Wednesday, June 07, 2006

In the Dentist Chair and in the Pew


Bright and early this morning I went to the dentist for a cleaning and check up.

If you have been reading here for a while you know that we like to dress up and play a grownup version of "let's pretend." As part of that I have seen the implements of torture used by "dentists" in the 1700s. Just looking at them makes my insides curl up, and I know I would have to be experiencing pain at an absolutely unbearable level to let someone put those things in my mouth.

Consequently, I have thanked God more than once for the wonders of modern dentisty. Seriously. Thanks be to the Lord for numbing agents, for high-speed drills, for crowns, and bonding fillings, etc. Going to the dentist is a relatively pain-free experience, most of the time anyway.

But...eveyone still seems to dread going.

I ponder that this morning as I sit in the waiting room reaading about creative egg-dying ideas for Easter. Why is the reading material always outdated? Why does my stomach feel a little queasy and why do I need to make two trips to the restroom? This is no big deal...no big deal...no big deal. Sheesh, what is taking them so long? I hate those drilling noises.

My turn. Okay. Not a root canal, for goodness sake. Just a cleaning and another very minor little problem to deal with. I'm a grown-up.

The nice dental hygenist, hereafter known as DH, chats brightly about the weather as she lowers the chair. And lowers it a bit more. And a bit more. My feet are now a little higher than my head! Bright light on--right in my eyes--and the receptionist destracts her with a question...ooww. My eyes squint. Okay, now she has it shining on my mouth. Whew.

DH: "Time for a couple of x-rays." In goes that hard plastic thingy, pressing painfulluy into the soft tissue under my tongue.

DH: "Hold very still."

SO: (thinking..."Owww, that knife-like plastic is pushing into the floor of my mouth...wow, it is bleeding a little...waaah")

DH: "Good! All done...So, life is good? Open your mouth please."

SO: Opens mouth, nods head

DH: "Wider please."

SO: Opens mouth wider

DH: "Great!"

SO: (thinking..."What is so great about it?")

DH: "I haven't seen you for awhile."

SO: "Mmmffffphh" (thinking..."I don't come here to hang out")

DH: scrape, scrape, scrape, poke,, SCRAAAAAPE, scrape, scrape, POKE!

SO: flinches

DH: "Oh, sorry. Did that hurt?"

SO: "It's okay, just a bit sensitive." (thinking..."You just stabbed me in the gum with that sharp instrument, you nincompoop. I'm bleeding again.")

DH: "Hmmm, little bleeding here....Have you been flossing?"

SO "Mmmpffph" (blinks eyes twice for yes, feeling like a recovering accident victim))

DH: "I want to ask you a question."

SO: (Clearly on the defensive, thinks, "Oh shoot, what am I doing wrong now? I'm flossing, I'm brushing, I'm avoiding candy....") "Umm...sure."

DH: "What is an appropriate amount to pay a minister for doing a wedding?"

We have a short discussion about clergy fees and her upcoming wedding. Then she gets back to work. By now I am acutely uncomfortable. I do not like having my feet higher than my head. I do not like the bright light. I do not like the splashing water on my face and glasses. I do not like the shap pokey instrument. I DO NOT LIKE having my mouth wide open. My head is starting to throb and my nose itches incessently. Why does my nose always do that when I'm in the dentist chair? The DH keeps scraping and poking and then flossing and then puts chalky stuff in my mouth and polishes my teeth. Bzzzzzz...chalk kind of makes me gaggy.

I know my teeth must be cleaned, and I like it when they are polished. Done. Okay then.

The dentist comes in. "Which one?" he says to the assistant, who replies with something about the #90 bicuspid, I think. (Ninety?) He checks my teeth over and fixes the minor problem with his drill. Rrrrrrrrrrrrr.....Ugh, nasty sound and nasty smell. But painless. No big deal. He tells me I am doing a great job, pats my arm and asks about my son and his teeth.

I make my appointment to come back in six months. "Bye. Have a nice day."

Not so bad. Why was it something I dread so much?

"It is not the pain, which is really pretty minimal" I think. "It's not that they are not very nice people. They are friendly, reasonably competent, and the office is nicely decorated, if a bit dated..."

It is that I feel like a victim. Sitting in a chair with my feet higher than my head has me feeling that way before anything even happes. I don't like having a body orifice viewed and prodded by a stranger, even if it is only my tongue and teeth and tonsils they are seeing. I don't like that they are doing things I don't quite get. I want to know why they do certain things. It is their world, and I enter it for a while to go through something necessary but unfamilar and uncomfortable and a bit humiliating. I have no power at all when I am in the dentist chair. I hate feeling trapped.

Now I'm thinking about church.

I think there may be reasons why we see some people every six months, and perhaps it is not always about them not wanting much of God in their lives. Is the reason some people feel uncomfortable in church similar in some ways? I do, after all, like having clean teeth. But I am also very glad that I don't have to return to that chair anytime soon. Do we do things that make people uneasy from the get-go? Do we use words they don't understand? Do they feel like they are entering our territory to get a little help from us but don't want to hang out because it is not a pleasant place to be?

Sometimes GOD makes people uncomfortable. Part of the job description of the Holy Spirit is to "convict" and that usually is not comfortable. But do we make people feel uncomfortable? Do we talk to them not realizing they can't answer us? Do we put them in an uncomfortable position? Are we friendly and cheerful but also impersonal? Do we have all the power? Do visitors feel trapped?

Are there ways we can empower new people in appropriately? I don't know if I'm on to something or if I am just short on sleep.

What do you think?

5 comments:

Bad Alice said...

What I don't like about the dentist is the "You need a crown--that'll be $600 please." Also, they never give me enough time to get numb. I must metabolize slowly. I once had to have 6 shots of novocaine. Ugh.

When I was little I didn't mind the dentist at all. I didn't even know I was getting a shot--what an excellent dentist I had.

SingingOwl said...

Eeek! How could I forget that one? I'm still paying off my last crown. :-(

P.S. (an after-thought) said...

Some people don't go to the dentist and don't take their kids to the dentist and then these kids don't grow up to realize that going is a part of good health. Some people don't go to church, don't model any spirituality in the home, and don't take their kids to church. These kids don't learn about a place for spirituality as a part of good overall health.

How often does any of us go to a meeting or club unless we are personally invited, unless we have a prior association with that group? Many of us would be uncomfortable walking into a "new" space without a friend. There are a couple of places close to my home that I've never gone to even though they are popular with my acquaintances, yet I've never had a friend say, "hey, lets go to ____."

So if we did go and we thought the place had strange, unfamiliar music, how would we feel? What about seeing a guy leading the group wearing a "dress" and chanting? Does that seem somehow uncomfortable because we might not have it in our background? I know I would be uncomfortable going to certain "night spots" that had loud music and people in clothes (or hanging out of clothing) that was out of my usual culture.

Are the C & E Christians there out of a sense of duty? Fire insurance? Family obligation? Are they similarly uncomfortable with new hymns and rituals?

Most especially, I think of those people who go through church doors only for funerals. If they associate a church building only with death and sorrow, whatever would draw them back at other times?

You raise some good questions. The reason to go to a dentist is for good overall health. Church goers probably feel that going to church contributes to spiritual health, among other reasons, such as worship and being fed. But people who are unfamiliar with the long term benefits might only see the short term discomfort.

JWD said...

Oh, Singing Owl, I could sooo relate to your experience at the dentist. The last time I went, I came home and just cried. It feels terribly violating to me. And I've never heard anyone else ever express it that way.

Your comparison to church is interesting. And worrisome! Thanks for raising the question.

see-through faith said...

yes you are on to something (grin)