i'm currently sitting in the very nice house a very nice expat in dakar, gingerly spooning mashed potatoes into my mouth and wincing at the fact that my cheeks look like the saggy jowls of john mccain. the nice thing about all of this is that i just woke up 30 minutes ago and its the first time i've slept in in ages and the house is air conditioned and there are hot showers. the negative thing about all of this is that yesterday i got two (i was only born with two) wisdom teeth removed and call me a wuss, but it was slightly traumatizing.
i've been trying to get my teeth removed for about 5 months now, but the teeth sprouted at the worst possible time -- the middle of the rainy season. so i bit the bullet and procrastinated the surgery because undergoing this procedure would require me to leave site for a stretch of time and it didn't seem like a good time to do that. by august my teeth didn't hurt as much anymore and i thought maybe i could even wait another year until i got home to get the teeth removed. but then sometime two weeks ago the throbbing pain of teeth pushing their way to the surface remained and i decided that since i was going to dakar for some time to perform my mid-service medical exams, i would go and get these teeth taken out once and for all.
i arrived in dakar monday afternoon and it was quite pleasant -- i got to see a bunch of people i haven't seen in a while and consumed sam adams beer (!!), grilled chicken salad, ice cream, hummus, tabouleh. basically lots of good food and good friends. and then there were the perks of staying at this expat's house. he's incredibly generous and the house is so nice and it is amazing to take a hot shower and step out into cool, air conditioned air and not sweat immediatly afterwards, and then pad over to bed where it is nice and cold and the mattress is perfectly firm and not cavernous or lumpy (or made of cheap foam). i was happy to be in dakar.
but then yesterday morning came around and i was on my way to get a panoramic done so that dr. savage -- the head peace corps doctor of west africa-- could decide whether i would get one or two teeth removed. i suppose one could say that dr. savage has a reputation for being no-nonsense. he's got a lot of shit to take care of so i suppose he doesn't really appreciate petty business that drags him down. because of this, i was kind of nervous that the panoramic would show up and pronounce that my teeth were absolutely fine and that i was just making up the pain in my head and he had just wasted his time and money on my neurotic make-believes. but no, the panoramic revealed that yes, the teeth were to be removed.
i wasn't sure if i was to be relieved or not because of course, since the first day 5 months ago that my teeth made signs of wanting out, i have been hearing everybody's personal horror story of their wisdom teeth removal. i also remembered the time when my sister got hers out and got terribly ill and vomited a concotion of pink slim fast and blood a dozen times and i was compassionatly horrified. moreover, there's been one scary peace corps story of wisdom teeth removal that has quickly circulated among the volunteer social circle and of course every time somebody heard that i was getting my teeth removed, they would be sure to ask me if i had heard the story. i knew that all of this was in jest or teasing but it secretly made my heart anxious and i was freaked out. my family was also freaked out and my dad had simultaneous horror images of what the surgery would be like. overall, i suppose my ignorance and spoiled american mind thought that oral surgery in a developing nation would be a big terrible bloodfest and i was scared. real real scared.
so after the panoramic we made our way to the oral surgeon's office which was a nice hospital green and had a lovely fish tank that i amused myself with. then...it was surgery time. i left chris (who had come with me for moral support) in the waiting room and dr. savage led me into the chamber of doom. it was very nice and clean and well lit. organized, non-threatening, i was clearly in good hands. moreover, dr. savage was going to be sitting next to me throughout the surgery, participating even, so there wasn't anything to worry about. dr. savage, the oral surgeon -- who i have still to learn the name of -- and his dental assistants all spoke french. i spoke french a long long time ago but have forgotten it all and especially now that i speak wolof most of the time, i can't really do anything but speak wolof (albeit crappily) -- so i didn't really have a very solid idea of what was going on around me. its a little daunting to be performed on in a different language...
