Or cut bait

fishingtoolsIt’s Monday morning. I’m attempting to bond with my periodontist, the man who’s about to make my mouth his personal construction site. He answers that he’s Persian. A couple of years after the Shah fell, his family fled Iran for Canada. He and his brother were teenagers; their father wanted to keep them out of military service during the bloody war between Iran and Iraq. The periodontist doesn’t volunteer this information–I inquire. He’s a man of few words.

When I ask him why he decided to go into periodontics, he says he liked the idea of being able to take tissue from one place and put it somewhere else. He’s referring to the “harvest,” which is followed by the graft. The former process requires multiple injections of novacaine after the good periodontist’s chatty assistant has swabbed the area with a local.

The assistant has three kids and is about to begin nursing school. A hard working gal who’s grown weary of disloding blood-blackened gauze and suctioning spit.  Fortunately for me, she’s still good at her job.

I’m a tough patient. Tiny mouth, ultra senstive. I warn the doc and assistant of this. They’re unfazed; I’m one of many, a patient among patients, perhaps with more than your average amount of gum recession.

I ask the doc if he has kids.

“Just cats and dogs,” he says. 

They will do four areas of my mouth. Donor tissue will be used (don’t think about it), and palate tissue the doctor harvests with precision. I’ve been through this before. The periodonist looked like a lean George Clooney (small consolation) and used a technique passed down from the Middle Ages. My current guy,  who’s rounder in face and physique and has a softer touch, cuts a flap of skin and removes tissue underneath, then stitches up the flap. Healing, he promises,will be easier than with the old method.

He gets the tissue he needs from my palate.  I see one piece, dangling like bait from a curved needle and an off-white piece of thread. While he stitches the bait to my gums, the assistant chats away. This morning she took down the Christmas tree, her youngest one is clingy and driving her crazy.  The periodonist ignores her.

When he’s done one part, more injections. The disgusting metallic taste of novacaine in my throat makes me gag. Another graft in another area, then another with donor tissue. 

All the while, tools poke from my mouth like the utensils from the pottery jar on my kitchen counter. The assistant suctions, and suctions some more. My jaw is locked open, permanently. 

The assistant’s assistant comes into the room to tell the assistant she left her a voicemail this weekend. She wanted company to the outlet mall in Petaluma. The assistant sounds noncommital about the idea, as though she’s glad she didn’t pick up the phone. Maybe she’s not keen on fraternizing with coworkers.   

The bib I’m wearing is blood-speckled, and my mouth feels like a very busy construction site. James Frey in A Million Little Pieces has nothin’ on me.

While the doc sees another patient down the hall, I take a pee break, avoid looking in the mirror. I can’t help myself. I look like me, but with a slack mouth and an overall pained expression.  I want it to be next month, next year.

When I return to the chair the doc says he has one more graft to do.

“Could I take the Ibuprofin and Vicadin now?” I ask meekly.

The assistant hands over the requested drugs, which go down like warm maple syrup. I resettle into the chair, open my mouth. The doc puts bait to hook.


1 Comment »

  1. Steve McConnell said

    Lee….I knew you were a good writer….but this is amazing stuff. Should be mandatory reading for all doctors and assistants….awesome 🙂 Thanks for sharing

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