Not wise, nor long in the tooth |

Not wise, nor long in the tooth

Tom Boyd

The X-rays of my mouth appeared like a ghoulish skeleton on the oral surgeon’s light board. Four white, forked roots penetrated deep into the translucent flesh of my jaw – wisdom teeth, bound for removal, bound to cause me vexation and pain, bound to cause me more trouble in their absence than they ever had with their presence.

The X-rays were the last image in my mind before going under. I awoke to the strange sensation of scraping – or perhaps “jabbing” is a better word – as my surgeon lifted me half out of the operating chair. I imagine him with one foot planted squarely on my chest as he yanked with all his might on some portion of my now-shattered wisdom teeth.

Bless novocaine. The pain was simply not there.

I thought breifly of how strong the surgeon must be to lift me in the air like that, then I passed out again.

Then I learned a new term: “dry socket.” It’s not a term I wish I knew so much about. Since awaking from my narcotic slumber, I’ve been toying with the term in my mind.

Dry socket.

So descriptive, don’t you think?

The words are very interesting to think about in those long hours between midnight and sunrise, when sleep refuses to attend the party without bringing along its twisted cousin, the nightmare.

Dry socket.

I would prefer not to have a socket at all.

Dry socket.

Dry socket is a term with a cousin of its own: “exposed nerve.”

The two terms combine to create flashes of pain, like forks of lightning, through the teeth. The interior of my jaw has been an electrical storm of nauseating pain. Tooth pain. The worst sort. Always the best method of torture, I believe. If I’m ever sent to GITMO to get the most out of a known terrorist, I’ll be sure to bring my oral surgeon along.

In the midst of this painful and debilitating experience, I have devolved into a lethargic, bleeding, cantankerous movie critic. No adventurous, tough-guy stories from me. No games of basketball or peak ascents from this damaged corpus.

No, for me it’s been movies. About 13 of them. When under cranial duress, reading only happens in short bursts. Movies, on the other hand, help sustain that hazy, almost-sleeping state of mind which is, for some reason, so critical to recuperation.

Of the 13 movies I’ve seen this week, only two were any good, or worth recommending. The first is a shoe-in, a time-tested flick of high quality: 2010. A fine follow-up to Kubrick’s 2001.

The other, Vanilla Sky, was excellent – although probably not the recommended choice for anyone undergoing facial surgery (see the movie for more on that particular issue).

The combination of Vanilla Sky and oral surgery had me thinking about eternity, or our apparent lack of it here on earth. To say it more bluntly, I was thinking about death. Not just my own, but everyone’s eventual meeting with the master of the dark scythe. The world of the living, like it or not, is a world of the ephemeral, and only otherworldly promises give us hope for something more lasting.

In Vanilla Sky, science provides us with a sort of alternative – a long dream, a long sleep which can be filled with all the passions of life and more.

I’m skeptical, however. The main reason for this skepticism isn’t metaphysical, or philosophical.

No, the main reason I don’t think science will bring us eternal happiness and peaceful slumber is because of my oral surgeon.

He, in many ways, is a scientist – or at least someone who borrows the knowledge of scientific research.

As much as I’d like to believe in a painless, wisdom-toothless future, I must balance this hope with the very real, very recent image of my oral surgeon yanking on my teeth. Despite the soothing effects of the anesthesia, there is only one word to describe the wisdom-tooth removal procedure: barbaric.

Still, it must be done. And a little sick time, in the end, is good for us all. We can ponder, as I did, the long march toward the grave, the fragility of our bodies, the miracle of healing, and, of course, new terms like “dry sockets.”

I hope, for my children’s sake, that a more painless way of removing those terrible teeth is invented. But somehow I doubt it. The pains of life must always balance the pleasures. I only wish that now, while the pain still lingers, I could tap my surgeon on the shoulder and make a small request: “Wake me when the pain is over, okay?”

Somehow I don’t think he’d oblige, even if he could.

” Tom Boyd can be reached for comment at

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