the room for the duration of my wife’s visit, though they don’t actually tell me why. I assume it’s a liability thing, where she will not be allowed to drive herself home, of course, but I can’t shake the thought that the next time the woman in the lab coat opens the door, she’s going to get my attention and whisper, “There’s been a few complications...” But, no, everything will be fine, I’m sure. It’s just standard procedure. That, and fresh, just-off-the-truck oxygen.

I'm not sure when it began, but I’ve always been suspicious of dentists, who demand their bi-annual checkup with rigorous enamel-grinding cleanings. Then they announce that you have a few extra teeth, that they should be removed, and that it’s gonna set you back a few thousand dollars. Why did God make me with extra teeth? Why can’t I just go on using them? Some things are left unclear, in life, but then I’m a doubter -speaking as someone who still has his wisdom teeth, his appendix, his tonsils, his gall bladder, his kidneys, et al. (If I could have anything removed it might be my libido, which has kept me from thinking clearly all my life. Just think of how much I could get done without it! -oh hey, a hot girl just walked in the waiting room...)

No, they won’t let me leave, not even for a moment. And there is no free coffee and no table and no WiFi. Just twenty chairs lined on grey walls, facing each other. And yet there is a dreamy Starbucks on the other side of the parking lot -just mocking me- whose WiFi signal I am not registering because of the dental x-ray-proof lead shielding in this building, or some such thing. But it’s not me who’s gonna leave here drooling and slurring the rest of the livelong day, so I will shut up and be grateful. Dive in full-laptop, with no outside influence.


Actually sooner than later, the dreaded person with the clipboard and the lab coat enters, makes eye contact with no one, and summons loudly, "DRIVER FOR MARCI?" and (assuming we are talking about the same "Marci") that's me. Ten years of a good strong marriage, child-rearing, business entrepreneur and all, and I have been reduced to "driver", but it's only one of my many roles, I know. I raise a finger and she motions me to follow her back, into the chamber of horrors.

And I am not kidding about that. It's a long hallway with doorless rooms, and I pass them all, failing to resist the urge to glance in. On one side of me I see, laying head-back in a long, stiff chair, a smoker (I can smell her) with no front incisors, and a masked man with heady tools stands over her with both fists in her mouth. Her eyeballs rotate at me as I pass. On my left, there's a young black girl in a tight green shirt, moaning breathlessly, with bloody gauze on a table behind her head, the surgeon is nearby, on the phone, talking loudly, above her voice. The girl in the lab coat, leading me down the hall, looks back at me and smiles cheerfully, "Right this way!" and doctors and their assistants hop rightward and forth, not making eye contact.

I reach a stark, clean room with two posters. One poster shows a soulless set of teeth and gums, and warns of the ever-present dangers of periodontal disease. The other is of a beach. The Caribbean, I presume, with its clear turquoise waters and its fine white sand. There is no life in the frame, just sand and water. Just slow, imperceptible erosion. On a bright sunny day. Like what's happening in your mouth.

Also in the room is my beautiful wife, laying back in a chair, with one of those undersized airplane blankets on her, and looking like a pathetic cheek-stuffed gerbil after a recent cat-attack. Poor thing. She sees three of me.

My wife is long-in-the-tooth, so to speak, and the dentists prefer you break these things out when you're twenty and young, and you haven't yet had a chance to break them in, so it's a trial to have your wisdom teeth removed while in your thirties. The doctor said it was a clean operation. No problems. But her eyes are shaking back and forth, like from an old cartoon.

"How are you doing?" I ask, failing pathetically at sounding chipper.

She takes my hand, for comfort. She never does this. "All I saw was a circus," she said. I'm not sure what she means, but later I gathered that after the drugs kicked in, all she could take in was a frenzy of eyes and hands over her head. She's still not sure what happened. Before she went under, she heard a man in another room have a violent episode of gag reflex, and then a minute of chaos that followed. (She reported that he had no memory of it when he came to, happily asking how it all went.) She asked if that's why they weren't supposed to eat anything beforehand, and the doctors nodded. And then... out.

