03 February 2012


My body betrayed me today.

I had to see the dentist, to get a filling put in. I had a tooth that had a big cavity, right on the edge of needing a root canal, and they did a bunch of work on it a few months back trying to deal with the problem and hold it all together so that we’d only need a filling. They packed the tooth with oil of cloves and some other interesting stuff to hold off infection and put a temporary filling in while that did it’s thing. I’d come back and they’d take the temporary filling out and put a real one in.

Way better than a root canal.

Last time I was there I actually had two teeth worked on in the same day – it was a lot to get through, but with lots of deep breathing, my audio relaxation tracks, and a whole lot of focused concentration I did okay. I was absolutely wiped out for a few days afterwards, but I managed the experience pretty well. I hate going to the dentist, I’m always waiting for something to hurt really bad, but I’m not scared in the usual sense. I just really don’t like it.

Today, it didn’t go so well.

Today I only needed the one tooth worked on. Not a big thing. The freezing went in (barely felt a pinch) and I started to shake a little while that soaked into my body: apparently there is a stimulant in the freezing and it can trigger a bit of a physical reaction. I calmly sat and knit while it froze up, and felt quite relaxed, really. I listened to Jack Johnson on my iPod. I did rows and rows on my sock.

The dentist came in and they got the big suction mouthpiece in place – they didn’t have the medium size I needed but this was a minor job so a small should serve. After a few minutes, though, I was choking – the suction couldn’t keep up because the mis-sized mouthpiece wouldn’t seal well enough. Okay, we take a break and they find a larger one … this won’t be comfortable, but it’ll work better. Next up was some wrangling to get this giant piece of plastic stuffed in around my teeth (I know, dentists are the only ones who tell me I have a small mouth – I always want to ask them to put that in writing). The giant mouthpiece did fit, it didn’t choke me, and although it was a bit uncomfortable, really, it wasn’t too bad. Good suction is worth a bit of discomfort when you are flat on your back with people drilling in your mouth.

A few minutes later, I couldn’t breathe. Really, could not breathe. No air. Frantic, waving my hands … they responded instantly, pulled everything out and let me sit up. My heart was racing and I was shaking and choking and gasping … but there wasn’t really anything wrong. Of course I could breathe. But, my body had decided to throw me into a full blown panic attack, my first ever in a dentist’s chair.

I will readily admit that I hate going to the dentist (this should inspire me to floss more regularly, I’m aware of the inconsistency of my behaviour). However, I’m not actually *scared* while I’m there. Oh, I tense up and I anticipate pain when there isn’t any and I have to work hard to stay calm, but I’m not scared. The dentist is nice. The assistants are kind. They are so very quick and efficient. They give me more freezing if I mumble that it hurts still. I was doing fine, I thought – breathing, squishing my toes and relaxing them, repeating prayers in my head, staying focused on calming my body and reassuring myself it would be over very soon.

And then I just couldn’t breathe.

I had to take Ativan – I still have a few left from when the PTSD started. They don’t seem to make me feel weird or woozy, but I know they interrupt the panic response in the body, so I stuck one under my tongue and waited for it to kick in. I could feel the tremors easing, but I was still pretty rattled so I asked them to get The Boy to come sit with me. He came and held my hand and sat beside me, while they finished the little bit of work that was left – and although I felt perfectly calm in my heart and mind, every time the drill went my whole body started shaking like I was having seizures and I had to squeeze The Boy’s fingers to keep still. I didn’t want to bolt out of the chair, in fact I felt a little sleepy … but there was this strange rattling going on in the rest of my body that just wouldn’t stop and made no sense at all.

It was embarrassing, though everyone was very supportive and very kind, and reassured me that these things happen and it wasn’t a problem, they just wanted to be sure I was okay. I suppose this must be how it feels to have a seizure in public – even though everyone is kind and supportive and reassures you it wasn’t your fault and couldn’t be helped and nobody’s upset with you, you’re embarrassed anyway.

The Boy drove us home and I crashed into a nap. I’m still a little rattled, my mouth is a bit sore (it will be for a few days, always is after I have work done), but I’m okay. I know there’s nothing to be ashamed of – I couldn’t really have done anything else to prevent this, I don’t think. My resources are a bit drained, as it’s been a long week … maybe a bit more rest ahead of the appointments would be good. At least I had my meds with me and someone to drive me if I needed to take them.

I’m grateful for the kindness and supportive attitudes of the dentist and staff, and for my Boy who rolled his eyes a little at my loss of control but supported me anyway, even if he couldn’t understand why I was such a wreck. I don’t understand it myself, but having his hand to hold sure made it easier to get through that last half hour in the dentist’s chair.

Why write about this, then, if I am embarrassed by it?

I guess I just want everyone to understand that having a panic attack doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is a big chicken, that they are a weak-willed scaredy-cat who lets their fear get the better of them. I wasn’t even scared. I thought I was doing fine … then blam. Sometimes, your body just takes over in spite of all your best efforts to remain calm and still.

So if you should ever run into someone who is experiencing something like this, please realize that once it starts, no amount of logic will help … the body has gone off on a tangent, well beyond reach of logic. Just soothe the body with comforting words, a hand to hold, and supportive company. That helps. 

Hot chocolate is a good thing too. I think  maybe I should go make another cup.


  1. I love you, and that's all I have to say about that

  2. Anonymous8:22 pm

    Wow!!! I have never had anything like that. The only thing we have in common when it comes to dentists is, "You have a small mouth" but no one will EVER put that in writing!!! I'm one of the few people that LIKES to go to the dentist. It is one of my "peaceful places". But, then I have had panic attacks in places that would be weird to others!!! Oh yeah, I'm with you on the hot chocolate!! Was going to go to your sister's house for dessert last night but my husband wouldn't drive me there!!!

    Love you, AC

  3. flannelberry8:26 pm

    Love. Just love my very good friend.

  4. Thanks, guys. :)

    I know it's just one of those things that happens sometimes, and really, I made it through okay ... I had good support from everyone around me.

    I know that not everyone gets that kind of support and so I hope that by sharing what it's like to be the guy falling apart for no bloody reason whatsoever, that people who might have no experience with this, people who would - quite reasonably - assume the person was just being really daft or silly ... that people who didn't know any better will now be able to understand how they can help.

    Say, by being loving and supportive ... just like you. :)

  5. This is helpful. I've never had/seen a panic attack, and your post is filed away in my brain for possible future use. Thanks for typing it out...

  6. Glad to hear it made sense to you, Lona. It's an odd place to be, having your body take off on you when your mind was doing just fine.

    My dentist even held my hand for a minute while the assistant went to get my Ativan. It helped a lot, human contact seems to be key ... for me at least.

  7. Big hugs to you ... what an ordeal! I'm exactly like you ... I'm not 'scared' at the dentist, I just don't like it, so I do tense up, etc. Glad you're resting again...


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