Fragility

I have a bad tooth. It needs to come out. The original plan was to have it removed in an OR so I can get twilight sedation but my insurance doesn’t want to pay for it and I’m left with having to cobble a plan together myself. I called a number of oral surgeons and no one wants to give me anesthesia outside of an OR. So any kind of general anesthesia means OR, which means a several thousand dollar bill from my insurance. No dice.

I have had dental work with local anesthetic and it’s not ideal but it’s okay. I premed heavily and then it takes a day or two to squelch reactions. It’s not super comfortable but it’s not life threatening and fortunately my laundry list of past procedures means that I have got pain management down to a science. I called my doctor and he agreed that using local sedation is fine if I premedicate. He is very good at giving advice for procedures and talking to providers that aren’t familiar with me. Great. All systems are go.

I have been a patient at my current dental office for about half of my life. I call them and they schedule me to have my tooth removed. Around this time, my dental pain went from sucky and uncomfortable to my entire face and all my teeth hurt and the pain is making me nauseous. Then the long suffering secretary at the dental office calls me to tell me that the dentist won’t remove my tooth with local anesthesia. They also won’t fill the cavity to make it more comfortable until I can figure out how to get this removed.

I talked to the dentist at length and will spare you the gory details of our exchange. I now had to find someone who didn’t know me who would agree to remove this tooth with local anesthesia quickly because the pain was awful. My entire face hurts and I’m reacting and it’s painful to talk, eat and be alive, and I’m terrified it will get infected.

The dental office at my hospital eventually agreed to do it with a local on a day when my specialist will be on campus in case anything goes wrong. In two weeks. A filling would be the same wait. So I’m getting it removed in a week and a half and while I am medicating to deal with the pain, it still hurts. It hurts a lot. I have had bowel obstructions and several surgeries and a million painful tests and good grief does this tooth hurt a lot.

I am so much better than I was a year ago. I can eat solids and exercise and travel and I’m not constantly riding the line that demarcating when I need epinephrine. I have made so much progress. But damn if it doesn’t feel like I am one bad day from losing all these gains. One bad tooth, one obstruction, one flu, one slip on an icy sidewalk. It wouldn’t take much to be right back where I was. Almost nothing.

When I have described my body as strong, it has never felt like the right word. Enduring, maybe. Durable. Not strong. Things that are strong and robust can withstand damage and still work fine.

But some things are not meant to be strong. It is not a defect, but an intricacy. A byproduct of artisanal process of craftwork. Not a mistake.

All beautiful things are fragile in some way. Marble cracks, pictures fade, buildings burn, people change. Beauty is a moment, the coalescing of so many things to form this fleeting arrangement. It is the impermanence that makes things beautiful.

My body has survived impossible things. It has recovered. But it isn’t strong, even if I want it to be, and saying that it is because of one good year feels like a lie.