I remember that day vividly. It was a fairly nice fall afternoon, nice enough to not need a coat but cool enough to not make you get pit stains. Which was a big deal for me in high school. Mom & I were headed off to the orthodontist for some tightening and wire replacement. Sometimes I felt like an automobile. As we sat in the grimy, out of date waiting room, I rubbed my tongue back and forth against the little brackets, which had caused me so much misery. “Someday” I mused to myself, “I’ll actually know what my real teeth feel like. Hopefully before I qualify for my senior citizen discount.” It had been taking a long time for my teeth to straighten out, already I’d waited 4 years with no end in sight of being done yet. Now as I prepared for college, it seemed inevitable that I would parade around a collegiate campus with a blaring, metal smile. Just the way every freshman wanted to start off their college career.
In any case, that day when my name was called, I slugged down the dull hallway to my usual dental seat and prepared for pain. My orthodontist, bless his heart, was a very old man. He fit every typical description of being an old man. He shuffled his feet, he was more wrinkled than a washcloth, he always had gunk in the corners of his mouth, and he squinted through his glasses while he worked. I’d tried to find his credentials on his office walls before, just to confirm how long ago he had been licensed to deal with braces. If I were to guess, I would say 1910. But maybe that wasn’t being fair. He was a nice man, he was just ridiculously aged, sometimes making me fearful that I might loose an eye the way his hands shook when he was working in my mouth.
Well, here I was once again. In the hot seat, awaiting the unknown. Dr. Albert came in with what looked like a plunger head and explained to me that in order to do the work in the back of my mouth, I’d have to put the plunger in my mouth so it would hold my lips open as far as they could go. Fun. So he stretched, and by stretched I mean tugged my lips to fit over this large, rubber, ring until he could let go and there I sat in the dental chair with my mouth in the hugest “O” you’ve ever seen. I swear they do this stuff for kicks sometimes. The best part about it was that even if I wanted too, I could not close my mouth. Nope, I was subjected to sit there as long as it took Dr. Shaky Hands to finish the job with my mouth open larger than my garage door. He must have found it at least slightly funny because he called my Mom back to come and see. You know its bad when Mom leaves the room laughing. Thanks Mom.
So Dr. Albert begins the job of twisting and tightening. And then it happens. He does the unthinkable. He starts talking to me. I always wonder why dentists and orthodontists wait until you are completely incapable of moving your mouth to hold a conversation with you. The cruelty of that notion is mind-boggling. At least he was just talking and not asking questions. That’s even more frustrating. So he’s talking and adjusting, switching tools and talking some more. Suddenly I notice a glisten. And it’s a glisten from his mouth. Spit. My mind begins racing into hyper-speed, inwardly I’m flailing my arms and squeezing my eyes shut… outwardly I’m stuck with my mouth wide open. Panic runs through me “Stop talking! Stop talking! Stop talking before you…..” It was too late. He did. He spit while he was talking. Of course he spit, he was old! It was the most torturous experience of my life. Those two seconds of agony when I had to sit, mouth pryed open and watch as a glob of senior spit careened toward my piehole made me want to cry. I couldn’t turn away, I couldn’t close my mouth, my only option would have been to kick him… not something I wanted to do with those sharp tools so close to my throat. And of course, of course the spit made a direct hit. Right on the tip of my tongue. It landed, I felt it and my eyes welled up with tears. “This could not be happening”, I remember thinking to myself. “I have eighty-year old spit in my mouth. I need to throw up.” I spent the remainder of my visit trying ridiculously hard not to swallow the spit and when I was able, I sat right up and rinsed my mouth out until he said I could go.
As soon as Mom and I got in the car, I blubbered my story to her. She laughed so hard she cried. I cried too. Believe me. Luckily that was one of my last appointments with Dr. Albert ever. But because of that visit, the senior spit visit, I still have a hard time tilting my head back in that dental chair. And I will never let anyone convince me to put that plunger in my mouth ever again.