it was decided that both teeth would be removed because both sides of the gums were inflammed. it also turned out that i wouldn't be administered a general anesthesia aka i would be awake for all of this. of course they would numb my mouth to the point of not feeling the pain, but i would be fully aware of everything going on. i had known that this was probably the case but had given myself the false hope that they would maybe give me the option or courtesy of unconsciousness. the only other time i ever had oral surgery i was knocked out for that and i was under the assumption that all oral surgeries did this. (turns out that this is no longer a practice.) anyway, the doctor/dentist was a very hyper man and was all ready to go and was bouncing all around the room getting set up. there were lots of people in the room -- the doctor/dentist, dr. savage, two dental assistants, and a dentist-in-training. and me, of course, quivering in my dental chair, covered in two (blood-stained) sheets and a shower cap, sweating profusely.
i'm not a big fan of dentists. i take good care of my teeth and go to the dentist every 6 months but something about opening my mouth -- a very vulnerable place of the human body -- to a stranger with pokey tools has always been a bit disconcerting and this was that fear amplified by ten. the dentist started to poke around my mouth and all of a sudden i was injected with a needle on the inside of my cheek and a searing pain. it was totally unexpected -- i didn't even know we were starting! the pain was immense. this, coupled with the shock, was a bit much and for some reason -- maybe it was just the culmination of fears or all the freaky sounds or the idea that i'd be awake for this or the mefloquine-induced anxiety or whatever -- i started to cry!!! and i couldn't stop. my left cheek was numbing up and i felt like it was swollen to the size of a baseball and i just couldn't crying and soon i was sobbing. it was pretty ridiculous and it pretty much freaked out everybody in the room. it was like they'd never seen a person cry before. it was also slightly embarassing. dr. savage -- who was incredibly calm and supportive throughout all of this -- changed his mind about things and told me that we would just take one tooth out and when the other one started to hurt i could come back and get it removed. i adamently insisted that no, i would calm down soon, and that there was no way i could do this a second time. go big or go home, right? the dentist felt incredibly bad and tried to make jokes in poor english about how my "pretty make up was no more" -- it wasn't just no more, it was streaming everywhere -- and i weakly smiled and mustered up the strength to go on. i haven't felt that kind of fear in a really long time, in fact, i can't even remember the last time i was so terrified.
anyhow, after a few really deep breaths, i managed to get myself to stop crying and asked (as well as one can with one numb cheek) dr. savage to translate the most important things being discussed and if he would kindly keep me up to date on the steps towards the extraction. he readily agreed. we then proceeded and after an hour and a half of cutting and drilling and pulling and sewing, my two wisdom teeth were removed without a glitch. it was quite swift and easy. (as dr. savage put it -- "you've just delivered two healthy babies!" although i suspect that childbirth is probably a million times worse and therefore, not something i am too enthusiastic about...) there wasn't any pain although it was quite stressful and halfway through i began to feel the urge to pee so i was trying to tolerate it all and hold my pee in at the same time. there was no way that i was going to pee my pants in front of everybody, especially after i had broken into tears like some kind of crazy, neurotic pansy.
the swelling went down rather fast, but the pain is quite incredible. it is rather obvious that somebody has drilled away my teeth from my jaw but i think i am healing pretty quickly. although i haven't had the bowls of ice cream promised to me yet, chris made me mashed potatoes though i secretly envied his hamburger and my homestay host has generously offered me every soft food he has in his pantry and refrigerator (including raspberry sorbet!). the codeine makes me incredibly nauseous and i've thrown up a few times this morning so i've weaned myself off of that and am just surviving off of ibuprofen 800.
so that's it. i am two teeth less and the trial is finally over. i know that everybody and their mom gets their wisdom teeth removed and i was just a really big baby about all of this but it still felt like a good story to write home about and will make a lasting memory of my time here. its a shame because dakar is the epicenter of good food in senegal and i'm totally missing out -- nor can i drink -- but i won't complain anymore because i'm healing up pretty fast and things could have wound up so much worse. i wanted to ask to keep my teeth so i could make it into a gris-gris (kind of like a charm/talisman) and show it off to my village but i was too loopy and numb to properly ask so i truly am separated from those teeth forever. i wonder...what are they going to do with them??