May 26th, 2006
Perio yesterday morning. A back tooth had to come out and a patch of skin was being stripped from my palate for transplanting to the lingual surface of my lower gums.
There’s two places I don’t appreciate reality — TV and dentistry. I asked Dr. M. to crank up the nitrous. When I dip into savings to the tune of $4,450 for two hours of stabbing, sawing, scraping, and stitching, I don’t want to think about the money, the discomfort, or the shitty art on the walls. I want to look up at that big bright lamp and see salvation, or a throbbing space vehicle. And that resonant tooth and bone cracking, that keening of the teensy skil saw — let it be John Cage. A strange and wondrous opera can play in my skull, but it requires a generous dose of analgesic.
Doctor M. is a great periodontist, but I don’t think he understands people who like to get high. I quit drinking and drugging twenty-eight years ago, but when I consider myself to be in legitimate drug-taking circumstances (i.e. medical procedures) I try to make up for lost inebriation. Yesterday morning was one of those times.
Thirty minutes into the session I asked if the nitrous was on. “For God’s sake, Fred, I’ve got you at fifty percent.” Dr. M. brandished a hose impressively and said they’d recently installed this whole new system. He’d checked it out himself — dialed it up to fifty percent. It got me plenty loopy, he said as though his drug threshhold was common to all humankind. He mentioned another dentist — a mutual acquaintance — “It even got Dr. X. going pretty good.” By that, I was to understand Dr. X. was a true connoisseur.
“I can’t help it, Dr. M., I’m feeling nothing.” He sighed and elevated it to sixty percent. Clearly, it was an effective blast because soon, during a bout of furious sawing, smoke was billowing from my mouth. But all I paid attention to were the G.I. Joe-sized smokejumpers landing on my bib, marching in tandem towards my mouth, a firehose snaking over their shoulders. Soon, the blaze was out. Now that’s altered consciousness.
But only a few minutes later the prying, pulling. and gouging seemed real again. Nitrous had slipped below the threshhold. Naturally, I mentioned it. “Okay, you got me, Fred. I was trying an experiment. I dropped you back to fifty percent because I’m trying to find the sweet spot.” “You had it at sixty, doctor.” But he wasn’t quite hearing me. He said, “I think fifty-five percent will be just about perfect.”
It brings to mind a mother’s warning: “Put your sweater on, dear, I’m chilly.”
I don’t like that I’m unmoved by reasonable levels of controlled substances. I hate having anything in common with Rush Limbaugh. One of the most reassuring things I heard when I first got sober was another ex-drinker/drugger say, “I always felt I was born a quart low.” I identified entirely. Using that perspective, fifty percent nitrous is my baseline.
Before the Memorial Day weekend is over it’s important that we all learn a little bit more about N2O because it’s Molecule of the Month, and nobody knows what June will bring.