Power drills vs. dental drills

At the beginning of this year I went to the dentist for the first time in… a while, and learned I had five cavities. Five! I brush my teeth – I even floss! – but somehow three of my old fillings had failed me and two new ones were needed. This wouldn’t have been that big of a deal except… and now you’re really going to judge me… I am afraid of Novocaine.

Now, let me say as clearly as I can: this is a 95% irrational fear. Novocaine is extremely safe and I trust my dentist to use it properly, and I am even fairly certain if I used it nothing bad would happen. But because I have an anxiety brain, this was my thought process upon learning I needed five fillings:

Shit, that’s going to be expensive and take a while. Also, crap, they’ll give me Novocaine, and that has the potential to cause heart palpitations, and I’ll probably already be having them because I’ll be nervous, and that could create a dangerous situation, oh shit shit how do I get around this?

Again, Novocaine is extremely safe. Irregular heart beat is a very rare potential side effect associated with many medications – it’s part of the generic list of allergic reactions a step above itchiness and swelling. But since I’ve dealt (rather poorly, I’ll admit) with heart palpitations caused by stress and anxiety for years, I am hyper-vigilant about avoiding situations that might cause them. So, how did I get around it? I opted out. I said no to the Novocaine and sucked it up. And yeah, it hurt. I spaced the procedure out into three visits to spread out both the cost and the pain. In the end, each procedure took less time than it would have with numbing, and I was able to eat and drink right afterward. Most of all, I survived (which of course I would have regardless). The dentists and hygienists kept calling me a badass and saying how well I handled the pain, but I wasn’t proud; I was honestly a little embarrassed, and exhausted, and sore.

As I waited in the chair for each procedure to start, I stared at a flat screen monitor. The first time it scrolled through pictures of cute kids and puppies (including a truly awesome slideshow of dogs that look like other things); on my second visit it was a silent presentation about my dentist’s trip to Haiti, complete with facts about the country; and on the third and final visit I was treated to calming videos of waves crashing on sand.

During each procedure, there was a moment or two when I thought I couldn’t handle any more – when the drill would hit a specific spot on the tooth that was just too close to a nerve. During those times, I had the old calming television standby to distract me from another monitor on the ceiling: HGTV. (I have seen this in at least one other dental office and several specialists’ offices – there’s just something about Chip and Joanna…) And I have to tell you, these things worked. In the moments I would have gritted my teeth at the pain (which was obviously impossible) I instead focused all of my energy and attention on the wall demo or sconce selection happening on the ceiling screen. And it worked, in the sense that avoiding a full-on panic attack or biting off my dentist’s fingers = “working.” Which… I’ll take it!

It’s not shiplap that helps with pain and anxiety in the dental chair – it’s that shift in energy and attention. And it still works on me even though I know this. And I actually found myself thinking, as I left the dental office for the last time (for a while, at least…I hope…) that I really wish more medical offices had this kind of programming. Not just HGTV, but slideshows and silent videos made with the explicit goal of helping patients calm down. Not just cheesy quotes about serenity, but soothing images that are scientifically correlated with lower blood pressure and cortisol. Imagine if more clinicians acknowledged that we might be anxious, and rather than ignoring that or explaining it away, just empathized with it and tried to set a calmer tone. This sort of thing is relatively common in dentistry and in pediatrics; imagine if our anxiety and potential medical trauma was taken more seriously even in cardiology, physical therapy, dermatology, and other offices! I think it’s something to work toward.



New Year, New Plans, New Goals

Happy New Year! I hope you had a nice break from whatever it is you do with your days and are adjusting to normal life again smoothly. (If not, here’s a cute puppy picture that really helped me today.)

My 2015 has already been pretty exciting – I suddenly find myself getting ready to plan a wedding! Meanwhile, I’m working on a big project at work, along with a few smaller ones, and spinning my wheels on a few exciting freelance ideas.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my plans for this blog. Last year was just about seeing if I could do it. Could I maintain this thing with relative frequency while working full time and training for the marathon? Turns out…kind of! This year I’m going to focus more on quality of posts, and keep things divided into categories. Mainly: health/science stories that interest me and media critique. And yes, there will also be some wedding-related posts. I’m not going to share ring pictures or my Pinterest boards or anything, but if you’re interested in money and sociology and how those things interact and make the world turn, which I am, it’s a hard topic to pass up!

I’ve already noticed a few things that have surprised or annoyed me, and I’ve only been engaged for 5 days! But I’ll save those for another post. For now, I just want to do a mini link dump of a few things I read over the holidays that I think are worth sharing:

A Century of Silence by Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorker. This is a long read, but it’s well worth it. It’s a look at the author’s family’s experience with the Armenian genocide, and his own experience returning to his ancestral home in Turkey last year, as the government – or at least more Turks – appears to be slowly coming around to acknowledging the event and atoning for it.

I’m Trying Not To Hate Men by Laura Bogart in Salon. A beautifully written essay in which the author tries to reconcile the violence she has experienced at the hands of men and the seemingly endless stream of stories about such violence with her desire to rise above and live a fearless life.

Before Setting New Goals, Evaluate The Previous Ones by Carl Richards in The New York Times. One of the better New Year’s Resolutions stories I saw floating around this year, this one makes a great point: it doesn’t make much sense to make a bunch of new resolutions if you don’t take a look back at how well you followed your previous ones. If you’re just not great at resolutions…maybe try a different kind of goal-setting?

Would love to hear your thoughts on any/all of these!