Tuesday, April 22, 2008

On Aging

I got a toothache five days ago. Unclear, sneaky signals made their ways to my brain as I chewed through chicken and sweet potatoes Friday night at our friends Mike and Karin's house. The next day, the tooth that I'd just gotten a filling in began to feel bumpy and strange when I chewed. By Sunday, a sip of lukewarm water made the nerve inside my tooth feel as if it were throbbing on the end of live jumper cables.

"Is this what happens?" I'd asked my husband, who claims his teeth are "sensitive" where he's gotten fillings. "Does it hurt so bad you don't want to take a drink?"

"Sometimes," he said.

Oh, great. So what I was experiencing was now apparently in the realm of someone else's normal. There is no hope for me, I thought. This is what happens when your mouth falls apart, and even medical science can't make life any easier? Still, I tried to sound as desperate as possible on my dentist's answering machine. I even called his home number, given for "emergencies."

The relatively "good" news (I found out today) is that my filling is not cracked, and I do not have an abscess. Also, my nerve is not dying. However, as I sat in the brightly lit dental chair and looked up at my giant of a dentist as he described nerve death and trauma, my eyes (seriously) began to well up with tears. Even though he was clearly saying I am not experiencing nerve death, the very description, the very personification he employed to describe a nerve getting so traumatized it just curls up and dies, filled me with such a profound sense of grief, loss and insecurity. My nerve could just up and die on me? A little piece of myself--die?

If my husband were here right now I'm sure he'd remind me that by the time I'm my age, my brain cells are dying off right and left. Science has already indicated I've lost most of the digestive enzymes that came with me out of my mother's womb. Last week I found a white-ish gray hair on my head (which I'm still not sure wasn't just paint from a project two months ago...although evidence points to the contrary). And I come from a family of well-aged natural brunettes. What does it all mean?

The dentist said the cause of my pain was that my "bite got off" and he shaved down the filling he put in six weeks ago in hopes that will relieve some of the stress of my bite. And he put me on therapeutic doses of Ibuprofen for two days (that's 2400 mg a day. Ack.) to relieve the inflammation. Apparently, this happens.

Still, my thirtieth birthday is just around the corner. I look to it with celebration mixed with longing that good health will continue with me into middle and then older age. In spite of all the failing health in our country, I find myself compelled to cling to the hope that proper care of our bodies, souls, spirits, relationships, and environment will yield the sort of health that keeps us going longer than the energizer bunny.