by Cathy Arden on May 20, 2017

There’s a hole in my head.   And so I am reminded of the expression, “I need this like a hole in the head.” My mother used this expression often. And so it reminds me of her. I can hear her saying it. I can hear the tone in her voice. I can see the expression on her face. I think this must have been a popular expression in the 60’s and 70’s. I haven’t heard it lately.   Not in decades, actually. But it brings my mother back to me.

I had a tooth pulled yesterday. Top left molar, in case you’re interested. You can’t see the missing tooth when I smile. Therefore, there is no reason to replace it with another.   But something happened during the surgery. And, oh yes, it was indeed surgery as an oral surgeon had to extract this particular tooth. “Very difficult,” he told me. “Complicated. Which is why your dentist sent you to me,” he said, “and didn’t do it herself.” I thought that was a little tacky. It sounded like an insult to my dentist.

I won’t bore you with the extraction details.   Suffice it to say, the oral surgeon was correct. The tooth didn’t want to come out. It held on. I can’t say it held on for dear life, as it was already dead having been through a root canal procedure in some previous decade.   I don’t remember when the tooth died. But it was dead and it was still hanging in there. Granted, it was decayed. And impossible to salvage. But it clung to bone like nobody’s business.

The oral surgeon convinced me during our consultation two days before the extraction to allow him to give me nitrous oxide. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I don’t even smoke weed. So I was timid about nitrous oxide. Well, not timid really, but afraid. I’ve had plenty of work done on my teeth in my lifetime. I managed it with all my wits about me as I sat in the dentist chair for I wonder how many hours over the course of my life so far.   But this doc was pretty insistent and pretty reassuring. He convinced me I’d be better off without all my wits about me for this extraction.

So a small, not so unattractive gas mask was placed over my nose on the day of the procedure, before the surgeon came into the room. They wanted to get me started on this before the shots of Novocaine, or whatever they use these days to numb you. I was told to breathe deeply through my nose and not through my mouth. Timidly, I began that process and noticed some change which was, at first, barely perceptible.

I found out later that when the doctor entered the room, and before he gave me the shots in the roof of my mouth, he cranked the gas up full hilt. I’m glad I didn’t know about that. I could feel the shots, and I can’t say there was no pain, but what happened was that I couldn’t have cared less. Bring it on. I’m totally fine. I kept giving the doctor a thumbs up when asked how I was doing.

And on it went. Intense pulling and yanking and hammering. Literal hammering in my head, which the doctor warned me about before the hammering began. “You’re going to feel hammering in your head. It will be intense,” he said. And that moment occurred that friends had told me about.   I felt a very unusual banging in my head, it was startling and yet….it was the funniest thing in the world. It was all I could do not to laugh.

Did I mention my feet were keeping time with the music wafting through the ceiling speakers? I remember only John Maher, but there were others. It was all exceedingly entertaining. I didn’t have a care in the world and I pretty much thought I was dancing.   This tooth extraction was a laugh riot.

What I didn’t bargain for is what followed after. Pain, of course. Lots of bleeding. And then, this morning, the discovery that there was a hole in my head. The surgeon had warned me about this. “It could happen,” he informed me. “But it’s no big deal, so don’t worry about it.” This morning I became aware of a hole in my sinus. “Very common,” the doc told me. When I drink water, the water comes out my nose. All air from my mouth escapes through my nose. When I speak, there’s a hollow sound. I have to be careful saliva doesn’t travel up through my sinus. Mushy foods are in order for the next two weeks along with antibiotics, gargling and googling.   I now know way too much about the down side of a hole in your sinus. If it doesn’t heal, it’s not a pretty picture. After all, the brain is close behind.

I need this like a hole in the head. Now I know from whence I speak. But there is an up side – I have become a nitrous oxide believer. There is frankly no turning back. Even the oral surgeon says he uses it to have his teeth cleaned. But there’s a chilling aspect to this, aside from the hole in my head…well okay, sinus. A close friend’s brother died in the seventies because he strapped a nitrous oxide mask to his face to get high.   In those days, many celebs in Hollywood had a tank in their home. My friend’s brother was one of these people. I feel a bit queasy and guilty that my experience with nitrous oxide was a positive one. His tragedy is very much with me. I can’t get away from death and dying when I feel the air going through my mouth into my nose and I hear a hollow sound. But for a short time I was marking the beats to a John Maher song, tapping my feet, thinking that life was pretty easy after all.



{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

John Burak May 20, 2017 at 10:14 PM

You’re a riot, always were always will be

remember me the kids
loved Micah’s album


Cathy Arden May 21, 2017 at 9:13 PM

John! Thanks so much for your comment! Sending love!


Lea August 28, 2018 at 9:43 PM

I read your book My Sister’s Picture in 1988 when I was pregnant with my first and only child. I loved it! Tonight I decided to google you. Here I am reading your blog. And I just went to a specialist to get a root canal. Yes I too have had teeth pulled. I am relating well to this experience of yours. But mostly I fondly remember the 9 months I had to be home and started reading books and one was yours for which I never forgot. Years later the sister you wrote about reminded me of my own sister who died too at 41, years later of self inflicted injuries due to her long struggle with mental illness. Thanks for your frank thought provoking writing. Leanne


Cathy Arden January 9, 2019 at 12:38 AM

Leanne — Sorry I only just now saw your comment. I haven’t been on my blog for awhile. I so appreciate your note and I’m so sorry about the loss of your sister. My website will be changing during the next year as I have written a novel and a book of poetry. So check back in 6 months or so. I hope there will be another book you can order! Thanks again for sharing your thoughts and for reading MY SISTER’S PICTURE. — Cathy


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