Saturday, January 06, 2007

Extreme Dentistry

The search for great teeth continues. The visit yesterday took a remarkable pharmaceutical detour. The dentist was cutting some tissue away and decided to use Epinephrine, a standard anti-bleeding drug, along with the anesthetic. I have a vague memory that all my dentists over the past few years have used it whenever there's a possibility of bleeding, and in the approximately gazillion other surgeries I had last year, I think the non-dental surgeons used Epi each time. At least, after the injection of the local anesthetic, my skin went white, which is typical; Epi closes the capillaries, which is how it cuts down on bleeding.

As you probably know, Epi is otherwise known as adrenaline, the "fight, fright or fight" hormone. Sometimes a surgeon warns me that "this may make your heart race". It never has. Today he injected me with it as usual but this time it went and did the adrenaline thing. My heart accelerated to the road-drill stage, the long drop opened up beneath me and I began falling down the rabbit-hole. Within twenty seconds of the injection I was hyperventilating with a heart rate of 150, and the dentist was calling for someone to get me oxygen.

I'm not sure which one of us was most worried. Epi is a fast-acting hormone, but it goes away just as fast. The half-life is in the 30 second range, so within two minutes I was back to normal. The dentist made some notes in my record, patted me on the shoulder and told me that if I couldn't remember a long word like "Epinephrine" I should at least remember to tell the next dentist that I'd had a "bit of a reaction to the drug that makes your heart race". I assured him that I could remember the word. He possibly didn't intend to say this out loud, but he added, "What worries me is I only gave you a small dose." Well, I said, all I'd had to eat that day was my usual morning eight cups of coffee and a megadose of Amoxicillin (I have to take antibiotics before each of these increasingly frequent trips to the dentist for reasons too boring to go into). I think he calmed down a bit after I described the contents of my Breakfast of Champions.

On the way home, I thought about the way that, many years ago, I used to pay good money to get that same head rush. Amyl Nitrite, a cheap-ass, legal and thoroughly rotten drug that I hope no one uses any more, was a staple of my college circle. The effect is surprisingly similar. Of course, when taking Amyl I was a) about twenty years old and b) having sex at the time. Yesterday I was a) in my forties and b) lying in a dentist's chair with two medical professionals staring down at me with a shared thought balloon over their heads clearly reading YIKE IS MALPRACTICE INSURANCE UP TO DATE PLZ CHECK. Somehow it's not the same.

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