Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Boogeyman

Shadowy fingers reaching across the wall; the thing that goes bump in the night; the monster under the bed waiting for you to drop your feet, every child has known her version of the Boogeyman.  I used to check my closet religiously each night before bed.  Even in high school it was a ritual that had become so normal I still did it, and to this day I can't fall asleep if the closet door is ajar.  (My husband loves that one.)  As a child, I was convinced there was something crouched beneath my bed waiting to grab my ankles, so if I had to leave once tucked in for a drink or a visit to the bathroom, not only did I run as fast as I could out of my room, I jumped as far as I could off my bed first.  This is normal, right?

In the same way I believe there is an innate need to give an identity to the beholder of all that is good, I think there is equal need, especially during childhood, to do the same for that which terrifies us.  The Boogeyman is the embodiment of irrational fear, the source of every child's nightmares.  And for many years (and I can guess many people), the Boogeyman has been the dentist.

Few people enjoy going to the dentist; this is something I can say with some certainty.  Whether it's the high pitched sound of the drills or the anticipation of pain, dentists and fear seem to go hand in hand.  And although in most cases the pain we endure is our own fault for allowing the condition of our teeth to deteriorate to begin with, it's in our nature to associate that pain with the hand that holds the drill.

I visited a new dentist this morning, something I've been putting off for months.  A year, really.  Since we moved to Germany in January 2009, to be precise.  And why?  Because I'm scared, that's why.  Because I know what I'm guilty of, ignoring certain things in the hopes they'd go away.  (Does that EVER work?)  And so it was during our trip to Provence this year when I experienced pain so intense, I was, for all intents and purposes, temporarily debilitated until it passed.  And it did pass, which made it easy to forget the promise I'd made in the thick of the pain to see a dentist as soon as we got back home.

Two months later, and that minus a week after I got the name and number of a friend's dentist, I finally made the call, yesterday.  I know it's silly that I hardly slept last night, but I didn't.  I think it was part embarrassment and part fear, both of the pain and that I might have the most terrible set of teeth this dentist has ever seen.  (It should be said I've got decently nice teeth, fairly straight with nothing odd to speak of.)  When I arrived to Dr. Winkelmann's practice first thing this morning it was like walking up the spiral staircase of someone's home, but more professional.  The waiting room was decorated with travel photography (which I would later learn were my dentist's own), and was complete with a relaxing water fountain, magazines in both German and English, and a water and coffee station.  The staff was friendly and warm, not so typical in these parts, and although I often prefer to work with people not so familiar with Americans, like the grocer in my town, I loved, loved, loved how seemingly Americanized Dr. Winkelmann's bedside manner was.  When we met he shook my hand and listened to my concerns, answered my questions (something else not so typical here), and explained how it would all work.  He asked where I was from, and it turns out he has a condo not far from my hometown in Florida.  Somehow the fact that he was familiar with where I'm from makes me trust him more, that and his grandfatherly nature, gentle and kind, wise and confident.  I adored him immediately.  He told me that if our seats were reversed, he would be the biggest chicken there is when it comes to pain, and that this has greatly influenced the way he practices.  I believed him.  And even though the news after the X-ray was not in my favor, and it was clear a root canal was necessary, I wasn't as scared as I'd been going in.

So I had a visit with the Boogeyman this morning and he gave ma a root canal, and it hurt.  But it wasn't totally unbearable, and he prepared me for it, apologetically, explaining he could numb me to my toes but he couldn't numb the nerve beneath my tooth.  After it was done he explained what happened both times the pain jumped in, and just having someone willing to explain everything both before and after the procedure made me feel better.  I'm a question asker; I like to know things.  He sent me on my way with a smile and I can say without pause that I am not scared to return Saturday to wrap this thing up.  Even though there was some pain involved, it was quite obvious to me that Dr. Winkelmann worked very hard to be as gentle as possible (even when he was initially taking a look around my mouth), and my affinity for old men only helps matters.  

I guess in the end, the Boogeyman is never as scary as you expect, and the fear is really all in our heads anyway.  In some cases, he might even turn out to be a kind, old man who decorates his office with photographs of his family travels for you to stare at while he fixes your teeth.  I love my new German dentist.


  1. I love the way you see and describe things - like a visit to the dentist - against the bigger backdrop of myths and childhood legends. It makes your writing so enjoyable to read!

  2. But wait....this doesn't mean you are missing Writers's Group Saturday does it?
    July 3 10 AM. Or earlier!

  3. I'm with Jim... and I've gotten out of the habit of checking your blog (bad friend! bad girl, bad!), and this was a delight as my first one back. Well not first one since you sent me a direct link to that other tear-jerker, but still...