When I was a kid, my trips to the dentist were characterized by two realities: lots of cavities, because my dental hygiene in the face of mass consumption of sugary cereals was intermittent and appalling, and a steadfast opposition to getting the novocaine shot before the inevitable drilling began.
Shots don’t bother me, but my first novocaine injection was a disaster. The dentist said I would “feel a pinch” — which seems to have been the standard pre-shot statement used by dentists for the last 50 years, even though no pinch feels remotely like a novocaine injection — and the next thing I knew a huge, bulky hypodermic needle was sliding between my gum and lip and then burrowing deep into the nerve clusters down there. It hurt like hell, so I started to refuse the novocaine shot in favor of a no-numbing, tough-it-out approach to the inevitable cavity excavation.
This was not an easy choice. The novocaine shot was painful, sure, but sitting in the dentist’s chair, holding the arms of the chair in a death grip and trying to retreat into my inner world while much earlier, much drier versions of dentist’s drills whined and smoked and chipped away the enamel around the cavity, touching the central tooth nerves with distressing and instantly excruciating frequency, wasn’t any walk in the park. In fact, it always hurt like hell, too. Our dentist, a kindly fellow, would notice my eyes watering and my lip quivering and ask if I was okay, and I would splutter, from a mouth filled with gauze and cotton, that I was fine — but of course I wasn’t. Those novocaine-free cavity-filling visits to the dentist seemed to last forever.
Finally, after a particularly painful multi-cavity-filling visit, I decided that the next time I would try novocaine again. Sure, my initial encounter with it had sucked, but all of my friends and siblings seemed to go for it without much problem. Maybe I should change my position on this damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t choice? So the next time I visited the dentist I went for the novocaine. It wasn’t a pinch by any means, but this time it didn’t hit a nerve directly on the way in and it was . . . slightly better.
It was my first experience with choosing between the lesser of two evils. Only much later did I realize that maybe I should make a more significant and potentially meaningful choice, to change my habits and improve my lax attitude to brushing and flossing and mouthwash and try to take steps that hopefully would eliminate the need to make such a choice in the first place. I guess that is called the maturing process.