Anyway, so there I was, upside down in the dentist’s office.
Okay, well, not really all that upside down. The dentist had tilted the chair back quite a bit to the point where my head really was lower than my feet — the better to work on my upper molar, which, he had discovered during my last appointment, had a large cavity. Large enough to verge on the point of almost needing a root canal. Almost, but not quite.
It’s December 18, and I’ve been waiting for this day for over a year. After all, today’s the day when The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers comes out in the theaters. It’s the day that fanboys like me (and fangirls like my wife) have been eagerly awaiting since the ending credits rolled across the screen for Fellowship of the Ring. The entire epic trilogy of The Lord of the Rings is filled with caves and volcanoes: the cave that Gollum hides in under the Misty Mountains; the Dwarven kingdom in the Mines of Moria; and, of course, the Pit of Doom that Frodo must throw the One Ring into in order to destroy it and save Middle Earth from destruction at the hands of the evil lord Sauron.
Much like my cavity, of course.
I haven’t had to have a cavity filled in years. I think I was in elementary school. And I think that the last time I had a cavity filled, I was young enough so that the dentist had decided to use gas instead of novacaine. This time, of course, I got the novacaine shot; as the dentist was inserting the needle, a bit of the novacaine dripped on to my tongue, which instantly went numb. I let the dentist know, mostly because I was amused and thought he might be too.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Now swallow it. That’ll feel really weird!”
I haven’t met a single dentist who isn’t chatty in some regard. They’re like the villains in a James Bond film: “Now before I subject you to intense pain, Mr. Bond, I’m going to clean out the bacteria in your cavity with this powerful miniature drill! Bwah ha ha haaaaaa!”
Yeah. My dentist is exactly like that.
I actually feel more comfortable, though, when I have such a dentist; at least I know what they’re doing to me.
“Okay,” he says, “this is going to hurt a little.” And here comes the drill. And since this cavity is so big, there some tissue and nerves and blood vessels perilously close to the opening. And so yes, it hurts. Two shots of novacaine and I’m still whimpering like a baby. Well, okay, I was braver than that.
And through all this I was thinking about The Two Towers. When I was a kid going to the dentist, I would get to pick a toy out of the treasure chest in the lobby for being brave. So when I was a kid, the thoughts of that toy — would it be a dinosaur? a truck? a spaceship? — would keep me going throughout the session. And this time, it was thoughts of the movie that kept my spirits high.
Yesterday we watched Fellowship of the Ring for the first time since the theaters. I am, as a nerd, a pretty weepy one; not only do I wince easily at pain in the dentist’s chair, I also come close to tears every time I see Gandalf’s death scene in that film. He’s led the Fellowship so far, through so many dangers, and you can see the anguish on Elijah Wood’s face when Gandalf utters his last words and lets go of the bridge to finish his battle with the Balrog. I find myself sharing in that anguish, and have to rub my face a bit and tell Jennifer that there’s something in my eye.
“Are you going to see the new Lord of the Rings movie?” the dentist asks me as he picks bits of decayed bone out of my cavity with a sharp needle.
I nod graciously and drool a bit.
‘Yeah, me too,” he says, adroitly sucking up the drool with a little suction tube. “I can’t wait. Oh, and have you seen the new trailer for Terminator 3?”
I didn’t know that there was a new trailer for T3. So I shake my head, and the hygeinist wipes the drool off her apron without a word. “Is it good?” I ask — “Ihh ihhh goooooh?” it comes out.
“Nah,” the dentist replies. “Looks pretty dumb. Like Rocky VI.”
I nod. It’s best not to dispute film with a man who’s putting a high-powered drill into your mouth so close to a nerve.
It’s over quickly, fortunately. I spit and rinse and feel around the tooth with my tongue. Doesn’t feel any different. My lips are numb and so is my tongue. Surprisingly, though, I can talk normally.
I meet Jennifer in the waiting room. She’d had an appointment this morning as well but didn’t have to go through the same torture; all she got was a bleaching kit. We spoke with the dentist and his hygeinist and the receptionist a bit more, and then we were off.
When all was said and done, the experience at the dentist’s office was not bad at all. The pain was bearable, after all; I just kept thinking about brave Frodo and how he perserveres through the evils of Middle Earth and the minions of Sauron to complete his quest and reach the pits of Mount Doom and toss the Ring in.
Pits of Mount Doom… the cavity in Richard’s mouth.
I knew that there was a connection. I just knew it.
The epilogue to my story is that the filling might have to come out in a couple of weeks. Ugh. Because it was so close to the nerve, there’s probably still some bacteria deep down inside that he wasn’t able to clean out without major pain. So part of the filling includes some sort of medication that will hopefully kill the bacteria and encourage the tooth to build up some new enamel so that it will remain intact. If it doesn’t work, I’ll need a root canal.
“How will I know if it doesn’t work?”
“Believe me,” the dentist told me, “you’ll know.”
So. Perhaps we will meet again.
And meanwhile, The Two Towers was a outstanding film, just as good (if not better) than the first. See it. See it now. It’s three hours long, but you’ll lose all track of time, just as I did. Though, of course, after my time in the dentist’s chair, it might have been mostly a matter of perception.