Monday, July 23, 2012


I had a root canal today.  If you've read my prior posts, or my FB, you know I have a phobia of root canals because of a traumatic experience in my teens.  I won't go into that here.

What I will go into is how, I think, I digressed from root canal phobia to root canal general nervousness.

First and foremost, I have a beloved God that cares for me and works all things for my good.  He had a purpose for this experience, and now I know it was to help get me over my paralyzing fear.  If events hadn't happened the way they did, I wouldn't have won over the fear - I'd still be terrified of root canals.

Second, I had prayer warriors seeking peace for me, including my mother and mother-in-law, and some wonderful friends on Facebook.  My thanks to y'all.  I'm thoroughly convinced that this appointment would have turned out different than it did without you.

Taking those into account...

Needles make me nervous, so you can imagine every time I have to have one stuck inside my gums, I get rather anxious, gripping the chair arm and such.  However, when the initial pinch and feeling of something stuck where it shouldn't be have faded, I'm cool with the poking and drilling and trimming.  Mostly.  I'm always on the lookout for pain, in case I need to ask for more Novocaine.

Today, I got not one, not two, but FOUR different injections.

First one was like a normal filling injection.  No real problem there, except I anticipated the pain, and could feel myself shaking slightly as he pulled the needle out.  For some reason, I thought it was a reaction to the Novocaine.

Second one went right next to the affected tooth.  Not too bad there; t'was a bit uncomfortable for a second or two, but we moved past it.

Third one went all the way back, pretty near the first, and I didn't feel a thing for the initial few seconds, but then all of a sudden I felt a HUGE owwie twinge, short-lived, but that sucker triggered a nasty jolt of adrenaline.  My neck and shoulders seized up into a big ball of knotted muscle, my jaw started twitching, much akin to chattering, and I hyperventilated.  The endodontist and his assistant were very nice, very kind, coaching me through breathing, and gently telling me to "relax my shoulders" every ten seconds.  The pain was gone by that point, but I was still in the middle of a panic attack.

Between a couple of, "You're okay.  Relax your shoulders,"  I heard Dr. Pena quietly ask his assistant why I didn't go with the nitrous oxide.  I didn't hear her response.  I started asking myself if it was too late to request it.

They gave me about twenty minutes to "numb up" completely, during which time I cowered in the bathroom silently sobbing my little eyes out.  There's something about terror that dominates everything, making encouraging self-talk nearly impossible.  I could only manage, "Oh God, I'm so scared," over and over.

A few times, I thought I had gotten control of myself, but then I turned toward the door, toward everything that lay beyond it, and I started crying again.  If I sat down, my leg would start doing that rapid nervous bobbing all on its own.

A knock at the door prompted me to clean myself up in a hurry.  Other folks needed a place to hide.

I walked back to my operating station (as they call it now), but I couldn't sit down again.  I kept pacing and pacing, full of nervous energy, mentally muttering things like, "I'l be fine.  I'll be fine.  I'm good.  It's like a filling.  Yeah, it's like a filling; I'm good with fillings.  I'm good.  This'll be fine.  I'm okay.  Get it together, Carol.  Fight or flight - change it to fight.  Bring it.  Bring it!  Oh God..."
Somewhere in there I managed to sit down, and I started reminding myself that I had so many people praying for me right then, and that God would protect me from evil, that this doctor wasn't the evil one from thirteen years ago.  It's a different doctor, different office, different place.  IT'S NOT THE SAME, CAROL!

It's not the same, honey.  Breathe.  Deep breath in, relax your shoulders, exhale.  Deep breath in...

By the time Dr. Pena and his assistant got back, I had composed myself; I could even say I was tolerably cheerful.  I did, however, hold on to a wad of facial tissue, just in case I needed something to grip uncontrollably.

Dr. Pena gave me the fourth numbing injection at that point, which I didn't feel.

I'm happy to say he numbed me up really, really well.  There was one time I felt a twinge.  It didn't hurt, really, but I still felt it, and I told him.
You know the first thing he did?  He put his drilling tool down and said, "Okay, let's give you a bit more."
"Thowwy," I sighed (which is "Sorry" with a mouth full of protective layer).
"Don't you worry about it," he replied.  "We want to make sure you're feeling fine."  And he gave me a short injection right inside my tooth.  Buh-bye twinge.

It was like my entire body lost tension.  I felt like I could breathe, that the knotted muscles in my neck let go, and even my legs and arms relaxed to their natural position.  I also felt very sorry for that wad of facial tissue...

And let me tell you, holding that much tension for so long is EXHAUSTING.  I wanted to take a nap for a few minutes.  The muscle constriction came and went, but for a majority of the time, I just laid there, staring up at the TV on the ceiling, mostly focused on the movie I picked out to watch (Star Trek, of course).  I would occasionally take a deep breathe and just sigh from relief.

And I'm pretty sure Dr. Pena noticed the difference, too.  He had to tell me to open wider a few times, when my jaw slacked a little too much.

Thinking back, I didn't calm down so much because I didn't feel any pain (after the injections), but because Dr. Pena stopped immediately what he was doing to give me more Novocaine, or whatever it was.  It was that moment that snapped the terror for me.  I realized that my fear wasn't of the root canal procedure itself, but of being at the mercy of a tyrant, and Dr. Pena's simple response reassured me more than if I had used Nitrous oxide to ensure I didn't care if it hurt.  This man was NOT the same wacko that tortured me in my teens.  This was not the same office, not the same location, and not the same situation.  I didn't have to be afraid.

Thank God.

I'm sure that if I have to have this procedure done again, I'll get nervous - really nervous.  But if I can go to Dr. Pena again, I'm confident I won't have nearly the reaction I did today.  Knowing how a root canal is supposed to feel (ie: nothing), and knowing my endodontist is a kind man who wants to help me, will greatly reduce my stress level.

So, as I said on FB:  Dr. Pena = Best.  Endodontist.  Ever.


1 comment:

  1. Crazy. I also was in the dentist chair yesterday to get a temporary crown. Fortunately not going through a root canal, which I've had once before. I have only ever had one bad dental experience, and it was bad because the doctor did a terrible job with the filling, and not because of torture or pain. I imagine all the positive experiences, of which I have had far too many (fillings that is), have helped me to get through each visit without too much pain or tension. I hope your positive experiences at the dentist continue.