I’ve had my gall bladder removed, given birth three times, had a handful of colonoscopies, and given blood countless times, but I still fear regular dental visits. Everything from the x-rays to the drilling has me clinging to the ceiling. I hate the dentist with all five senses, and while having regular blood draws has pretty much obliterated my fear of needles, regular dentist visits have only made my anti-dentist anxiety worse.
I was so stressed out by my routine cleaning that when it came time for a little
superficial drilling I begged for laughing gas. Ah, nitrous oxide. I’m honestly not sure if I’ve ever been offered it before, but my husband told me to go for it based on his fond memories of a cavity in high school. He told me with all the beeping and buzzing the background he thought he was a robot, and I’ve never been a robot, so I decided to give it a go.
The best part about nitrous oxide is the ability to control your level of buzz. My personality doesn’t allow for a free-wheeling, lets-see-where-this-goes high, so I liked having the option to take a few breaths through my mouth and bring life back into focus if I felt uncomfortable. When I was reassured I wasn’t an astronaut stranded on Mars, I’d breathe through my nose again and look for intelligent life through the orange haze created by the overhead light and my very stylish borrowed safety glasses.
On that day in the reclined pleather chair, the deeper I inhaled, the sharper my life came into focus. My inhibitions were obliterated by the gas, and I was more “myself” than on any regular day. Most notably, when the dental assistant repeatedly jammed the spit-sucker down my throat, I pushed his hand away, looked him in the eyes, and said, “don’t do that! No one likes that.” Had I been my normal, anxious self I never would have had the courage to speak up, I would have endured the jabbing until I ultimately gagged and spewed bile on the assistant, and then apologized profusely.
After my outburst, I immediately wished I had access to nitrous oxide every day, all day. How freeing to be able to speak my mind without worrying I was bothering someone or taking up their valuable time. I am bereft of BDE, but perhaps with some chemical aid I could project a sense of confidence. As a woman, especially an overweight woman, I know I’m supposed to be cheerful, friendly, and amenable. I am to be grateful that anyone speaks to me, provides medical care, answers my phone calls, or allows me to be in their presence. Asking questions is intrusive, since as a large stay-at-home mother of three I’m obviously not an expert in anything, including motherhood and over-eating.
I apologize constantly for things that aren’t my fault, and afterwards I give myself a mental ass-kicking for being such a doormat. Why did I apologize for not holding the door for a physically fit man when I was carrying two children and fifty pounds of groceries? Why did he *accept* my apology?
If I’d had a tank of nitrous strapped to my back, I’d have asked the guy to hold the door for me, because it’s not too much to ask and my hands were clearly full. But no, I don’t want to be a bother, I don’t want to inconvenience anyone, I don’t want to ask for help and invite the comments about having so many children and not being able to handle them along with my wife-chores, and eventually hear, “don’t you know how babies are made? You should get off your husband.” (This has, in some form, been said to me several times. We have three kids, not twelve. Not that it’s ever acceptable to bring up sex to a complete stranger, mind you.)
As women we walk a fine line between Push-Over and Militant Bitch. I feel for female politicians in a way I’m betting men (or self-assured, confident women) could never understand. Success is good, but not too much, because isn’t that emasculating for your husband? As a mother, don’t you care about the rights of children around the world? Are you getting emotional about children? Clearly you can’t make decisions without being ruled by your hormones. She’s so serious, is she even human? Is she trying to humanize herself by posting family photos? A grandmother can’t possibly be the Commander in Chief.
If these women were walking around with laughing gas strapped to their nostrils, they might present themselves without pretense. “I’m extremely smart, but not terribly funny. I don’t like beer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t understand the plight of the working man. I cried during The Notebook, but I could bomb the shit out of our adversaries and send our troops into battle with a steady hand. Take it or leave it.”
As my nitrous wore off and the dentist was working on my bite pattern, the last step before I was free to go, he asked me how it felt to clench my teeth. I longed for a few puffs of the gas, just a little more to get me through this appointment. I’d already told him my bite was uncomfortable once, so I felt like I’d taken up all the space I was allowed and should just agree with the expert and deal with it later. Probably with jaw pain and chronic headaches.
Why can’t I stand up for myself? Why do I apologize for existing in the same space as others, for having normal needs like teeth that align? Perhaps as a woman I’m conditioned to solve my own problems. I am educated on my own health issues because I know most doctors are not reading my chart and taking the time to listen to my concerns. I told a doctor the joints in my hands were hurting and he prescribed Xanax, because he clearly wasn’t listening and thought I was just, I don’t know, a nervous lady? I got a sinus infection and was prescribed four medications, one that was contraindicated because of an ongoing condition, and one I already take every day. Luckily, I know enough about my own body and the care it requires to avoid major problems like overdosing on antihistamines or causing intestinal bleeding from taking a drug I shouldn’t.
When I got on the bus in the parking lot at the airport and the driver skipped over me and handed out reminder cards to all the other patrons (all men) so they wouldn’t forget where they’d parked, I spoke up once, but was ignored, so I put my hand down and remembered I’m not an idiot and can remember “lot 9” for two days. When we were at a birthday dinner for my mother and the waiter twice forgot my request for red wine (which the men were drinking) and poured me white (which the other women at the table asked for), I gave up, drank the white, and wrote a nasty review on Yelp. Because I’m adaptable, but also vindictive.
I shouldn’t need to be sorry for being a human among other humans, and I shouldn’t apologize because that gives others a license to expect an apology. I should be able to speak up, especially where my health is concerned, and get the best care possible, or at least the same level of care a man gets. Sure, I could probably use the occasional Xanax, but in reality I was being poisoned by another medication and the pain in my joints was drug-induced Lupus, and because I was rebuffed after trying to explain myself twice, I didn’t get the care I needed and have permanent scar tissue in my joints from continuing that drug for months.
I suppose I shouldn’t advocate taking prescription nitrous oxide recreationally, but how would my life be different if I did? For starters, I’d have enjoyed a nice red wine on my mother’s birthday with teeth that line up straight. Perhaps I’d be a more successful author, rather than a woman who wrote a book, was too awkward and unsure to promote it, and now has another book sitting in her computer where it will probably stay until the laptop crashes someday. Maybe if I’d pointed out that doctors weren’t reading my chart or listening to my symptoms I could have saved other people from taking the wrong drugs or being misdiagnosed.
Does anyone know where I can get a tank of nitrous? Asking for a friend, sorry!