Of oral health and medical paranoia
I finally faced one of my fears last week.
I had put off going to the dentist for two years because I believe my last visit had caused the once tiny sore in my inner right cheek to enlarge after being hit by the careless, I think neophyte, dentist I saw. In the past, I wrote about my hesitation to go to the doctor for either a consultation or medication. I’ve always thought either my mother or a traditional doctor could fix whatever bad I feel. But I know a dental appointment is necessary. I actually don’t fear the pain. What I don’t like is the expensive cost (especially that our company’s Health card only shoulders the basics) and the self-shame brought by the confirmation that I don’t have a very good set of teeth now. I sometimes blame myself for not taking care of my biters much when I was a child up to my teenage years when chocolates and junk snacks were the ultimate rewards for my achievements. Now, I have to face whatever dental nightmare I have.
And so I went to a clinic last week. I had the cleaning part, but I just wanted to know what the dentist would say about this pea-sized circle in the inner part of my right cheek. I had my guesses already since I had researched about it. I might already know what it is, but I need an expert’s words. He was not sure, he said. Great. I was tempted to relay to him all that I had read but I knew some medical people are annoyed with smart aleck patients. He said I have to undergo an x-ray, and then, maybe a surgical removal of the thing if the x-ray supports his guess. He also said I might already need dentures because he surmised the lack of bony support in some areas of my mouth could be causing the condition. Another great.
I was still hesitant to do his recommendations. First, I am skeptic about x-rays because of the effects of their radiation. Second, I am more skeptic about surgeries because they’re, well, surgeries. And so, my reading began. What I just wanted to get was something that would tell me that I should not worry about my worries. But of course, I would get both the “anti” and the “pro”, and what I got made me worry more. Great, again. I chose to trust one of the answers I got when I e-mailed a question about the effects of radiation from x-rays to a medical site especially that I also needed to get a chest x-ray the same week for work permit purposes. A doctor responded:
“I have received the question you sent to the American Association of Physicists in Medicine regarding your x-ray procedures. There are a couple of things to keep in mind. First, radiation from an x-ray source such as for your chest x-ray or the dental x-ray is localized just to the area that they are looking at. In this way, it works sort of like sunshine: you can only get a tan if the sun is shining on that part of the skin; the part that’s not exposed doesn’t get tanned. So there is no relationship between a chest x-ray and dental x-rays. Secondly, the dose from each one is actually so low that, if there is truly any risk at all, it is so small as to be completely dwarfed by any other daily risks or the natural occurrence of cancer. I hope this helps.”
With this disclaimer: “The opinions expressed in this message are the product of the gray and white matter loitering in my cranium. I speak for myself and no one else, unless I say otherwise.“
I went for the dental x-ray. I walked in without any thought or sign of nervousness or idea of how the test would be done. I thought it was just like the one that checks the state of your lungs wherein you’d be asked to take your top off and replace it with that ‘gown’, face a machine, breathe in for some seconds (which also makes me paranoid), breathe out, and wholla, done! But no. It was a moving x-ray machine! It was an x-ray robot! Not only that. I was like locked in the machine after I was asked to bite that rod-like thing, and then was told not to move while the machine does its thing seemingly extracting something from me or imprinting something in me, which made me think that if I did, either I or the machine would explode. I’m not exaggerating. Panic really crept into my brain when the machine started to warm up especially that the woman who prepared me for it left the small room I was in after she did her routinary tasks. What if something wrong happened, who would save me? What if I moved? What if that thing I saw in the movie Saw because of a similar machine happened to me (body shattered into pieces… and so, think hard whether you would let your child watch the movie)? To the machine’s dismay, my reflex moved me the moment the sound of the revolving thing entered my ears and started to deafen my system also causing my jaw to lock for some long seconds while my sane reasoning and utmost desire to be orally healthy tried to keep me from giving in to that black stillness that was starting to show not far from where I was standing at that point. I didn’t even have the chance to tell myself, “Think of happy thoughts. Think of happy thoughts.” I didn’t know FEAR could be that robotic monster with marking lights that would seep through the tiniest particles in one’s mind and eat the person’s sanity up if welcomed fully. With a little prayer, I was later successful to shut my door to it.
But you know what was even more “exciting”? I had to do the test again right after the first one. Agony, fear, panic, paranoia times two. The first one apparently didn’t show a clear result of the inside of my mouth. I mind-shouted at the woman. I don’t know why I was blaming here. But was the error caused by my accidental movement? I don’t remember if the woman responded to that query. The second time though I realized I just had to close my eyes. Soon (although it felt more like the opposite), the test was over, but still not in a smooth way. I had the confident thought the second time that I already knew the machine, and yeah, the fear it brings, but a part of the machine touched my shoulder when it was completing its 360-degree turn. I was scared that I had to do it again increasing my fear of dying from radiation. Thankfully, the radiologist said the film was already acceptably clear. A big sigh, not much of relief though because after the test, every sudden jerk with even only little pain my body created caused me to think, because of my radiation scare, that I was doomed.
This week, I went back to the dentist, who told me, based on the x-ray, that two teeth have to be extracted, that a surgery should be done for the lump (his hypothesis: a fibroma) that will then be sent for biopsy, and dentures should already be placed in the toothless areas of my mouth. Great, for the nth time. I am still young for this– dentures, that is. And can/do you kiss with them on? (Just asking.)
I did the first must-do. No fear and only little pain, and no thanks to the anesthesia since I felt the numbness after the extraction was over. I will never be in good terms with these technologies.
I know that I am somehow over reacting to this medical situation I am in right now. I have a 50+-year-old friend who underwent several operations already, and she seems perfectly fine. She was also one of my moral support in this. So I tell myself now that I really should worry less or not at all. Think of her. Think of Pi (even if he’s fictional). Think of the family in The Impossible (which I really want to write about but still haven’t). They all survived much more physical pain and scary predicaments; mine must be a needle prick compared to theirs even if I say it’s a prick from a huge needle because still, how dare me.
I will be back to the dentist for surgery next week. I am not afraid of the impending pain but of the thought of undergoing surgery. I’ll be doing it anyways because I do not want that thought to continue making me down and because I look forward to writing about how it’s successfully over.