So I’d been stumbling around the intarwebs, as I am wont to do, and came across Hyperbole and a Half’s post called The Party. I read it. Then I read it again, this time not pooping myself in laughter, and, instead, thinking about my own wisdom tooth experience. Now, according to my website’s stat counter (thank you WordPress, for putting that extra distracti0n into my day), most of you find these articles from notes on facebook, which means I literally know my readership. (Hi guys!) This, in turn, means that, today, I’m going to subject you to a story about my family and how we handle anything major, including surgery.
When I was seventeen – barely into the joys that would come right before Fate took my car away as I smashed it into two other, parked, cars – I went to the dentist for a routine checkup. “Ah,” said the hygenist, a large woman who frequently mistook me for my brother, “looks like your wisdom teeth are growing… oddly.”
“Hey, that just means I’m eclectic.” I’d recently learned the word from one of my teachers and had no idea what it meant.
“Uh. Yeah,” she said, removing the white mask and calling the dentist in.
Dr. Tuma came in, had a poke and said, “Yeah, we’re going to get those removed.
And that’s when the flashbacks began.
See, when I was naught but a hatchling, my brother was visiting my Mom and I in Tennessee on one of his winter breaks. And because my Mom is a great mom, best in the world (hi Mom!) , she insisted that he go to the dentist while he was around and knew a good dentist. (She still insists this to me, and I’m, by and large, one who refuses to go to the dentist/optometrist/doctor unless something’s hanging out where it shouldn’t be.)
After a long argument, he finally agreed, went to the dentist, and was told that he needed to have his wisdom teeth removed. Now, Joel’s a lot more stubborn than I am. That’s why he’s a lawyer and I’m working on becoming an obscure writer.
After the appointment with the dentist, we, as a family, drove around. Conversations went from how to invest (my contribution was “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket – I learned that from getting nuked in Command and Conquer“) to Joel’s oncoming wisdom teeth extraction. He was steadfastly opposed to it, citing reasons along the lines of “People die under anesthesia” or “They’re not hurting me; I’ll wait until they hurt me.” Valid reasons which I’ve used for everything from getting out of exams to refusing to take jobs.
My Mom would counter with the equally valid point that “Joel, you’re being combative for no reason,” it would escalate, and eventually Joel agreed to have his wisdom teeth taken out. Now, I don’t remember the results of his surgery, but, according to my Mom, they included my brother shouting, “You call this drugs? I do harder shit than this in the weekends!” while being pushed out of the surgery in a wheelchair, while my Mom reassured everyone that he was not a druggy.
All of this left me with an indelible impression that surgery was something to be avoided at all costs.
But, by the time I’d been tossed under the blade, I’d softened up a little bit, and instead started to think that there was another reason to fear the surgery. This reason would be a whole hell of a lot more traumatizing than any measly death under anesthesia or malpractice lawsuit: It would be the death of my social life.
Understand that I was, and still am, an idiot. Even worse, I was, and still am, an impressionable idiot. If I read or see something, it sticks with me, and I run with the idea for a very long time. (This is why I take the approach to dating that boils down to, “You’re cute, would you like to go out for slushies sometime?” I read The Three Musketeers at an early age, and since I can’t go around stealing jewels for women because I don’t have a horse and a rapier, I’m stuck with the idea that the 50s are the best model for relationships out there. Thank you, Happy Days.) In this case, I was screwed because I’d watched an episode of Hey Arnold in which Helga, the stalker/antagonist with a horrible haircut and a disturbing fashion sense, apparently leaves a message on Arnold’s answering machine detailing her undying love/stalkerness.
As I said, I was (and still am) an idiot.
Much like the story over at Hyperbole and a Half, I had managed to convince myself that if I went under the gas, I’d be so high that I’d start leaving messages for random people, word would get around and then… well, I don’t know. People would start thinking I wasn’t an ascetic or something. (I’m not kidding. I managed to confuse the hell out of someone when I asked them out on a date. She’d thought that I was completely uninterested in anyone in a romantic way.) The point is, I managed to confuse myself into thinking that life followed the track of cartoons yet again (bad news when I was a kid – I really, really loved Rocko’s Modern Life) and that everything I held secret would come crashing out in a torrent of embarrassment.
As my Mom drove me to the dental surgeon’s office in Murfreesboro, I drilled it into my head that a) I wasn’t going to say anything; b) I’d communicate to my Mom that she was going to disregard anything I did say as the ravings of a madman; and c) damn it, I wasn’t going to say anything. Even in the waiting room, as I sat freaking out when someone came out of the operating room screaming her head off, mouth bandaged and crying, I was subconsciously drilling it into my head that I wasn’t going to say anything.
