Art by Joey Feldman
I’ve never enjoyed going to the dentist. Just the thought of sitting in the waiting room brings a cold sweat to the back of my neck. When I was younger my parents would actually have to drag me out of the car to get me inside. So naturally, when I became an adult I never made an appointment. I brushed my teeth and flossed and mouthwashed and all the stuff you’re supposed to do. There was never any need for me to go to the dentist. Until about two weeks ago when I bit into an Italian beef sandwich and felt a screaming pain inside my mouth that overtook the entire right side of my head. I thought I’d be able to sleep it off and it would all be better then next morning. Nope.
It was time to finally go back to the dentist.
I didn’t know what to expect when I went but I did know that I was in what I can safely say was the worst pain I’ve felt in my 26 years of living. There was no stopping the throbbing pain. Every time my heart would beat it would send a flash of wild colors to my eyes. Visible pain is what it was. The dentist could have told me that he had to dig my tooth out with a dull butter knife and I would’ve been ok with it. I tried to prepare myself for anything. So, I had a friend drop me off. If I was going to have some sort of procedure done, you can bet your ass I was going to be put to sleep first. And I would have been in no shape to operate a motor vehicle. I didn’t have him stick around because my girlfriend was going to get off work in a couple of hours and I was going to ride back with her. Surely my visit would take at least that long given the shape I was in. I had it all figured out, ’til I didn’t.
I was in and out within 30 minutes with a referral to an oral surgeon 2 days away, and a prescription for pain medication. I could have stayed in the waiting room until my ride got there but I could hear drills cutting into enamel from out there. That just made the pain worse. I walked outside and checked my phone to find the nearest pharmacy. Rite-Aid was 3.8 miles away. My stomach turned at the thought of being so far away with nothing but my own two feet to get me there, but something had to be done. With an overwhelming sense of self-reliance I took a deep breath and started walking.
With my feet hitting the sidewalk and my hands shoved into my pockets out of the cold, I was on my way. A twenty-something man, reaping the benefits of being insured for my health in America. Hoping for a cure, but getting a fix.
I hadn’t planned on trekking across town before my appointment so I had nothing that a man would need while walking in temperatures not far above freezing, other than a jacket. Plus, I hadn’t eaten all day and I was craving a smoke. Luckily, I came across a gas station not far into my travels. I went in and bought the necessities. I grabbed a Zebra cake, a Sprite, a $1.79 pair of brown jersey knit gloves, a pack of Camels and one of those tiny Bic lighters that you can never keep up with for more than a day. As I was ringing up at the register, I glanced outside and saw snow starting to fall. I knew I would regret not having anything covering my ears once I got to where I was going, so I grabbed one of the beanies stuck to a strip hanging by the 5 Hour Energy display. It was an odd yellow color with a crooked American Flag sewn on the front but it was cheap and I needed it.
I stepped outside and ate my Zebra cake using only the left side of my mouth and washed it all down with a swig of Sprite. The beanie was barely big enough to actually cover my ears and the gloves may have actually been colder than just sticking my hands in the pockets of my jeans but I had to keep going. The people going in and out of the gas station seemed uncomfortable with me lingering around the entrance. Once I was safely away from the gas pumps I started the task of trying to grab a cigarette out of a newly opened pack while wearing gloves. Which was followed by the damn near impossible task of flicking a tiny Bic lighter while wearing gloves. With my cigarette finally lit, and my American proud beanie doing the best it could, I was on the sidewalk again.
I had always admired this street when I drove by all of the old and undoubtedly expensive houses that lined it but while walking down one of the prettiest streets in Lexington, KY, I got to see more than I typically do in a car. The old houses seemed a bit larger from my nomadic point of view and the trees seemed to hang a bit lower as they all worked together to cover the neighborhood. As I walked past Coach John Calipari’s house I was hoping he’d be outside and invite me in to chat about basketball and drink coffee, but he wasn’t.
I had somewhat lost thought of why I was walking in the first place until a quick cold drink of my Sprite brought my tooth back to life. The pain was back just about the time the sidewalk ended and I was forced to walk on a tiny shoulder towards oncoming traffic. The stretch of road with the overhung trees and beautiful houses was over and I was seeing nothing but trashy ditches and affordable apartment complexes. My jaunt had gone sour again in a hurry. It was time for another smoke. The cigarette itself came out easier than the first one did but as I tried to fumble with that tiny lighter in my gloved hand I dropped it. It took one bounce and skidded into the street. Apparently someone had opened the gates somewhere down the road a piece because it seemed to be a never ending line of cars coming my way. Each one of them getting closer and closer to actually running over my lighter as it passed. I waited patiently as the cars went by until I could finally see the last car in line. I watched as the car drew nearer, anxious to hurry out in the street after it passed. When it got close enough I could read the word “Taxi” on the side. It was only then, after I’d walked almost three miles in the cold winds and snow and fought against agonizing pain, that any thought of calling a cab to pick me up found its way into my head.
The car passed and I grabbed the lighter. There was a McDonald’s coming up close. I could go in, get a coffee, and wait for a cab. But as I squinted further down the long, straight and flat road I was on, I could see the Rite Aid sign. The same rush of proud self-reliance came over me once again and I decided to keep on. I’d made it this far. And even though my cheeks were stiff with cold and I’d given up on trying to stop my nose from running 20 minutes before, I could finally see my destination. I couldn’t stop now, that’d be taking the easy way out. Almost as easy as taking a pill to make all the pain go away.