You try to forget the really unpleasant things that have happened to you in your life, but normally they tend to stick with you much longer, and more vividly, than the happy incidents. That’s why, for almost 50 years, my standard for measuring the awfulness of an experience is to compare it to a visit to the Ear-Bone Room.
The Ear-Bone Room was the name my sister Cathy and I gave to the low point of our visits to the orthodontist when we were kids. That’s truly the lowest of the low. In those days, when the orthodontist spent the entire session with his hands in your mouth, either pounding metal braces onto your teeth with a hammer or tightening the wires that connected them so your teeth would move together, and then berating you because you weren’t wearing your night brace, the appointment inevitably produced a sore mouth, a deep sense of humiliation, and a mindless fury at the sadistic hammering berater.
Still, the Ear-Bone Room was the worst of the worst. You went in to a white room that was totally vacant except for a large x-ray apparatus. Nurse Hairy Arms — so-called because she had the bushy hand and forearm hair of a Turk — then placed your head in caliper-like pincers that she tightened until they were painfully locked directly against the bones of your inner ears. (Hence, the name of the dreaded room.)
It was painful, with the metal tips of the pincers grinding against your skull bone, purportedly to hold your head steady for the x-rays, but that wasn’t even the worst of it. No, the worst came when Nurse Hairy Arms told you you needed to turn your head to the right or left and then began to turn the calipers before you could even begin to move your head in response to her commands. Imagine your head being locked in a vise-like grip and forcibly turned, and the tips of the calipers occasionally slipping into your ear canal — which caused Nurse H.A. to need to reposition the vise all over again.
In this day where dental x-rays cause the dental assistant to cover your body in a lead apron and then scamper out of the room so she isn’t exposed, it’s hard to imagine that any competent medical practitioner would repeatedly irradiate the heads of 10-year-olds, but that’s the way it was. And I can assure you — I was glad when the radiation was finally directed at my skull, because that meant the trip to the Ear-Bone Room was one step closer to its blessed conclusion.
So now, when something bad happens to me, I think about whether it was worse than a visit to the Ear-Bone Room, and I conclude: Not even close.