Walking down the hall as my time came, “Don’t say anything.”
Sitting down on the chair, “Don’t say anything.”
Then came the moment when one of the nurses said, “We’re going to put this mask on you. Count to three.”
I made it to one and then passed out. One of the many thoughts I had in the days that followed was that I really needed to get a hold of whatever gas they had pumping through that machine.
I regained consciousness as my Mom drove the car up the driveway to our house. I’d apparently been awake, just not aware. I slowly shook my head, drooled on myself, watched as the red-tinted drool fell onto my shirt, and murmured something.
“Yep,” my Mom responded. She reached over to the passenger seat and tapped on the notepad.
I could describe the notepad in depth, but I figured I’d do yet more homaging to Hyperbole and doodle something up in Paint – because, frankly, the drool-covered serial killer’s note that was the legal pad needs to be seen and not talked about.
I nodded in the car. The drilling had done its job. I wrote “What did I say” again, slightly more legibly, and shoved the notepad under my Mom’s eyes. She sighed. “I can’t read that, Aaron,” she said, reaching over and unbuckling my seat belt.
I opened the car door and tumbled out, somehow making it up to my room while my Mom prepared what I can only describe as what would become my blood-and-saliva basin. It wouldn’t be until the next day, when the drugs had finally worn off and I was sucking down Jell-O cups like they were water, that the real horror would make itself known.
The surgeon prescribed pain killer suppositories.
I’m going to repeat that for dramatic effect, laced with profanities. The surgeon, the bastard, prescribed suppositories as my pain killers, the rat bastard, no good, shit-kicker. I didn’t realize the import of what this meant the first time I looked at the pill and saw that it was too large to swallow, and had a strange coating on it, as if it were a melting piece of wax chipped off of a candle. And then, my Mom, running late for work an hour away, came up to me, frantic, and said, “Honey, do you want me to do this?”
That’s when it hit me, what the mamzer had done to me. He’d basically made me the equivalent of a Torah-times leper. The difference being that most people wouldn’t know the horror of what I had to experience twice a day, twelve hours apart, or in the wake of meals. No, I’d live with this shame living in the back of my head, burrowing in there like the bugs from Wrath of Khan.
I mean, come on. The surgeon had a Jewish name. He had to have read the Talmud. There has to be something about this in the Talmud. I’m sure there’s some rabbi in there that says something to the effect that, “God would not like it if you stuck medicine up your tuches.” Right? Is that the Jewish approach to suppositories?
So, anyway, that’s how I wound up getting screwed by medicine when I should have been having a blast popping pills and laughing way too much at Nick at Night.
But the fun doesn’t end there, oh no. I’m sure you, Dear Reader, if you’ve had your wisdom teeth taken out, had to deal with the horrible feelings of cotton balls in your mouth all day every day. And then there’s the thought running through your head, “What if I don’t stop bleeding? I know a guy who has that thing where you can’t stop bleeding. I’ve got blood wells in my mouth – no way those’ll stop bleeding. Dear God, I’m going to bleed myself dry here.” The thinking becomes more frantic as the bloody cotton balls pile up in the waste paper basket by the side of your bed, and you wake up with the taste of blood in your mouth, wondering when it’s time to take your coagulants so you can have a brief reprieve from this red Hell and go back to watching Monty Python movies.
As if this weren’t enough, my friends decided to be considerate. Well, I should rephrase that. A couple friends and one of their girlfriends decided to be considerate. They chose a day about three days after the surgery, when they thought I’d be well on the way to normal-person mode again, and decided to drop by and see how I was doing. They chose this, of course, after a meal. My Mom did not know that I was finished eating, and, as I heard footsteps and familiar voices ricocheting off the walls, I shouted, “No! Mom! No! I just finished eating!”
“Hey Brad!” My mom shouted, louder than I had. “Come here and look at this guitar I got from my Dad!”
A horrible occurrence narrowly avoided, a few minutes later my friends came up and we chatted about how much it sucked to be out of it for a few days. It came up that one of them had their wisdom teeth taken out and were fine to go out to a party that night, and I may or may not have told them to “Fuck off.” (I say may not because, back then, I didn’t use the f-bomb like it was a comma.)
But soon, in a couple of days, long after I’d worn out Blockbuster’s copy of Monty Python and The Holy Grail, my Mom and I decided to test the waters of how much I’d recuperated by going to Taco Bell. The thought was that if I could eat a taco without the blood wells opening up and ruining a shirt, a taco, some napkins, and a dining experience, then I was set to go and could return to my normal routine of scripting comics at Starbucks with Brad and Barton.
We ordered food.
We sat down.
I ate the shit out of that taco.