Friday, March 2, 2007

D. G. D. Davidson: Marathon Man

I used to be quite proud that I still had all my useless body parts in place. Appendix: right where it belongs. Tonsils: still in the back of my throat. Wisdom teeth: fully developed and fully erupted, baby.

Well, so much for the wisdom teeth. My squarish, masculine lantern jaw (why are you laughing?) decided to have a little growth spurt in my early twenties, and to make a long story short, if I wanted the rest of my molars to remain intact, the wisdom teeth had to go.

I got them out this morning. As I write this, my face is still numb. I'll tell you one thing--I am never going to an "Olde Fashioned Dentistry" again. Turns out their wisdom teeth-removing equipment consists of a doorknob and a sturdy piece of twine. But by far the worst part of the surgery was when he drilled into a healthy root while asking over and over, "Is it safe?"

No, not really. But I did do it with local anaesthetic only, so you can rest assured that your Sci Fi Catholic is no sissy. Plus he wanted to save ninety-five bucks. I entertained myself during the procedure by alternately praying and thinking about what jokes I would make in this post.

I just hope this doesn't result in any bone degradation or something. What if I ended up with what fiction writers call a "weak chin"? I've yet to see a character with a "weak chin" who didn't turn out to be a nefarious villain. Apparently jaw size is directly related to virtue.

On that note, I know I have a book around here somewhere (and I am not going to look for it right now) that discusses indigenous cultures that have switched to Western diets. The result includes not only cavities, but pinching of the dental arch, producing all our typical tooth problems. So, want to keep you kids out of braces? Less sugar, more tough, unprocessed foods. Builds those manly, squarish jaws. And apparently, that produces bravery, dashing good looks, and super powers. Who can argue with that?

On that note, since I'm going to be in severe pain in an hour or two, I want to direct your attention to a fine book called The Gift Nobody Wants by Paul Brand and Philip Yancey, which discusses the importance of pain for our daily lives. Dr. Brand is an expert in leprosy and other conditions that cause the nerves to stop registering pain. The result of these conditions is lesions and infections frequently leading to amputations. His conclusion: we need pain. Some of the stories he tells are wince-inducing, including one of a woman who actually broke her spine lifting a car out of a ditch because she was incapable of feeling pain.

In the famous novel, Catch-22, a couple of characters argue about pain. One complains that pain hurts and suggests that a compassionate God could have put some sort of color-changing signal on the forehead instead. The author of the aforementioned The Gift Nobody Wants actually developed such a system for people who feel no pain, a device that sends an electric shock to still-functioning nerves when the patient is doing something that could cause damage. He found that such a system doesn't work. People tend to ignore the artificial signals, but the body's natural pain signals are by contrast very difficult to ignore. They protect us from damaging ourselves and inform us when something has gone wrong.
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