Nobody ever really likes dentists, and most of us are really afraid to go to one. I never had that fear growing up, or rather, that fear was lifted from me the second time I went to a small dentist practice that was near my school when I was growing up.
Now, the first time I went there, and I was six or seven at the time, my memory is a little murky on the exact date, said visit resembled more or less the scene in Total Recall, where Arnold Schwarzenegger is on the chair, and three people are necessary to keep him there. In my case it was just one, but... it was a female assistant who had the weight equivalent of a World Wrestling champion, and even she had trouble holding down that spazzy kid in the chair long enough for the dentist, a delightful old lady, to look at my mouth. There was some serious kicking and thrashing involved, all of which surely made my Mom extremely embarrassed, you know, the way moms can be when their children behave like retards in public.
Anyway, after I had grown weary of fighting, I had my first tooth pulled, a milk tooth, and it didn't hurt, and the old lady dentist smiled at me and said, "now, that wasn't too bad, was it?" And it hadn't been. Ever since then I was no longer afraid... of that very particular dentist.
Now, as I said, she was an old lady, and when she retired, her son took over the practice, and he was her son, okay? That made him good in my book. And I went to him, every six months, for my check-ups, all the time I was in high school and through the German portion of my student time.
In 1996 I went to the US to study there, and after a final check-up, just to be sure... I went over there, to the land of the free, the brave... and the un- or underinsured. But not me. I had a student health insurance from Germany that would reimburse everything. Just in case, you know. And how would you know it? Turned out that my wisdom was too much for my jaw, as a wisdom tooth came out badly, or rather, didn't want to properly come out at all. What to do? What the hell to do? I was 8,000 kilometres away from the only guy I trusted, but the wisdom tooth had to be extrated, and it had to be extrated now, so with more pain than one can imagine, I went to see a dentist in Columbia, Missouri. Turned out that the wisdom tooth had to be surgically removed, and that had to be done under anasthesia. I woke up after it, with a massive bleeding in my jaw – and I don't remember much of the week that followed. I do remember one thing. While I was still completely out of it, I signed the bill at the counter of the dentist practice, paid with my credit card. If somebody had given me a subprime mortgage to sign, hell, I would have signed that too. But here's what I do remember. The dentist had fucked up, and badly. The gaping hole in my jaw wouldn't close, and what was worse, it went all the way down to the connecting nerves in the jaw... the expressway straight into your brain. Even on three vicodin a day the pain didn't stop. It became worse. Hello, brain, what do we have here? Oh, let me just play with those delightful nerve clusters some more.
I screamed a lot, I remember that. I cried out of pain. I remember that. And when I was so doped up on vicodin that I couldn't speak English anymore (but still thought I did)... I scared the living hell out of my then-girlfriend, or so I was told. Like I said, there's a week and a half of my life that I only have limited memories of.
The wound took over three months to heal. And there it was, forever after that. A complete panic to even see a dentist. Especially since my jobs took me away from my hometown, living in Edinburgh, Munich, Nuremberg (where a dentist I did visit once told me that he needed to surgically extract that other wisdom tooth, but hey, let's wait until the full moon, because that will make the surgery more organic, and no, I shit you not, that's what he said. Nobody has ever seen a man run so fast out of a dentist practice).
And when things became – as they always do – finally unbearable, my Mom told me that the grandson of my old lady dentist had taken over the practice. Said grandson and me, we were in the same grade in high school. We were never friends, merely polite passing each other by on the schoolyard, and for some reason I had never even made the connection between him and his grandmother. It's just the way these things go, I guess. He was a guy I went to school with. A decent guy. But since I was somewhat of a loner in high school, never quite fitting in anywhere, not somebody who had particularly stuck in my mind.
However, my mom said he was really, really good, better than his Dad, better than his grandmother, and so I went down from Nuremberg to my home town specifically to see him. And he did it. Didn't even give me the full coma as the American dentist had done, nope, and he even explained why. The full coma actually hurts the chances to have the wound heal quickly, and so I went to him, and he did an extraordinary job, and even though it hurt during the process, I trusted him.
Why am I writing about all of this? Because I had to go see him today, and he did something for me he didn't need to do. That 9 out of 10 people wouldn't do. Because he was kind and compassionate. And no, I am not going to say what it was, but what I will say is that it gave me back something that just a few days ago I had lost completely. It gave me back my faith. I was ashamed that he saw me the way I was, and I was grateful for what he did, but the shame and embarrassment will pass, and the gratitude will remain, and I wish we had been more than politely passing by through our high school years.
Thank you... is not even enough.