25 October 2022

Losing teeth

I was so ready to lose a leg. Without it, I could still do my two-most favorite things in the world: swim and play the piano.

I was convinced with my answer to the hypothetical question, If you had to lose a body part, which would it be?, which presupposes trauma. There are, after all, useless parts of the body.

Wisdom teeth, for example, are pulled out like clockwork as some sort of initiation into adulthood, because they serve no purpose. If they do, perhaps it's to make our lives miserable. It sure made mine.

Nothing had prepared me for the news that my second lower molar had to be removed, thanks to the impacted wisdom tooth that crushed it lifeless. I would wake up with terrible headaches that I initially chalked up to me hating going to work; until I later on connected it to my decaying teeth. When I started to get a tingling sensation during dessert and while drinking cold drinks, I took a trip to the dentist.

My heart sank when they explained the situation. What followed was a torturous week of anxiety, disbelief, and every emotion so far away from the relief I sought when I sat on the dentist chair.

Color me regret. It wasn't like I hadn't had dental check-ups in the past and was advised to have my wisdom teeth removed. Fear was the main reason that I kept delaying it. (I had LASIK twice and it was a walk in the park; but there's something about slicing and stitching up gums that terrifies me.) Then it was too late.

False safety in denial. Maybe the dentist was wrong. There should be other ways to save my tooth. If there was, I wasn't made aware of it. A huge cavity was way below the gumline. Two other dentists and one accommodating nurse knew not to keep my hopes up. If there was a miracle procedure to save my tooth, I bet I would need a miracle to afford it.

What I briefly wrote above is what I want to escape from. Thinking too much about what could've been. My mouth is mutilated, my wisdom tooth gone, and so is my second molar, which is the real loss.

This will sound dramatic and shallow but what I'm going through feels like my first real dance with death. I was shocked. I resisted. I miss my tooth.

I have read many eloquent pieces on death and loss and other such crises, yet it's different when it's happenig to you. I guess we should be thankful that it will always be different for us, that the most common experiences are still unique to us. Otherwise, what's the point of living.

It's been three weeks since my oral surgery. Early on the surgeon warned me that I might easily overcome pain, but I shouldn't underestimate discomfort. Indeed, I didn't take any pain killer 24 hours after surgery. However, not being able to fully open my mouth (trismus), sleep on my side, not spitting! — these are a burden. How I've taken for granted the satisfaction of yawning.

During those days, I found solace in vulnerability. When my body is not in my control, my mind vacations. When I am sick, I find a kind of pleasure in succumbing to disease. For once, I am allowed to be weak.

Now I am halfway healed. Gone are the days of blood clots. The wound closes. Clarity returns — hallelujah migraine-free mornings! — so do my worries. Now I have to face this loss. Now I can run my tongue on the toothless gum. And I feel a mental pain.

This morning I cooked a decent meal again from scratch. I was enjoying my brunch until I remembered, Wait, I'm lacking a functioning molar; am I having problems chewing? As if I was telling myself that there should be something wrong.

I'm writing because I want to grieve and move on. I figure I should treat the tooth loss as an actual death. I took the extracted teeth (the second molar and remnants of the broken third) home with me and had a good look at them. It's best that I don't hang onto these tiny bones, keep them like a totem of I-don't-know-what. It's best that I throw them away unceremoniously. This blog is totem and ceremony enough.

This is a new chapter in my life. I never have chapters, but THIS merits chaptering. My personal history is Before Oral Surgery and After Oral Surgery. BOS/AOS. Is there a Lost Teeth Anonymous I could join?

There is so much I want to say to people who will understand. I wasn't prepared for this and so I don't know how to carry on. Fear is in every stage of the journey. I was scared of surgery. I watched lots of post-recovery horror stories. Most of the time it is I who scare myself. That time could've been used for something better, for proper leisure.

With the other changes going on with my body, I guess all I could do is take care of myself the best way I know how. To nurture myself without fighting nature. Part of me thinks that it's downhill from here. But last weekend I was at the mall and got excited strolling through the kitchen section — as I've always been. I fantasized about the pretty tools I'd buy next. The mini drip kettle, featherlight can opener, tongs, containers.

I've lost something important to me and I am sad. Unsupringly, sadness can exist with thrill. And loss, always in a dance with life. I take it back, what I confidently whispered in the air while my mind ran through what-ifs — Lord, don't take away either of my leg, please.

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