French Prayers at the Dentist

Oh how I dread going to the endodontist, the ones who pry deeply into the roots of your jaw as if they were digging deep enough to uncover your soul.  Maybe there is a spiritual element connected to the whole procedure of getting a root canal.

I enter the office, I see a coffee machine.  “What?  Hazelnut coffee at the dentist?” Too bad if my breath is bad, I cannot resist this perk.  Then I spot a People magazine dedicated to Kate Middleton. Okay this isn’t going to be so bad after all.  I have arrived early enough to enjoy my coffee and catch up on Kate.  Then the dreaded appearance of the dental assistant, efficiently standing in the doorway, chart in hand  “We are ready for you.”  Never mind that I am not ready for them.  We go down a hallway that is unusual, a series of angular arches, beckoning me into this alternate world of teeth, needles, x ray machines, and shadows cast across the floor, chasing me into a chair that overlooks the tennis courts at the local high school.   So sleek and modern….Like an Escher drawing, I am pulled into the vortex.

The activity across the street looks so enticing as I sit in my chair suspended in time, imprisoned by the knowledge that an abscess does not cure itself, and really this isn’t that big a deal.  Just buck up and go with it!  Embrace this 21st century moment.  You are in technological free fall here.

The dental assistant comes in and begins to x-ray my teeth, many times over.  “Perfect,” she smiles, but it never is.  After many attempts, finally there is an x-ray clear enough to read and we move on to the next stage.  X rays show a shadow on my gum,- never a good sign  Infection, bad news, but today we will get to the root of all evil….. and the evil will be uprooted.  This is the stage where after becoming numb, I move on to meditative French prayer.  

Memories of going to the dentist every Friday after school, as a junior high student, come flooding back to me. I had terrible teeth, even as a child.  I lived in sheer dread of dental appointments, far more than I do now. The way I got through those appointments was to close my eyes tightly and transport myself elsewhere  That elsewhere was to Paris, where I was speaking impeccable French with the handful of words I knew.  Through the entire appointment, I would recite the first dialogue we learned from the ALM French program.

“Bonjour Jeanne, comment vas-tu?”  “Tres bien merci, et toi?” “Pas mal”  Ou est la bibliotheque? “Tout droit, a gauche”   (I don’t have the keys to write the proper accents)

 My French dialogues rolled through my brain like a rosary as I sat in the dental chair every Friday. As a result, I always knew my dialogues by heart.  From the trauma of my bad teeth, my embrace of the French language arose from my dental ashes, like  a French Phoenix.

 So perhaps it is true that the meditative repetition of my early French dialogues became a prayer, a mantra, an anchor to take me elsewhere while the dentist did his work.  Today I revisited the early days of my French immersion in dentistry and dialogue as I got my root canal.

When I see my regular dentist, I no longer cloak myself in French because I love her.  She is so amazing that I can even tolerate being in the chair.  But today was different.  Today’s specialty dentist did a good job, but he was new and he was going into my roots, more like trench warfare, with my roots acting as trenches,  So I pulled out my old dialogue again, after all these years, to get me through it.  The fact that he played jazz music in the background the whole time contributed to making it better than my early dental memories as well  And, he really was a good guy, even if he is an endodontist. All in all, the experience was far better than my 12 year old self would ever have expected from a dentist.

“Bonjour Jeanne”  Tomorrow I will have a café au lait and a croissant for breakfast to celebrate, now that I am rooted in the present and free of the shadows.  

6 thoughts on “French Prayers at the Dentist

  1. This was so well written! Full of twists and turns of humor and emotion. Funny and not funny. I think your memory of reciting your French dialogues as a meditative escape from the reality of the chair will stay with me! And your last line’ “now that I am rooted in the present and free of the shadows”- wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. An absolute delight to read, Colleen! The Escher hallway – true! The endodontist digging deep enough to uncover your soul – PRICELESS. But what grabbed me most is your memory of French dialogues. I could hardly believe it – for I remember my French class dialogues as well: C’est qu’il est laid, ce bébé. Eh, doucement, ‘est moi! (Boy, is that baby ugly. Hey, easy, that’s me!). Poor endodontist. I suppose he can still be forgiven and redeemed … but, seriously, glad it went well and I am so happy you’re here writing about it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Having endured three root canals on the SAME tooth, I totally feel this piece. I love how you blended the experiences and tied it all together in the end. French dialogues rolling through the brain like the rosary- fantastic craft move!

    Liked by 1 person

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