Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Book in Titles Only

The Chainsaw Handshake

Chapter 1: Nosegreaser
Chapter 2: The Social Circles of Power Plugs
Chapter 3: If Your Mother Was Alive to See This
Chapter 4: Gestation in Germany
Chapter 5: Trigger: Finger
Chapter 6: Awash with Discourse
Chapter 7: When Chorus Girls Malfunction
Chapter 8: The Ink from a Printer Runs Through Him Now
Chapter 9: A Warm Blanket; A Cancer on the Evening Wind
Chapter 10: Mixerfixer
Chapter 11: House-guests of the Devil Proper
Chapter 12: Time Zones Used to Mean Something Around Here
Chapter 13: Enter Now The Bludgeoner
Chapter 14: An Ungrateful Pulp
Chapter 15: The Prevailing Wound

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Voluptuousness of Air

I have medical phobia. It's not all aspects of medicine, it's certain things, like needles and dentists. I don't know where it started, it just sort of snuck up on me over the years. As long as I've been alive I've been hearing about my father's intense fear of needles- how he avoids all treatments that involve injections, how when he was young it took four or five orderlies to hold him down so the doctor could work. I can't say that I've ever enjoyed being poked and dissected but it certainly was never on the level my father is on. But something about those constant stories might have planted a seed.

As part of the hoop-jumping my job at the bank required before they'd hire me, bloodwork and a drug test were on the menu. Being trusted with money, it was important I had good credit, good health and a virgin bloodstream. Luckily this kind of virginity is the kind that resets with time.

I showed up at my closest laboratory with an empty stomach. This is already a losing battle with me, since I have some blood sugar issues. What I mean by that is I get hungry. A lot. Every couple of hours alot. And if I try to ignore it long enough I'll get a flushed face and become a real bastard. I don't even know it's happening, I just suddenly find myself getting worked up about something that's not really an issue. Arguing. Attituding. It's not easy to identify what's causing it because at the time it's genuinely how I feel. The connection between sugar and anger is not an obvious one.

So I showed up and they stuck me. They pricked my arm so they could plunge blood from it. I looked away because it wasn't something I really wanted to watch, but beyond that I didn't need to be held down or anything like that. I've done it before. No big deal.

The woman taking my blood asked my turned-away face: "Are you okay?"

"Fine. Why?"

"You look white."

"I guess I feel a little light-headed."

I'm fairly certain this is what I said. I don't know for sure because at this point I had stopped seeing. My vision had gone dark and I was only aware of sporadic voices doing their best to help keep me sitting up, or whatever it is you do for a person in this situation. At one point I felt as if my bowels were going to unleash hell and I consider it an act of pure skill that I was able to reel them back in. I never actually lost consciousness, but I did toy with the idea.

When I was able to see again I was fed water and noticed how frigid the air was on my body. When my eyes were closed someone had come along and coated my whole body with sweat. Which seemed a rude thing to do. I was told later that my fainting-without-fainting inadvertently exposed a pregnancy. Not mine of course, but one of the nurses. When they were certain I was about to explode with vomit (not likely, I'm vomit-resistant to dangerous levels), a nurse had to suddenly excuse herself from the room due to her already nauseous state. It was the first time she'd admitted she was pregnant to anyone at her job- all because of the needle phobia I didn't realize I had. Oh, but I had it now. The seed had been planted in my childhood and now had become a tree, complete with shaking leaves.

Until recently, I hadn't been to the dentist in seven or eight years. I wish I could say I'm one of those lucky ones with strong teeth who never gets cavities and this is why I haven't gone, but the opposite is true. My teeth are, as far as I'm aware, made of tracing paper. Bad teeth run in my family. Weak enamel. Misaligned, little things with a tendency to fail, and fail hard.

So I more than anyone should have been going to the dentist regularly. Not just regularly but frequently. Dutifully. The problem here is me. Me, but not me. See I brush religiously. I use mouthwash and all that. The thing is I was scared off the whole thing by my childhood dentist, a man who for me is some representation of The Devil. A man who shoved a thousand needles into my mouth but somehow never seemed to numb it enough to stop the pain. A man who ignored anything I said because I was a child. A man who told me a tooth was ready to come out so I should just signal him if he should stop pulling and when the pain started I waved at him and he kept right on going, and when the pain was excruciating I made sounds with my throat and writhed in the leather seat, but he kept on going. A man who ripped a tooth out of my jaw under poorly-applied Novacaine and didn't give a fuck when it felt like exactly that. I was a child, and it took a lot for me to wait until I got to the car to lose my shit.

I'm not complaining. I'm not looking for sympathy. But fuck that guy. Fuck that fucking guy.

So when I got married and moved out from my parents' house, one of the first things that stopped was the dentist. No one was going to force me to go? I wasn't going. Even when part of my mouth felt a little sensitive, I didn't go. Even when I bit a potato chip and the crunch was way, way too loud and accompanied by pain and I looked in the mirror and found a tooth had split apart, I didn't go. Year after year my mouth fell apart and I just readjusted how I chewed and kept on living. I didn't go. Then one day the left side of my neck felt a little strange. The day after that I had what felt like a hard ping pong ball growing inside. I knew I needed a doctor this time, no way around it, and besides I couldn't see them needing to use any needles or anything. The doctor took a look and said it was likely caused by an infection. I told him to look in my mouth and when he did, he strongly recommended I go to the dentist. Now I had to go. So I did.

