This is a cautionary tale about how jetlag can cause twenty years of painful dental surgery.
When I was twelve, my family landed in Delhi after a sleepless international flight. That morning, in the course of excited horsing around with my cousin, I fell forward off her shoulders.
I wasn’t necessarily a great athlete in those days, but I had reasonably good reflexes, which just then failed spectacularly. Sluggish, confused, perhaps merely in denial, I clutched her t-shirt instead of putting out my hands to break the fall, and I hit the cement floor on my face. I don’t remember whether it hurt. I do remember stumbling to the sink and spitting a frightening amount of blood, and then a lot of screaming and panicked faces.
In about four seconds we were in a car, with my mother holding me in her arms and my aunt holding my left front tooth in her hand, root and all, which I thought was partly really cool and partly really not. The dentist poked me full of painkillers and re-implanted the tooth. In childhood, your body is more gracious about taking back any bits you’ve foolishly tossed out; the nerves grew back and the incisor continued to do honourable service.
But, eight years later, as I brushed my teeth in a college dorm, I noticed a weird rosy colour on the tooth. The next time I was home in Delhi, I visited another dentist (the first one had died). She gasped, took many pictures, and asked if I’d mind if she showed them at an upcoming dental conference, for this was her first case of pink tooth in twenty years of practice. Pink tooth is when the gum starts to reabsorb the tooth, which sounded pretty macabre to me, but she was very excited. She capped it and I went back to college with a less scary smile.
Inside of a year, it had come dangerously loose. The next summer in Delhi, I found myself in yet another dentist’s chair. This gent spent an hour shoving a metal screw into my upper jawbone while he hummed along softly to background music, like some highly-cultured psychopath. I don’t think he gave me enough painkillers. To this day I can’t listen to Enigma without whimpering.
The next year, the pin was loose again. By now my parents were in Malaysia, so in the summer a dentist there performed some horrible operation in which the benighted incisor was finally put to rest (bless its little enamelled soul) and a bridge put in. Further trouble was confined to a recurrent infection in the area of the missing root, which I kept swatting away with antibiotics.
By now I was in my thirties, living in Delhi, working for a magazine, and in the care of a very capable dentist who worries about my teeth almost as much as my mother. One bleary midnight in my dank basement office, I noticed a painful throb just below my nose. The x-rays showed an enormous cyst.
That resulted in a gum surgery so hideous that I can’t bring myself to talk about it except to say that the doctor removed the cap, opened up my gums like the flap of an envelope, dug out the cyst, cleaned up and sealed everything while I mooed with pain. Then he gave me another, nicer cap.
Eighteen months later, the cyst grew back. He called in a second opinion, who concurred that the right incisor, too, must be extracted, and a whole new bridge put in. For a full year I’ve pretended to be too busy to schedule the procedure. But it’s twingeing again, and now I know that my number is up.
Moral of the story: sleep on the plane, idiot.