I wrote this as an essay for my current program at The Evergreen State College, called Music and Movement in Nature and Culture. It incorporates songwriting, dance, ethnomusicology, and anthropology. So far, I’m loving it. I get to dance once a week and read a lot about things that interest me. There isn’t much literature, but I guess I’m ok with that.
For our first creative writing assignment, we wrote papers about a scar we had. This is my paper:
Would you like to phone a friend?
I don’t pray; I never have. I think Nietzsche had a better idea when he said that instead of praying, we would do better “to think how one can give joy to at least one person that day” every morning when we wake up. Even when it comes to pain and wounds, I was never in the practice of asking God to heal mine or help me.
All that could have changed on one November morning in 2007.
It was my senior year of high school. I was 17, and like most people my age, I’d been told it was time for the routine wisdom tooth extraction procedure. I only deeded to have three taken out, but I also chose to get my phrenullae cut. The phrenullae are web-like pieces of skin that connect the tongue to the bottom jaw and the lips to the gums. Looking back, I can’t remember why on earth I thought I needed to get that done, except that a dentist or two once said it might help get rid of my slight lisp and maybe help me articulate and sing better.
At that point, I trusted dentists. I’d never had cavities, so they were just people who cleaned my teeth and occasionally took x-rays. I loved my orthodontist, so even having braces didn’t make me hate having people mess around in my mouth.
That did change on one November morning in 2007.
I can’t see the scars in my mouth, but I don’t need to be reminded that there were stitches to know they’re there. I’d had plenty of drugs that morning, but it wasn’t supposed to require complete sedation… until they started sticking needles under my tongue. The fact that I have a fear of needles shouldn’t matter. No one should have Novacaine shot in that highly sensitive area under the tongue. Soon tears were streaming down my face and I couldn’t breathe. Doctors and nurses were swarming around me with needles and scalding hot washcloths that were supposed to raise veins on my hands so they could stick even more needles in my for the IV. I associated IVs with my grandma, who had spent quite a bit of time in pain and in and out of hospitals, and had died a few years earlier. Tears rolled even faster down my cheeks.
The last thing I remember before I lost consciousness was the oral surgeon sitting next to me, holding my fingers and looking serious. Then he said, “would you like to pray with me?”
A few days later, while I was watching Disney movies in pain despite the Vicodin, I remembered the doctor’s offer and told my parents. My mother, “spiritual agnostic” that she is, was appalled. As soon as I was well enough (probably after a week, though my tongue was sore and swollen for about two), she made an appointment to talk with the oral surgeon. I think the pretense was “discussing my recovery,” which was longer and more painful than it should have been anyway. She drove while practicing her speech, which she had rehearsed in front of my father, aunt, uncle, and grandparents while they nodded and said “uh-huh” in the appropriate places.
Don’t get me wrong, I completely supported her decision and her speech. I wholeheartedly agreed with it— for a doctor to ask a patient to pray with him or her is completely unprofessional and uncalled for. Plus, suggesting that I ask a higher power for assistance, as traumatized as I was, did not settle my nerves at all.
But I was mortified. I was inclined to laugh off the incident and add it to my “oh, those silly Christians” repertoire. After all, the surgeon had my best interests in mind, right? He was only being considerate, just in case I hadn’t thought of my lifeline to phone a friend?
The term for the doctor’s response would have been that he was “politely surprised.” I think he said that it had never been an issue before and that he had never considered that it might offend someone. And then I think my mom said something like, “damn straight,” and he probably said that he would keep it in mind for the future. No matter—the harm inflicted upon me wasn’t from his offer to pray with me; it was from the panic and trauma I felt physically.
Maybe God could have helped me. Maybe if I had prayed, my recovery time would have been shorter. Maybe if I had prayed, I wouldn’t hate dentists so much now. Maybe that’s what the doctor was thinking all along. But then maybe I wouldn’t like Nietzsche so much.