Don’t drill here, baby!

Published 10:09 pm Friday, May 28, 2010

It was my personal version of Dante’s seventh level of hell.

I had somehow maneuvered myself into being trapped in an anteroom at the Western Tidewater Free Clinic.

Mind you, I’ve nothing against the clinic, itself. In fact, the people there deserve the community’s hearty praise for providing free medical care to people in Suffolk, Isle of Wight, Franklin and Southampton who have no medical insurance and are unable to afford medical care. Some of the stories I’ve heard about the people who have been served and whose lives have been changed since the clinic opened its doors in 2007 have been truly inspiring, and the organization continues to impact new lives with an expanding array of services, including its newest — dental treatments for patients.

It was the open house for the dental wing — a two-seat space that has been open for about six weeks, serving 113 patients during 21 different clinic days — that had brought me back to the WTFC’s new building on Meade Parkway. And that’s where I came face to face with the personification of my own inner demons. Standing in the back room of the dental suite, I watched as I was joined — one by one — by a group of about six people, all of them wearing nametags that identified themselves as “Dr. This” or “Dr. That.”

As they talked, I suddenly realized I was trapped in a dental treatment room with six dentists. Keeping my eyes on their hands, I moved to put the treatment chair between myself and the knot of ivory snatchers, as our British friends might call them.

As a bit of background, my mouth is still healing from the extraction of two teeth just three weeks ago, the beginning of a long and drawn-out process that will conclude with another potentially painful surgery, an even more painful hit to the bank account and — finally — dental implants and crowns. It’s just the latest in a series of dental problems that goes back to when I was 7 and had several of my front teeth broken in an accident at church. As you can probably tell, my psyche takes longer to heal than my gum tissue.

As I stood there in the Free Clinic’s dental suite, I wondered how much they could tell about my teeth if I kept my lips tightly clenched. Perhaps that action, alone, told them all they needed to know.

They all seemed friendly enough, and surely the fact that they were there as volunteers gave me plenty of reason to hold them in esteem. Some of the patients they treat at the clinic have never seen a dentist before, and the results of their treatments are life-changing. Think of your worst toothache ever, and then think how terrible it would be to have to live with that pain, with no chance of relief.

Clearly, these dentists were worthy of my respect and admiration, and they surely have earned it. Still, standing there in that treatment room, I made sure I got out before someone could grab a drill.