Honest Doctors

Wouldn't it be nice if doctors were honest with you about how much something is going to hurt?

photo credit: Lori Duff
photo credit: Lori Duff

My friend Carrie, the world-renowned psychologist I referred to in my post about the Cheetos I served in a Tiffany Bowl, brought up yet another excellent point the other day.  Her son had to have some impressions made of his teeth.  Anyone who has ever had impressions made of their teeth knows that the process involves putty-goo filled trays that are only just small enough that you don’t choke on them, and chomping down on the putty-goo filled trays for what feels like 72 million years while the putty-goo sets.  You spend the 72 million years they are not-quite-choking you trying to figure out what to do with your tongue, besides trying not to swallow it; suppressing your gag reflex; trying not to drown in your own saliva; and generally wishing you could pass out to make the time go faster.  There is nothing about this that is fun.  While it is not necessarily painful, neither is waterboarding or sleep deprivation or listening to Miley Cyrus at high decibels, all of which are considered torture according to the Geneva Convention.

 In other words, it is awful.  A necessary awful, perhaps, but awful nonetheless.  So Carrie’s point was this: why did the person putting the putty-goo trays in her son’s mouth feel the need to reassure her daughter with “This won’t be so bad” and then, after removal say, “See?  That wasn’t so bad.”  It was bad.  It was a horrible thing to have gone through, and by telling Carrie’s son it wasn’t going to be bad and then that it wasn’t even though it was, the nurse completely diminished her son’s accomplishment, that is, suffering through it without a panic attack or tantrum.

 So, on behalf of Carrie’s son, and on behalf of all of us who have ever been told, “You’ll just feel a little pinch,” before being stabbed with what feels like a rusty, frozen ice pick, I hereby propose legislation which would require doctors, dentists and other medical professionals to let you know what you are in for.  In other words, don’t lie.  In the words of the brilliant jurist Judge Judy, don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining. 

 I know as well as you do that being honest isn’t going to make it hurt any less or be any less torturous.  When I brought this idea up to some of my friends, they thought it was horrible because it would make them panic if they knew what was coming.  My retort is this: if you are over 10 years old you’ve been there and done that a few times and you know you are in for it anyway.  An acknowledgment of what we’re in for by the people doing it to us will allow us to feel pride in our accomplishments.  For example: let’s say you have to get a filling.  As it is now, the dentist will numb your gum and inevitably say, “you’ll just feel a little sting” or something like that.  Then a needle the size of a drinking straw is shoved through your gum and it stays there poking up against the root of your tooth and your nerves while the Novocain gets injected.  Then you get your tooth drilled, and while it doesn’t hurt, exactly, you have to keep your mouth wide open for a very long uncomfortable time, and listen to that horrible grinding noise, occasionally get a piece of tooth flung up at your face, and sometimes smell something vaguely burning.  When it is done, you are given a pat on the head, told to floss more, and sent on your way. 

 Wouldn’t the following scenario be better?  You sit in the chair.  The dentist gets the turkey baster sized needle out and says something like, “Ok, this is really going to hurt like crazy, but I swear to you it will hurt less than if I drill your tooth without it.”  Then, while all the drilling is going on, instead of talking with the assistants about what to have for lunch or the schedule for the afternoon, the dentist would keep up the mantra, “Sorrysorrysorrysorrysorry, I promise I am doing my best to make this go as quickly as I can.”  When it is over, the dentist would say, “Phew!  Thank you so much for not biting me or punching me in the head when I accidentally hit the nerve.  That was some great self-control you just displayed.  Now, the side of your face is going to be numb for the next couple of hours, so don’t drink anything or it will dribble down your chin and make you look like even more of an idiot than the slackjaw does.  When it wears off, you are going to feel like Mike Tyson punched you in the side of the head, so here’s a fistful of Motrin and a voodoo doll with my likeness on it for you to stab with pins.”

 Then you could leave feeling like you accomplished something.  Like you braved something painful and scary and uncomfortable, and came out of it stronger for having done it.  Because the truth is, you did.   

 Lori B. Duff is the author of the Amazon ‘Hot New Release’ Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza, a collection of autobiographical humor essays.  You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/loribduffauthor


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Robert J. Nebel April 09, 2014 at 06:16 PM
Great points. With a heavy dose of Novocain, it can sometimes feel like one's face is paralyzed. I didn't experience that sensation until three years ago when I had fillings replaced. I thought I lost total control. Then there is orthodontics (as depicted in the blog post's photos). The additional appliances -- like chains -- attached to the braces are not only painful, but quite cumbersome and fragile.
Lori Duff April 09, 2014 at 06:26 PM
Thanks! Pretending pain and discomfort doesn't exist doesn't actually make it go away -- it just makes us feel like whiner babies when it occurs. I would rather feel proud of myself for dealing with it bravely than like I'm a big wimp because some doctor told me it wouldn't hurt, presumably because no one else thinks it is so bad.


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