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Practiced and ready, I swallowed the pill as instructed an hour before my scheduled suffering. I found the green of the shamrocks decorating the office to be soothing, but I couldn't keep myself from making a flippant comment about the unnecessary bulk of them to the girl at the front desk as I followed the white coat through the door. I had told the man on the phone that I wanted a one-stop-shopping kind of day and requested a cleaning, at least one cavity filled, and some kind of prognosis for my pain. All I got was a cleaning.

We began with X-rays. I spoke freely about my opinion of their methods. "When you stick that little plastic thing in my mouth and tell me to bite down, it cuts into my flesh. Why don't you invent a napkin or something soft to put around it? Who designed these torturous devices? Do you like it?" I talked until I was told to bite down. I was annoyed, but not as edgy as usual, thanks to mother's little helper.

Lying back, I saw the TV that was set into the ceiling. Headsets were given to me. Oh, sweet distraction! But then a bright light impeded my view of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a high-pitched whine eclipsed the campy dialogue coming to me via the headset.

"Can't you put a silencer on that?" I asked, causing her to pause with the instrument midair. I shouldn't have looked. My question was answered with a lecture about flossing.

Despite the Valium, my shoulders rose and my fingers tightened with tension. "Relax, it's okay," she said. No, it's not, I thought. It's not okay because that thing is in my mouth, and it's vibrating my skull, and I just...I can't...I won't be able to take this much longer! When it was over, it was all I could do not to pass out as the tense

energy drained from my body.

Yet another man in the ubiquitous white coat (I couldn't remember if I'd met this one before) approached to inform me there was nothing he could do about my jaw and referred me to a jaw specialist (whose services are covered only by insurance policies whose premiums cost more than the actual treatment).

"Can we fill those two cavities?" I was referring to my distorted black molars being displayed to everyone on a big screen to my left.

"Nope. We should find out what's wrong with your jaw first," he said. I stared at him blankly, bereft of energy to argue. He's right, I thought. I probably couldn't hold my jaw open long enough to get at those bad boys and, even on Valium, I don't think I can handle any more right now.

I snatched the referral from his hand, smiled insincerely, and left the office -- ecstatic that I had made it through this visit without shedding tears. And as a special bonus, tomorrow I get to go to this "specialist" and pay hundreds of dollars to find out something I already know: that I'm a nervous wreck.

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