spirit flows thru -- Alison Rittger's spiritual reflections on finding the holy in the daily

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My life goes better when I’m centered, not self-centered. Self-centered behavior is what I do to avoid the ultimate dread of what Emily Dickenson describes as “… a pain – so utter – It swallows substance up….” A self-centered visit to a dentist would have me fretful, in need of reassurance, viewing inattention as a personal affront, and fearful that the pain may not “swallow substance up” but will hurt a lot.

Lucky for me, I feel fully centered the day I show up for oral surgery after my regular dentist said I was in dire need of having a tooth removed or risking (and then she listed risks beyond measure and showed me a blurry but apparently ominous tooth picture.) But she definitely felt strongly, having prescribed immediate and high doses of antibiotics after my early morning distress call. I am this centered self because I have told myself no stories about oral surgery procedures or their aftermath, and with no story to scare me, I am peaceful and equanimous.

I arrive at the oral surgeon’s office for the removal of an offending number three tooth in the upper right quadrant. What ensues could have been a disaster rather than a routine bout of oral surgery were I not my centered self.

Dental emergencies, such as mine, rely on clear communication between the secretary in one dental office and the secretary in the second office; of course each is multitasking as the message is passed. Thus when I finally see the oral surgeon, he thinks that he is scheduled for a consultation during which he will convince me that after I have the tooth removed sometime in the future, I will want to have an implant also sometime in the future and in the meanwhile watch this movie and he’ll be back.

“No,” I intervene. “My dentist said this tooth has to come out now. I’m parked around the corner in a two-hour spot, so it has to be now. He looks again at the x-ray I have included with her referral. “But I have you scheduled for a consultation.” I shake my head. “Take it out now, please.”

He looks at his watch. I can hear the congestion in the waiting room, all those adolescent wisdom teeth, impacted or not, waiting until the end of summer to be removed.

He accedes to my request for immediate surgery. “Gotcha, honey,” he says rumpling my hair.

Needless to say, I don’t like being called “honey” or having my hair tousled, even playfully. But as a centered self, I can pause before automatically mounting a soapbox and chastising him for what feels like ageism and sexism. Instead I can reconnect with the fact that this is the man who will be sticking needles in my gums, wrenching out a tooth, suctioning out poison and staunching the flow of blood. I choose to stay silent and spacious.

Then an assistant escorts me to a more serious looking room. Noisily, she tears into a bag of useful implements, and they crash out onto the metal tray next to my ear. I arch up from where I have been contemplating tree branches, and touching her arm gently, say “Please, your energy is making me nervous.” She apologizes. The doctor explains that she is upset that all the other patients are forced to wait even longer. They both reassure me I should take none of the discord personally. I smile and cower slightly to show I mean no harm. After all, she is in charge of suction and gauze; much of my comfort and well-being will depend on her equanimity.

The Novocain injected, the numbing in full effect, the oral surgeon explains the pressure I will now feel and the cracking sound. Not to worry about the rush of blood. It happens as he predicts. Happily reassured, I sit up too quickly and the assistant just catches that rush of blood. Back down I lie, and shortly the procedure ends.

Numbed and stuffed with gauze, I am led to the business office for a debriefing about the benefits of implants from bone grafts to abutments. On a post-it pad I answer questions, nod and smile as best I can while the assistant checks off pricing, possible insurance coverage and time frame.

Gratitude, gratitude. It is over. No more generalized weariness, low grade fever, pain and swollen gums. I have meditation to thank for my showing up for oral surgery a centered self, comfortable not knowing what was ahead, and thus not hurting myself with anticipated pain.

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