Note: I’m about to spoil parts of the 2014 movie The Skeleton Twins. If you care about that sort of thing, stop here.
I didn’t know how nervous I was until I was sitting in the waiting room, watching the before-and-after rotten teeth slideshow. On the left: small, misshapen yellow tooth stumps. On the right: so-white-you-may-go-blind veneers. On the left: dull, crooked squares that appeared to be organizing themselves in a huddle. On the right: shining rabbit eyes.
Earlier, at precisely 3:59 am ct, I woke up to catch the first flight of the day from Chicago to Philly. When my plane landed, a little after 9 am et, I took a cab to work. Now, at 6 pm et, I was woozy with a lack of sleep and feeling anxious about getting two (of four) cavities filled. Two fillings today, two more next week.
Somewhere between the filmy chocolate milk teeth and the jagged, off-the-richter-scale grin, the dental hygienist called my name. This was it.
She walked me back to the room—clean, sparse, white, the perfect metaphor for your average aspiring mouth—and told me to set my bag in the corner. I fumbled for my headphones. Another dentist had allowed me to listen to music once and since my tolerance of pain is around a 10 on a 1,000 point scale, I planned to ask again.
“Go ahead and have a seat,” the hygienist said before I could ask. “I’ll get you the movie goggles and you can pick something off of Netflix to watch.”
I’ll wait while you re-read those magic words. Movie goggles?! Netflix?!
The hygienist, who is playing a larger-than-anticipated role in this story and will henceforth be called Sally, handed me an iPad. Would you like to know the top picks for patients about to get routine dental work in the Philadelphia area? Mostly mainstream TV shows: Friends, Mad Men, Scandal. But would a TV show be long enough to last through two fillings? It was a risk I wasn’t willing to take.
Next on the list was a movie I’d been wanting to see. All I could remember about The Skeleton Twins was that one scene from the trailer where Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig lip synch “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.” Good actors; a least one goofy scene; no apparent thriller, horror or dentistry tropes; movie selected.
Sally handed me the movie goggles with built-in headphones and told me to leave one earbud out so I could hear the dentist when she walked in. From this point on, I could see nothing and no one except for Kristen and Bill.
The dentist walked in and started talking to me like I didn’t have a movie strapped to my face. Then, she numbed me up with a strange, minty gel. This was it. My mouth began to feel disassociated from my body, a sensation I can confidently say I do not like.
As she poked my gums with a needle I couldn’t see, I watched Bill Hader attempt suicide. Seriously, Bill? My nervousness only intensified.
And then the drilling began. Or what I assumed was drilling because I couldn’t see. This was really it. Something dripped from the side of my mouth. Could have been anything as far as I was concerned: spit, blood, stomach acid, another crucial internal liquid.
Sally put the suction hose in my mouth right as Kristen Wiig took off her scuba mask, clearly contemplating suicide (Kristen, not Sally). Why didn’t I realize this was a suicide movie? I should have went with Friends.
“You’re doing great!” the dentist said despite me doing nothing.
She hammered in the two fillings (or what felt like hammering) and had me bite down. My left hand was shaking from nerves. So much awfulness was happening, although most of it to fictional characters.
Sally did the suction thing again. Opening my mouth was getting harder even though I was feeling it less and less.
“OK, you can take off the goggles. We’re all done.”
Oh. I survived? I survived. The dentist told me the cavities were smaller than she expected and recommended holding off on filling the other two, on the other side.