By R.W. Anton
It came out of nowhere, a throbbing, aching, thunderously obnoxious pain in the bottom right half of my jaw. As I was biting down on a delicious grilled chicken sandwich that I’d purchased from the deli just two blocks from my apartment, I felt it shoot through my body with a bang-pow and 1-2 punch that stole my appetite and brought tears to my eyes. I thought that, maybe, I had chipped a tooth. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time, either.
Still slightly stunned from the pain of that chomp, I grabbed my lower lip and pulled it forward, then left, then right as if the motion would somehow make the pain subside, but that didn’t work. I went to the refrigerator to dislodge a piece of ice to soothe the hurt and ran to the bathroom mirror to see if I was bleeding. I wasn’t, but the pain was abusive.
My mind was racing as I wondered if I could find a dentist in the middle of a pandemic. Yes, we were, and are, still on lockdown in New York City, and my body seems to think it’s the perfect time for a root canal. I must have the worst luck in the western hemisphere (unless you count those who’ve been diagnosed with COVID 19 and died). Am I being morbid, or am I just trying to see the silver lining? Why can’t I do both?
There is an emergency room no more than ten blocks from my home, and I have visited it before when I fell, face first, onto the pavement in the front of my corner bodega in a rainstorm. The plan was to go see a friend’s one-man show that night, and five years later, he still jokes that I only injured myself to get out of seeing him perform. Should I go right to the emergency room or wait until morning to call the dentist? I was in so much pain, but I was also nervous about going into a hospital with Coronavirus germs floating around like bubbles at a carnival.
Going through my cabinets, I find some Sensodyne that I was given in a pharmaceutical convention and applied it liberally to my teeth and gums. It took a while for the throbbing to subside, but it worked well enough for me to lay down for a while and take a nap. Sleeping is the best way for the body to repair itself, and I am one of the best nap-takers that I know. I can nap better than a marathon runner can run. I can nap better than an ice skater can spin; I can nap better than Ronaldo can kick a soccer ball. I nap so good that I call it a “siesta.” I nap so good that it needs to be said in a foreign language. That is how good I can nap. Isn’t it an action verb?
The next morning, I get on the phone to call a dentist and ask if I should come into the ER; and he tells me that I have a few options, explains them to me, and I take the one that will allow me to put off subjecting myself to the hours of waiting in line to catch the virus. He writes me a virtual prescription and sends it to the nearest pharmacy, and I go to pick it up and take antibiotics for seven days.
I’m keeping track of the days that we have been “on pause” in NYC, and it’s already been 32 days. There is not much sound in my building, and I continuously wonder if everyone has escaped the city to shelter in their rented shares somewhere in Long Island or Connecticut. It is eerily quiet around here, and I only run into the occasional dog-walker as I walk to the store to get groceries or traipse up and down the streets for some fresh air and exercise.
It’s depressing watching the news because all the talk is death and disease, gloom and doom, uprising and/or surrender. People fight over the restrictions put in place (or not put in place) by our government officials, the president vacillates between acknowledging the severity of the pandemic and totally ignoring the ramifications of it to our society. My mayor and governor have a pissing contest about when the schools will reopen. I sit home and hope that I don’t have significant damage to my chompers as the pain subsides in my maw.
Is this a sign that everything will get better, or is it simply a small respite from the trauma until something more severe presents itself?
Once I’ve finished the pills, my teeth feel a little better, but I’m still chewing on one side of my mouth. I can’t bite down on the afflicted side without triggering a jolt of pain. I’m happy to be able to eat at all but wonder if I’ll damage the good side of my teeth by putting too much pressure on them. Either way, it seems like I’m getting the shaft, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
The day before the final day of our lockdown, 59 days into quarantine, we are summarily advised that it will be another three weeks before a decision is made about our situation. Three weeks seems like forever, but I am now in the new normal. I walk about in my mask, sans gloves, and chew out of one side of my face, and worry about whether I will be able to pay my bills and meet my friends and have a place to live. I wonder if life will ever get back to normal and what that normal will be and how long we will continue to choose between the lesser of two evils. I wonder if I will get to the dentist before an irreversible toll has been taken on my gums.