I am not brave. Never have been. In fact, it would be fair to say that there are several things that really scare me. Probably they shouldn’t, but the thing about irrational fears is that they are still fears. In my case, I think the thing I am most afraid of is the dentist. I really, really hate going. Not just because of the pain thing, because I think I have a decent enough tolerance for that. Maybe it’s the unknown. Whatever the reason, when I take my fear combined with no dental insurance for most of my life, I haven’t gone for many, many years.
Until a couple days ago. Finally, I made an appointment for a check up. There hasn’t been any pain, or other symptoms, but after a good deal of prompting, I had to admit it was time.
Of course I know intellectually that a dentist would not intentionally inflict pain on me, and does not mean me harm. That in itself does not help. My last memory of a visit to the dentist, I was very young. I don’t remember the reason it happened, because I didn’t get any fillings at the time. Probably, it was a routine checkup. And what happened was that I ended up stuck in the chair waiting for the Dr for a very, very long time.
I remember being scared because I didn’t know what they were going to do. I could hear the noises of drilling and scraping and God only knows what else, and I could not imagine having to get any of that done, or what it would feel like. I just knew it would hurt. I remember nothing being explained to me, and no one coming to check on me. It felt like hours, but in reality was probably no more than 30 minutes or so.
And of course, when I went on Tuesday, the same thing ended up happening again, but for even longer–almost 50 minutes this time. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
I mulled going to my appointment over and over again as I was waiting for it to come, trying to psych myself down rather than up, because for a while, I got kind of revved up about it, to a pretty big degree. But in the end, I felt like I’d almost gotten my mind around it by Monday (which wasn’t the case, of course). We did the usual soaking prayer (relaxing and reflecting while worship music is played live) before we met, and while I was trying to just sort of shake off the day, my worries about my dog, and going to the dentist, I found myself thinking about my childhood visit again, which made me think about being afraid (again). I prayed while I was listening, of course, and found a little peace, but I didn’t know how I was going to be able to lead a prayer session. Turns out I didn’t have to.
When we got into the Lighthouse Crew room, I was glad that we didn’t end up doing a normal, theophostic prayer session. We just prayed for a few guys in the group that wanted or needed prayer, one of whom was me. I hadn’t planned on it, but Steve just sort of looked at me and said, “Tom…” in that deep, Moses-like voice of his. So I got prayer, and of all things that could have happened in that 15 minutes or so, I was surprised that I ended up laughing, due to an inane comment that I didn’t make myself for once. I felt pretty good when I went home that night, and while I wasn’t exactly doing the happy dance about going, I was a little less freaky about it than I’d been before.
Of course, by the time I got there at 3, I ended up letting my mind wander places that weren’t very helpful. They sat me down in this little alcove with an x-ray machine and took what seemed like a couple dozen x-rays, which ended up taking until about 330 (I’d gotten there at 3). Then they took me to another small room in the back, and sat me in the chair, telling me the Dr would be in soon, and leaving me with a remote control, so I could watch a few short videos about the various procedures they did. I only watched two, and then sat down the remote, because I figured the Dr would be coming. And I waited, and waited, and waited some more. I could hear people walking by, and water running, and what sounded like drills, and other unidentifiable noises.
And I began to think once again about the stuff that had come up intermittently over the past weeks, and then in living color the night before. I didn’t have a vision, or anything that extreme. I was aware of who and when I was, but at the same time, I could also remember hearing similar noises when I was a kid, and sitting in the chair with the door open a couple inches, exactly like it was then. And I started thinking those same thoughts, feeling those same feelings. What were they going to do? Were they going to remove or pull any of me teeth? I knew they’d have to eventually. Would I get stitches? My mind and my heart began to race, so I tried to do the
“deep, cleansing breath” thing that people always talk about. Only worked to an extent. Where was the damn DR?
And then it finally occurred to me to pray. What God showed me was that I was not alone in that room. I hadn’t been then, and I wasn’t now. I didn’t see him, or hear a clear word, but after a few minutes, I began to feel peaceful, or more peaceful, anyway. Suddenly, I was taking those deep breaths without trying to. I took out my phone to check the time, and thought about texting my friend, eventually deciding against it. After a few more minutes, the Dr came in, and it was impossible to be afraid of her. She was an extremely pleasant Vietnamese woman named Nguyen, and told me she was very sorry for the long wait–turns out my x-rays had gotten mixed up somehow. She struggled with pulling them up on the computer as well. They were mislabeled. My upper x-rays were where the lower should be, and vice-versa.
Anyway, the point is that one, I should have been praying all along, instead of letting my imagination run wild. Once I finally did pray, I began to feel less fear and more peace almost immediately. And two, the Dr Nguyen had no intention of hurting me. No dentist had, actually. Did my fear go completely away? Of course not. It’ll always be scary, a little. But I think the unknown was the worst part. It doesn’t seem like a big deal now, when I think about it. It’s almost embarrassing thinking about how upset I allowed myself to get, and that I almost blew my friend’s ear off right afterward talking about it.
I think next time I’ll try and do things a little differently. I’ll go in ready this time, and I’ll remember to put on my armor. That’s the plan, anyway. We’ll see how well I pull it off….