I was on my way to the dentist's office on a blustery afternoon when a woman stopped me. She asked me how to work the parking meter at which she was futilely staring.
For an instant I wondered if she was an alien, just coming to visit for the first time, but then I told her it took quarters, dimes or nickels. "How much does a quarter buy?" she asked, and I said, "12 minutes." She gave me a face. "Yeah, I know," I replied sympathetically, "and it used to be 15 minutes." She scowled again.
I tried to inch away, but she kept asking me questions. I finally said, "You know, if you park down there," pointing to under the Webster Street overhang a half a block away, "it's free." It's the best-kept secret on doctor's row, but you have to get there before 10 a.m.
I finally got away from her and went up to the dentist's office. Today, after two other appointments where he didn't have time to fix it, I was going to have the silver removed on one tooth that was bothering me, and a porcelain crown put in.
Dr. Cheung came in to give me the novocain shot. He asked me how I was. "I'm retired and it's baseball season!" I said with great enthusiasm. "Baseball, yes! Which team do you like, A's or Giants?" Dr. Cheung and I used to have these talks over 15 years ago in the early '90's when I first started coming to see him, but I could tell he didn't remember that. As his fingers were pulling my mouth open, I burped out "A's." Dr. Cheung went on for a few minutes about how arrogant the Giants were, always embroiled in controversy like steroids, and occasionally asked me questions I couldn't reply to because either his hands or a needle was in my mouth. Why do dentists do that?
He left me alone to read my paper, to let the novocain take effect. I knew it wasn't enough. It never is.
He came back after 20 minutes and started drilling the silver off the tooth. After just a few seconds, I felt a sharp pain and raised my hand. He drilled some more and I again raised my left hand. And I added a moan this time. He finally stopped and said, "Okay, we'll give you some more." He gave me three short shots of the stuff, but instead of waiting to let it take effect, went right back to drilling.
After moaning some more every few seconds, he put his hand on my shoulder and said there was a little spot where the novocain missed, but it'll be over soon. My mind flashed on the Dustin Hoffmann movie, The Marathon Man, where dental torture is the most notable scene. I never saw the movie, but felt I was living it now.
He was right, though. The torture didn't last long. Linda, the young dental assistant who warned me when something was about to happen ("I'm raising your chair..."), took an impression of my teeth with that soft gummy stuff that makes you want to gag. Actually, it wasn't an impression this time, but a new technique to put a temporary filling on the tooth -- at least it was new to me. She had to leave it in there for two minutes. She went to check on another patient, so I went back to my newspaper. I soon felt drops of drool gathering on my clean and perfect purple bib, so I grabbed the kleenex she had left for me to stop the rush of water. I couldn't feel my lips on the right side, so I didn't know it was happening until I saw the result.
My temporary filling in place, they freed me, and I stumbled to the counter so that I could pay the bill and make an appointment in two weeks for the new porcelain crown to be put on.
This particular appointment was the most painful I've felt in over 15 years of going to see Dr. Cheung. When I saw the bill for the porcelain tooth, I felt some additional pain.