And now, here she was, my poor wife, with a mouthful of bloody gauze, moving listlessly like a sick iguana, or some near-extinct earth-bound tree sloth. She had a prescription for painkillers taped to her shoulder, making her appear abandoned, fodder for the goodwill of any potential caretaker who happened by.

"I'm glad you're here. And not my mom," she says.

I took this as a compliment, and then spent the next hour sitting quietly with her in the cold room, listening to the plaintive cries of nearby patients going unheeded, while Marci slowly came to. 

She did, eventually, and built up strength to her legs, and then her feet. I was instructed to pull the car around to the back of the building, into a handicap space, and the girl in the lab coat would take her and meet me there. Feeling helpless, I obeyed, and I exited out the front door -not without noticing the bright-eyed, unwitting patients blithely looking up to me as I entered the waiting room. I see, now, I thought. They don't want THEM to see...

We got my wife in the car and I was careful to not drive in any nausea-inducing manner, as dumb husbands are prone. I thought about how it was going to be a haul, getting through the rest of the day and then the night, and keeping the three kids out of her face. And I thought about how little Lincoln had finally gotten the bulk of his teeth in, and how I figured we were over the hump on teeth for a while, but we weren't, evidently.

When I finally got Serena in bed, she sweetly asked if Mommy was going to put her teeth under the pillow, for the Tooth Fairy. "I don't think so," I said. "The dentist kept them."

And she stopped, rolled over and looked away, to the wall. She was sad. I could see the insoluble problem on her face: why would the dentist keep the teeth?

And so began the distrust of all dentists, everywhere.


Friday, June 14, 2013

We do stories at bedtime. We have always done stories at bedtime. But Mrs. Ditchman is better at it than I, as I have been doing the story for Keaton lately, and we have been reading Doomworld, which is a volume of old Marvel comic books that were created after the original Star Wars film, continuing the adventures of the young Luke Skywalker and Han Solo and Princess Leia and their robot and wookie homies. They're awful, if you're wondering, and good bedtime reading they do not make. I never reconciled the cliffhanger thirty years ago, and had always wondered what happened. So I got the Dark Horse reprint off of Amazon. (Don't.) Mrs. Ditchman likes it less than me, for the record, but Keaton seems to enjoy it. I don't think he pays attention, really, but demand it he does, night after night. There are seven volumes. God help us.

Serena is reading the Magic Tree House series, which are proper books. There are about fifty of them now, and those crazy kids keep on climbing up into the tree house and finding somewhere in time -somewhere awesome and didactic- to whisk off to and explore, (while the author stays home and cashes in the millions.) But the little books are good, and the Little Ditchman reads them to us now, as it goes. Anyway, I like the history lessons, and it gets everything in school connected, as it should be. 

So tonight she asked me if the Magic Tree House books were "fiction" or "non-fiction", which was an excellent question. "They're fiction," I said. "But the historical parts are non-fiction, though they are fictionalized. Which means that the settings and the people were real, but what they did was made up." And then she asked me, "What does fiction mean?" and I realized we had to backtrack a bit. Sometimes we have the words, but we don't know what we are talking about. (I thought: This, kid, will never change, and you will encounter it all the rest of your days. But, never you mind. Anyway...)

"Fiction is not real. It's the stuff in your imagination. Non-fiction is real," I said.

"Oh," she said with an attitude that she already knew this. And she added, "The Star Wars comic books. Those are fiction."

"Yes," I said.

"And the Bible?"

And here we are. Already. She's seven. And, for what it's worth, I'm forty-three. I've got to have a good answer for this. The Bible. Fiction or Non-Fiction?

"Well, uh..."

I am not a Creationist, though I do believe in the literal power of the figurative word. And I find it easy to accept the historical accuracy of much of the biblical text, and yet it is a profound leap of faith -the most enduring of its kind- to accept that Jonah was swallowed by a whale, or that Jacob wrestled an angel, or that the Tree of Life was guarded by a flaming sword... And here I paused... (Which is a wisdom I have gained over the years.)

And the impatient child interrupted my ruminating with another question: "What about my mathbook?"

An easy one, at last. "Oh, that's neither fiction nor non-fiction. That's a book for learning. That's a textbook." And, here, I was handed the answer by my seven-year-old. 

"Like the Bible," she said with the Wisdom of the Ages.

And there we were.