How Root Canal Became Cool

Posted on: Friday, December 9th, 2016
Posted in: SoulTrain | 4 comments

Radiation feels a marathon. Side effects are in full bloom and making breathing an experiment in pharmaceuticals. Yet I’m staggering toward the finish line—sometimes even smug about my endurance. That’s a clue, right on cue, that a stumble lies ahead. Like, perhaps, a gruesome toothache? One hit me like a hammer Friday afternoon.

  • How many healthcare pros does it take…

So on Saturday, I tracked down my dentist, only to hear him say, “I’d love to help, but isn’t that molar right by where your sinus tumor was? I think your cancer team might want to have a look-see.”

I’d been thinking (but denying) the same thing. It’s just that my cancer crew is in absentia on Saturday afternoons. Why, exactly, most healthcare shuts down for the weekend on Friday at 4:55 still baffles me. Yet, for a mere 18% of GDP, I suppose we should be satisfied with bankers’ hours. But I digress.

I called the cancer-care weekend line and (after much muzak and lots of Q&A from lots of people) was told to report to ER ASAP.

Naturally, this news and the whole process riled me up. So when I arrived at ER, I left my belongings in the car. When I raced back to get them, I thwacked my forehead on the door and thus created an instant gash and goose-egg. This prompted a memorable check-in at the front desk: “Did you hit your head?” “Yes, but I’m here for a toothache.” “Maybe you should call your dentist.” “I did. But he sent me here. Because of the cancer.” “Your dentist thinks your tooth has cancer?…” Thank goodness they had no psych wing.

In no time flat (and by that I mean several hours), my BP shot to Venus, various professionals hammered on the aching tooth, I had my millionth scans and tests, and the ER doctor conferred with the on-call oncologist and other -ologists only to determine: What you got there is a toothache! I was to tend to it immediately—or at least after healthcare hibernation ended on Monday morning. After all, this deep-dental infection could quickly turn critical for a guy in my condition.

I’ve never been so happy to have major-league molar pain. And best of all, a favorite restaurant kindly held the reservation for a dear, visiting friend and me. She’d been patiently on-hold while I went through ER drama and trauma, so she thought I’d gone bonkers when I suddenly texted “Dinner in 15!” But it’s amazing how a warmhearted conversation (plus about 16 Advil and a SuperTuscan) can make sense of things.

  • Come Monday

Sunday was painful, dreadful, and endless—nothing a few opioids can’t cure. So come Monday, after another radiation/photo shoot, I visited my dentist, whereupon three (3!) people took turns hammering the bad tooth only to conclude that, Yep, that there’s a toothache! Better get yourself an ER root canal PDQ! So they set me up with an emergency endodontist—a word I didn’t know and refused to believe was real. Nevertheless, I drove like an Earnhardt to an endodontist in friendly, progressive Maplewood.

  • Meet Dr. Hauser

More exams, more x-rays, and heaps o’ hammers later, I was told, yet again, that, Yep, you sure as heckers need a root canal! Now, at a certain age—perhaps exacerbated by when you’ve lost your hair—you begin to notice that many professionals are, oh, young. Quite. But when my endodontist walked in and had less peach-fuzz than my recovering noggin, I just had to comment, “Sir! Are you 13? I’d call you Doogie Hauser but you’re too young to know who that is!”

“Ha ha ha,” he allowed in that endodontist-y way, “So let’s get started,” and then mentioned that they might not be able to finish, since the office closes at 4:30. I’ll be honest: I had a cow. I may have even grabbed a couple hammers when screaming, “Half a root canal? Are you kidding me? Please, Dr. Hauser, have mercy and just finish me off!”

He did. Along with a gracious nurse who was in charge of the music—which I had them turn (way) up. Along with the laughing gas. Did you know that laughing gas is not covered by insurance? This proves that healthcare has no sense of humor. Did you know that root canal is not covered by health insurance—even when seemingly caused by radiation treatments? Ours is not to reason why: I learned about such boundaries back in Sioux City, where kids of a certain age could buy liquor just across the state line to Nebraska or South Dakota, but not in Iowa. (Not that I ever crossed that line!)

  • Root canal gets a bad rap

Most people fear root canal and compare it to unfathomable things. But I maintain it’s more mellow than, for example, spinal taps and bone marrow pulls. And really, if you kick back and get past the first five minutes of horrors and engage your team in Name That Tune (at which I’m an expert) {and sing along}, it’s really quite tolerable. I’ll never forget when I took the game to a higher level by shouting Frank Sinatra’s arranger: “Thih sah is ah-ray by Neh-suh Rih-ro!”

Dr. Hauser, who rarely stopped to chat during our two-hour procedure (since I had threatened, I mean challenged, him to finish in one day), was genuinely impressed. He even stopped the jackhammer and said, “Was the arranger’s name really Nelson Riddle? That’s so funny; ha ha ha” in that endodontist-y way. And I must say, I was impressed by his ability to translate root-canal-speak.

  • Keeping the faith

$1700 later, I was shivering in my frozen car in a dark and empty parking lot in Maplewood wondering, Did that just happen? when Leonard Cohen’s post-mortem hit, You Want It Darker, came on the radio. I love Leonard, and will miss him. But this song couldn’t be…darker. Not even in a Minnesota December.

Laughing gas don’t last. So although I hesitate to admit it, I started feeling, shall we say, dark. Defeated. And sorry for myself. A nearby Menard’s sign glowed like an evil steeple in the distance. I was so delirious I asked myself, Do I need anything at Menard’s? (Some hammers, maybe?) I came to and realized I better get moving before I got kidnapped or something.

I called my pal-since-college and neighbor Dave, who’s been there like an angel through my cancer journey. And in 10 minutes, twinkle lights were aglow and bartender Robyn was serving me all-pains-numbing Summit EPA in Roseville VFW Post 7555 while I told Dave my latest tale. “Dude, I just had root canal.”

Dave toasted our mugs nonchalantly and replied, “Root canal? Cool.” And this time I meant it when I said, “This is the best beer I’ve ever had in my life.”

Root canal. I got this too.

Thanks for listening.


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4 Responses to “How Root Canal Became Cool”

  1. Meredith Says:

    Poor baby! I have had several root canals…even a “re-treat” on one. Never offered laughing gas…I would have gladly paid for it!!!

    Keep on trucking, friend! You’re almost to the finish line!

  2. Kirk Horsted Says:

    2 words: Laughing gas! 2 more: Trust me. 2 more: Thanks, Mere!!!!!

  3. Charles Shan Says:

    I got the Nelson Riddle right away. When you’re Young at Heart fairy tells can come can happen to you…

  4. Kirk Horsted Says:

    You are good, Shan the Man. We really ought to form a band!

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