And by the way, one of the major ironies at work here is that I personally find science and medicine to be incredibly interesting. I worked in a supplement store for seven years. I watch television shows about medical oddities. I get into conversations concerning illnesses. It even sneaks into the things I write fairly often. This here is such a case. But this seems to be controlled by a seperate part of the brain, and the only thing I can do to bolster myself in times like these is try to reintroduce these two parts.

Left side? Meet right side. Or maybe it's: fascinated intellect? Meet pounding heart.

A few hours later a dentist with bad skin but an understanding demeanor was standing over me, wiping his forehead and saying um every few words. I had to explain to him that what he saw was fear-based. I'd been scarred. He understood my phobia and assured me it was incredibly common, and this came across as a combination of comforting and belittling. But ultimately, I appreciated that he heard me when I talked. I was not a child; I had a voice. He ordered a full set of xrays and then I was putting my head into a machine that studied me like a fascinated alien, and then I was back in the chair and the dentist was showing me pictures of my skull and saying um some more. Then we set up my next appointment.

By the time it came around, the dentist had changed his schedule to the point where I couldn't see him. They switched me to another doctor and this meant that once again I, a full-grown man, would have to explain to another full-grown man that I was afraid.

I tell him, "If you can use that sweet air stuff it would really help."

"Not a problem," he says. "Have you ever had it?"

"No." This is easier than explaining that my former dentist preferred to do his ripping undulled.

"Most people don't know what to expect. Mainly it helps you to relax. Some get a little high. We'll still need to numb the area because it doesn't stop you from feeling things, it just stops you from, you know...caring."

We laugh nervously.

"That's exactly what I want to stop doing," I assure him. I'm barely done saying it when a nurse slips something over my face. It's as fast as garrote wire in spy hands. As it turns out, it's a tube and a small breather, fixed over my nose.

The dentist tells me they'll start off light since I've never had it before and don't know how I'll react to it. He says, "You're a big guy so we may need to up the dose," and he gestures to my monstruous legs.

He turns and begins to prepare his death tools. I lay there and entirely forget how to breathe naturally. Is it in through the nose, out through the mouth? Is it short inhales or long ones? The simplest, most automatic act of life is to me now a doubting game. Along with that I find myself taking the first-time-user drug census- how do I feel? Is time distorted? Can I move my feet? Is everything...funnier?

He smears my gums with a gel and instantly they feel like floppy rubber. I feel panic set in. This thing is around my nose and I don't like it. It cuts me off from my mouth. I can't see it. Maybe that's a good thing, though, maybe I don't want to see it. But I feel suffocated. Trapped. I want out. I want out of this tube and this chair. I want this dentist away from me or I'll grab one of his tools and hostage-crisis my way out of this cursed, muzak-filled dungeon.

That's the moment when I realize something pretty interesting. Panic: it's kind of hilarious. We, and especially I, spend so much time scared of this thing and that thing, but it's all just what it is. I have a mouth with teeth in it. The dentist has a stomach that's growling for food four inches from my ear. It's late and he's probably hungry. It's all just what it is.

"How's that sweet air treating you," he asks.

"I'm feeling distant," my mouth says. It's on the other side of the tube which to my measurement is ten-billion miles away from my nose. "I'm, you know...high."

He and my mouth laugh at each other. Then he starts to work. I notice how the light fixture looks like the pupil of a tremendous eye peeking in through the ceiling. I listen to the Nitrous machine and pay attention to the two, distinct sounds it makes. Slowly I make the connection that the sounds are my inhalations and exhalations. This is my breathing, audible for all. I slow it down if only because the sound is hypnotic.

At one point the dentist picks up a new tool, leans over me and says, "Now, this is going to make dust in your mouth." It may be one of the greatest things I've ever been told as pure fact. Nothing dressed up. No lies. It's all just what it is. It makes me realize what this man is capable of. He says a dozen more things just like this, with all the weight and directness his profession demands. I struggle to remember them all for later but they keep slipping away. The only one that sticks is when he asks the nurse, "Is this machine causing an odor?" and she tells him no, that someone burnt the popcorn. This seems to me a stroke of genius.

There are awful smells at times. There is the splashing of water, the drilling of teeth, the hot push of fillings being applied. The usual atrocities. They just seem now like things happening to someone else, someone I don't particularly care about. I'm more interested in how if I concentrate just the right way I can imagine that my fingers start at my elbows. Whenever things start to get rough and I'm aware of what's happening to me, I just breathe in deeper through my nose to get more of the air.

When he's done he switches the mixture over to oxygen and lets me breathe for a while. Clarity comes back. I stand when he tells me to, but I still feel like I'm drifting. I feel the surreal calmness that makes me wish I could walk around with this tube on my face, wish we all could and we'd be having intense conversations from light years apart, and whenever things got bad you could just breathe deeply through the nose.

Having a bad day at work? Breathe in deeply through the nose. Get into an argument with your parents? Breathe in deeply through the nose.

I wash my mouth out and I spit. I look down at the chair. It's just leather, that's all. He tells me I was the perfect patient. I tell him the drugs were all the difference. I ask him if he wants me to sit down again and he says no, we're done. It seems to me almost a shame.

I'm not saying I'm cured, but maybe the solution to medical phobia is more medical. Different but the same medical. Like how snake venom is also anti-venom. On the other hand, this might just be the Nitrous talking.