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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

The Last 72 Hours

The “F” word, Yep, I use it all the time. The “N” word, Yep, I've used that too. But the “C” word! The “C” word! I've never used it and I've never had anyone use it on me until 72 hours ago at the ‘f**k*ng’ endodontist…

About 35 years ago I had a root canal done by a very unusual (aka: strange, weird, spooky) dentist. She was a little spooky, her assistant was a little spooky, and I was very spooked by it all, but I survived.

Fast forward 35 years, and the tooth she worked on is hurting again. It was one of those little pains that doesn't tend to register when you're looking at neuropathy and brutal arthritis and artificial joints and the myriad other medical marvels that I've had perpetrated upon myself over the years.

So I talked to my dentist a couple of weeks ago and he does an X ray and says go see your endodontist, he's the guy that needs to deal with this. Three days ago I see Dr. L and he verifies exactly what my dentist told me: the root canal from 35 years ago was not done properly and not done to the correct depth, and that is probably, and let's underscore that word ‘probably’, what the problem is.

So he does an x-ray and he does a CT scan so that he can throw another $175 bill at me. Then he strokes his chin as if he had a goatee and tells me that I'm not in enough pain to let him know decisively, but I need a root canal, even though he just told me I need another root canal.

He then proceeds to look me straight in the face and say “Gary, I don't want to use the ‘C’ word, But I think you need to be looked at by an oncologist to rule out anything unusual.”

If I had dentures, they would have been on the ground by now. I'm starting to enter that sublime state of shock when you have a supposed medical genius tell you that you need to be looked at more closely because your tooth hurts. Now I've written about this before -- I consider myself to be an ‘undocumented physician’, And that's only half a joke.

Since I've had other family members actually face a real cancer diagnosis, I am 99.95% positive that this endodontist is blowing smoke up my ass, and I like the guy; he's already done two other successful root canals on me without any problem.

He's going to email me his findings so that I can take that to my family physician who can then refer me to the proper doctor. I don't go this route because it is circuitous, cumbersome, and more stressful than anyone needs – and can take weeks to months to get a definitive answer. On the drive home I breakdown and began crying. I truly am not afraid of death, but I am of stupidity. But alas, I am awash in emotions that I cannot contain at this moment, and I lose control of myself fearing that I will not be able to care for my wife and daughter. The last time I cried like this was when I found out that my cat Macho had been hit by a car. He recovered, and so did I.

I told Phyllis and she immediately got on the phone to her doctors in Palm Springs to try to find the direction to take. Overnight, we made progress and figured out what type of physician I needed to see. Most people who go down this road will spend weeks in a constant state of grief and anxiety until they get an answer one way or another. I decided to shorten the process demonstrably.

To drive the point home to my head where my brain usually resides, I called the family doctor and got the most insane response from the office staff. They tell me that he's on vacation and they have no idea when he's returning. That qualifies as the most inane thing that any office staff member has ever told me -- and absolutely not believable.

I make the appointment with the PA anyway just to have a Plan B in place. Then I go see the guy that you go see when you have a problem that you need solved right away, and I'm not talking about any mafioso that I have been fortunate enough to deal with in my younger days, I'm talking about my rheumatologist.

This is the guy that cut the Gordian knot, and he did it with a smile instead of a sword. This doctor is so well respected over at Eisenhower Medical Center that one of his patients, before she died, donated $20 million in his name to construct a building to house more medical personnel. When he talks, and he does so gently, without emotion, everyone listens and gets right to work. When I had a problem with my right shoulder many years ago, he just called up the surgeon and got me an appointment for the next day whereas most people would wait 6 to 8 weeks to achieve the same result.

He knew what I described to him was complete nonsense, which did offer me some comfort. However, there is a rule among physicians that whenever one of them lays down the gauntlet, the others must show respect until the question has been answered. After I left the office that day Dr. H got on the phone and called an ENT doctor, who would be able to examine me and determine if any more tests would be necessary. He told his staff to make sure that I had an appointment within 24 hours. This is how powerful this man is. Couple of hours later I get a phone call, and this morning I stroll into the doctor's office beleaguered and drained.

I also have a very full bladder and I'm too nervous about missing my appointment to find a place to empty it. After the laborious task of filling out new patient information and waiting the required 35 minutes, the doctor comes in. He is marvelous. He has a sense of calm about him that immediately puts me at rest. I carefully explain to him the incredible situation that I'm in and he laughs. And I laughed with him.

He does a thorough examination of me and finds absolutely nothing wrong (except for a bit of earwax), adding that last 0.05 percent of certainty that I needed to address this situation. I head to the men's room and have the most enjoyable moment emptying my overfull bladder. As gravity inextricably drew the urine to the bowl, so did it also draw the stress from my being. It is truly the first time I have ever peed stress out of my life.

I came home, told Phyllis the good news, and passed out. When I awoke, my phone was full of messages and voice mails from Dr. H inquiring about my visit with the other doctor. We shared a laugh and he reiterated that he knew all along that this was nonsense, but we had to follow the yellow brick road out of respect for Dr. L.

While most people in this precarious position, when asked what they were planning on doing next, would respond: “I’m going to Disneyland!”, I simply told the fine doctor that I had ordered some Mexican food for dinner.

The tooth still hurts, but in perspective, it is a small hurt compared to someone using the ‘C’ word with me. I will be prepared the next time.

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