Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Kind of Pain I Don't Enjoy

I woke up Thursday morning know thing that I was going to Seoul, that I had to make an early train, and that I would be attending a meeting. All of these things were fine and well. What I did not know was that when I woke up Thursday morning I would be in for hosting the toothache to end all toothaches. I felt it as soon as I moved out of bed and knew immediately that it was my wisdom tooth. I thought about it while showering and dressing, decided it wasn't quite as bad as all that and went to my meeting.

At the meeting it got worse but I plodded on and then went out to eat with my good friend. Eating in Seoul meant Mexican so I was very excited. Until I started to try to eat and the food did not taste good. This was not because the food was bad this was because the act of chewing was causing enough pain to conflict with any of the pleasure hitting my tongue. My thought to myself at this point was “fuck” my thought following this was “double fuck”. My final thought after lunch was “I'm going to see the Klimt show and I don't care if my tooth hurts and then I'm going to go hang out with Xanrex and have a real good time tonight.” My lunch date packed me in a cab and kindly told the cab where to take me and a few minutes later and a few won lighter I got out at the Seoul Art Center. By now my jaw was really throbbing but I was determined to have a good time.

The show was of course exquisite and did manage to keep my mind occupied for two hours but the pain was persistent and building. I realized that I was walking with my mouth half open because it hurt to close my teeth. I knew I was in trouble. When I left the show around five I decided that having a real good time would be getting back to Daegu and getting the bottle of Ambosol I knew I had stashed in Korea for emergencies. You cannot by Ambosol in Korea, you also can't get Chloreseptic or other fun things that numb out pain in the body. That is because when Koreans are in pain they go to a doctor. Medical care being affordable and the response time being quick there is not reason for over the counter remedies that take your mind of your illness. Instead they prefer to actually treat things here. Which is all fine and well unless you have a massive toothache and just want some immediate relief.

I called Xanrex from the train explained what happened and then happily completely passed out for the two hour ride to the 'Gu where I ran to a cab, ran up the stairs, ran to the bathroom, and openly wept over the bottle of numbing pain relief. And to my shock and horror it did not work. It numbed me out alright but I could still feel the pain. Indeed the pain started to get worse.

Being an American I decided to see what would happen with some wine and some sleep. The wine to take the edge off, the sleep to hopefully give the tooth time to heal up. I have wisdom teeth on both side of my lower jaw. I have not had them removed because it would be difficult. The one on my right side never bothers me. The one on the left flares up occasionally because there is a small flap of skin that it never broke free of and allows for the occasional inflammation. I'm used to this, particularly if I've been eating something like popcorn. In general a night of sleep and a hot tea bag will be more than enough to sort it all out and I wake up right as rain.

The next morning I woke up in pain. I still wanted to ignore it as not happening and so for about ten hours I worked, got other things done, made a shirt, and tried to forget that my mouth was killing me. At five o'clock on Friday night I knew that I needed a Doctor fast. The pain had gone from low level “kill me” to mind numbing “please remove the lower half of my face or my brain whichever will provide more relief”. At that point I did not have a dentist but the roommate did so a few minutes later I was out of a cab and up do a doctor I had never met.

Health care in Korea: Five o'clock on Friday night, no calls, no referrals. I walk in present my health card, fifteen minutes later I'm in the dentist chair and he is looking into my mouth telling my wisdom tooth is infected. I tell him I know this. He tells me I should have it remove. I explain that it can't be removed.

The problem is the tooth that likes to cause all the trouble has curved roots that have grown rather stubbornly together. Sort of like a claw that is just holding on in my mouth. To get the tooth out it would first need to be broken off, and then the roots extracted separately. Frankly I'd prefer not to have anyone break of anything in my mouth, thank you very much. I explained all this to the Dentist. He smiled and said I should get an X-ray because it might not be as bad as all that.

At this point all I wanted was a shot of some Novocaine but instead I got an assistant taking me over for the x-ray. She needed to put the plate in my mouth but I was having trouble opening it enough and the first one was no good. I told her to take her time, it was going to hurt either way so let's do it right and the second one turned out fine. As I was walking back to the dentist chair I noted that you could see the tooth all the way from the hall and the roots were quite clearly and distinctly curved together in a jaw lock of doom. I sat down in the chair and sighed. Two minutes later I heard the maniacal and what can only be described as sadistic cackling of the Dentist as he laughed on his way back into the room seeing my tooth projected. He sat down still laughing and then paused, wiping tears from his eyes, saying “Oh yes, that's a real problem. It's going to hurt like hell to get it out. When do you want to do it?”

I thought about this for a second. “Yeah. I'm not.”

Actually after he finished doubling over in laughter at my pain he made the best suggestion I've ever heard. My jaw is big enough to support the extra teeth so I don't need to have them removed necessarily. Instead I could have the small piece of gum that is over my wisdom tooth removed instead and see if that doesn't stop the problem. That was a genius suggestion and one that I will take him up on as soon as the pain in my mouth stops.

He gave me a prescription for the infection that included some pain relief things. I asked for a shot of Novocaine and he told me I would be fine once I got the prescription in me and told me to take some Tylenol if I was still in pain later. I prayed that whatever he had written out for me was enough because I was already taking a lot of Tylenol and it was not helping. Total cost of emergency visit to dentist, x-ray and drugs 15 dollars.

I popped the pills on the walk home still feeling awful but was pleasantly surprised when thirty minutes later I felt like I could live again. I was still sore but less mind crushingly sore. The pills wore off exactly five hours later. I made myself suffer the two extra hours to midnight so I could get some sleep. I woke up promptly at 5:30 am with a mouthful of exquisite pain. Right now as soon as the drugs wear off I know it because this pain is just not quitting. Last night I managed to sleep about three extra hours which must mean I am getting somewhat better, but it still hurts like a constant reminder of indestructible wisdom tooth.

In the meantime I cannot get the sound of his cackling laughter out of my head. It reminds me of Dave Shiner in the Little Shop of Horrors as the insane sadistic dentist taking psychotic joy in the destruction he would bring down on an unsuspecting victims jaw. For those of you not familiar with the amazing work of Dave Shiner I will leave you with this.

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