Wednesday, October 17, 2012

let's talk about my Jesus freak dentist.

Excuse me for stating the obvious, but not too many people look forward to going to the dentist. With the scraping and the violent flossing and the potential for drilling, it’s no walk in the park. I dreaded the dentist more than the average patient, but not because of the actual dentistry. You see, after my dentist was done with my teeth, he would try to save my soul.

When I was a kid, I didn’t mind going to the dentist. My teeth were always cavity-free, and I got some really sweet prizes out of the toy drawer. 
Pictured: a sweet prize. Dentist prizes were so much
better in the early 90s, am I right?
It wasn’t until my parents heard the dreaded words “Calla needs braces” that the dentist’s office became a place of trepidation.

There’s really no way that I could’ve gotten around having braces. My teeth were pointing every which way, and there were too many of them crammed in my small mouth. 
You can't see the full magnitude of my crazy
teeth in this picture, but it's the best I can do.
Try to ignore my stylin' lime green overalls.
Mom and I consulted with a number of orthodontists, and Mom finally decided on one in particular because he was the only one who would not pull any of my teeth.

This orthodontist seemed pretty normal at first, despite his insistence that we call him by his professional title and his first name. (Would you want to receive dental care from me if I went by Dr Calla? I didn’t think so.) For the purpose of this story, I will refer to him as Dr Jesusfreak. You’ll find out why in just a few short paragraphs.

I started going to Dr Jesusfreak when I was in the fourth grade, so I would’ve been ten years old. We got along fine: he was very friendly, and he seemed legitimately interested in what I had learned at school that day or what I had done over the weekend. Dr Jesusfreak also would reassure me that all the painful contraptions associated with my braces would ultimately pay off. 
I had glasses, braces, and a perm all at
once. Life was tough for a little while.
I trusted him through metal spacers (gadgets that were cemented on the top and bottom of my mouth and cranked every so often to expand my mouth and make room for my teeth) and a weird operation where part of my gum was removed to expose an adult tooth that was refusing to grow in –a bracket then was attached to the stubborn tooth along with rubber bands attached to the braces on the rest of my teeth, which eventually dragged the tooth into place. Gross, huh?

Anyway, Dr Jesusfreak knew what he was doing, and I was totally ok putting the fate of my smile into his hands. I actually looked forward to going to my biweekly (yes, biweekly) orthodontic appointments just so I could chat it up with Dr Jesusfreak. Until one July day, that is.

I don’t remember exactly where this particular visit falls in my Dr Jesusfreak timeline, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was about a year after I started going to him. So let’s say that I’m about eleven years old. I had gone in for a routine visit: make sure everything’s ok, change the colors of the little bands on my braces, a quick check-in from Dr Jesusfreak. In and out, right? Not this time.

Dr Jesusfreak came in and greeted me with a handshake, as always. He had some guy with him – I’m not sure who he was, but he had scrubs on and looked incredibly uncomfortable. After Dr Jesusfreak inspected my mouth, he said, “Is it ok if I come back and talk to you in a little bit?” I said yes: you can’t say no to the dentist, can you? As the hygienist fitted me with new colorful rubber bands, I worried. Hadn’t been flossing properly? What if I had been using the wrong kind of toothpaste? I hated to disappoint Dr Jesusfreak, so I waited anxiously for him to come back.

When he did finally come back, Dr Jesusfreak pulled up his little stool next to my dental chair, and the uncomfortable scrubs guy sat behind him. “Calla, I’d like to talk to you about Jesus Christ,” said Dr Jesusfreak. I just stared at him: that was not at all what I had expected. Dr Jesusfreak asked me if I had accepted Jesus as my savior, because if I hadn’t, my soul wasn’t saved yet. And I wanted to go to heaven, didn’t I? I nodded dumbly. Well, then, I would need to accept Jesus as my savior. Did I? Again, I nodded. Dr Jesusfreak was positively ecstatic. He asked me to pray with him. Still not believing that this was actually happening, I bowed my head to pray with the dentist (but not before sneaking a glance at the scrubs guy – he looked like he’d really rather be someplace else).

After Dr Jesusfreak’s prayer, he produced a teeny tiny Bible bound in green faux-leather. In the back was a page saying something like “I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior, etc” with a blank spot for my name the date. Dr Jesusfreak had me sign the Bible and congratulated me on gaining acceptance into God’s kingdom. I left the dentist’s office that day feeling awfully weird about what had just happened.

I wondered why Dr Jesusfreak felt the need to “save” me. Was there something about me that suggested an eternity in hell? I was too flabbergasted to tell him that I was a regular Sunday School attendee, so he didn’t need to tell me Jesus. Way ahead of you, Dr Jesusfreak. 

After that appointment, though, a lot of things made sense. Dr Jesusfreak consistently entered the exam room singing hymns, and he would say things like “Praise the Lord for such a beautiful day!” He had asked me what church I attended (“Ah, Lutherans are good people”), and his waiting room was filled with Jesus magazines. Just what, I wondered, had I gotten myself into?

At my next appointment, I was on edge. Dr Jesusfreak didn’t bring up our last conversation, and neither did I. It wasn’t too long after that, though, that Dr Jesusfreak appeared on the sidewalk outside of my school: as it turns out, he was a Gideon, and he was handing out Bibles. I quickly ducked the other way, hissing to my friends that IT’S MY DENTIST QUICK GO THE OTHER WAY DON’T LOOK BACK PLEASE HURRY. Of course, I then had to explain why I fled from my dentist. I related the soul-saving story, and everyone agreed that’s an awfully strange thing to happen at the dentist’s office.

As the years went by, Dr Jesusfreak continued in his churchy ways. He once asked me how often I prayed. My braces finally came off when I was fourteen, and Dr Jesusfreak would comment on “how great it was that God gave [me] such a beautiful smile.” 
For reference: my smile post-braces,
circa 2005. As much as I bitched
about the braces (and the dentist),
I guess they were worth it in the end.
I found it difficult not to tell him that my God-given smile contained many crooked teeth and my new smile was a result of modern medicine – as the very doctor who slapped the braces on my teeth, shouldn’t he know that? However, I wisely kept my mouth shut – I couldn’t have given him my snarky answer if I wanted to, as Dr Jesusfreak had a tendency to conduct most if his conversations with my mouth full of dental instruments.

Over the years, my visits to Dr Jesusfreak became fewer and farther between. After I got my braces off, my appointments went from every two or three weeks to once a month, and then after he was satisfied that my teeth weren’t going to revert to their crooked formation, Dr Jesusfreak lowered his requirements to every six months. Finally, I was told that once a year for a run-of-the-mill cleaning would do just fine.

I continued to go to Dr Jesusfreak for my yearly visits all through high school and college (thanks to me being able to stay on my parents’ insurance), and everything was fine and dandy. Dr Jesusfreak continued to praise God for my complete lack of cavities, and, after seeing this guy for more than a decade, I learned that the best thing to do was just smile and nod.

Now that I’m a bona-fide adult with my very own dental insurance (!!!), I need to find my own dentist. I’ve been to a couple of dentists in the random places I’ve lived, and none of them have asked me how I feel about Jesus. I hope I have this kind of luck when I pick out a Sioux Falls dentist: Jesus seems like a cool guy and all, so I don’t think He would mind if my dentist and I talk about something else for a change.

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