Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pain

By Pauly
New York City

"You know, Doc. I usually have to pay big bucks to women in Las Vegas to inflict this level of intensified pain," I joked.

"Well, today is your lucky day because I'm not cheap," joked Dr. Rosen.

The first time I walked into Dr. Rosen's office was when I was in the 8th grade. The health field was on the verge of becoming corporate in the mid-1980s and in the heart of Reagan America. That was the beginning of the end of an era for when you went to a doctor when something was wrong and he/she fixed it for a nominal fee without any hassles or bullshit. When I was a kid, my father's insurance covered full medical and dental so we had the good fortunate of having access to adequate health care, until thins started to become the the clusterfuck we see today. Dental coverage was eventually dropped, but before that happened I visited Dr. Rosen every year from 8th grade through the summer before college.

When I walked into his office, he said, "Do you remember me?"

I actually did and his office had not changed since the late 1980s. Aside from the magazines on the coffee table, everything was as I remembered it. I recall being impressed with Dr. Rosen when I first visited him in the 8th grade. He wore jeans and a golf shirt, which I thought was more hip than my previous dentist who was a crotchety old German guy in a suit and tie.

When asked why we switched dentists, my father said, "Germans love to inflict pain."

In reality, the German dentist stopped accepting my father's insurance plan. Luckily, Dr. Rosen was around the corner and he accepted our insurance. The last time I saw him was for a checkup the week before I shipped off to college in 1990. And since then, I had only two visits... once in 1994 to the union dentist (yeah, I was in a union for museum employees) and the second time in 1998 in Seattle when I finally got health insurance at the museum where I worked. You might have noticed a trend in my 20s. I often took menial jobs with museums in order to get health insurance since cultural and non-profit institutions like museums often showered their low-waged employees with top-notch benefits such as health and dental insurance.

I have been uninsured for over a decade and broke while I lived on the fringe of society as a bohemian and wanna-be artist. As a result skipped the dentist until I finally made an appointment with Dr. Rosen. I was surprised he was still in the same location, but at the same time, I was sort of relieved to see a familiar face. Dr. Rosen someone who adhered to a different philosophy on health care. He was old school, to use a common term. We didn't bother with all the bullshit and he was there to help me... which is so rare these days. I went to the right guy.

The good news is that Dr. Rosen worked a near miracle and saved the embarrassing state of misery called my teeth. We were both amazed that they were in much better shape than we both expected and he said that the future could be bright (along with the shade of my teeth) if I followed a disciplined daily regimen.

The bad news is that there's lengthy of work that still needs to be done, which will take a while considering I'm not in New York as much as I used to be. It's going to be a painful and costly experience but that's the result of my neglect over the years due to lack of insurance, lack of money, and overall laziness and apathetic attitude.

And yes, it was a painful experience. I had back-to-back sessions and by the end of the first one, Dr. Rosen said that I was one of the toughest patients he's had in several decades.

"I have a high threshold for pain," I explained. "It comes from a lot of internal pain I carried around most of my life."

I didn't reveal that I was also completely faded. After three weeks of non-stop partying on Phish tour, my body has been soaked in an encyclopaedia of chemicals. Even though I'm no longer using and abusing certain substances, there's enough still festering in my bloodstream. I popped a half of Vicodin and a half of a Xannie on the morning of the appointment, not to mention a couple of heavy smoking sessions before I stumbled into his office. I was crocked and that's part of the reason why I survived the agonizing dental work. We soaked through two bibs and he must have used three or four sheep worth of gauze as he chiseled through a decade of waste calcified on my teeth.

It was also a very Catholic thing to willingly accept the pain attributed to cleansing up my previous sins of neglect. Guilt tends to prepare your body for physical punishment. Even though Dr. Rosen was Jewish, his office was within a stone's throw of my old catholic grammar school and church. I was hard to escape the grasp of Catholic guilt.

That's what I get for spending a full week wandering around my old neighborhood and digging through boxes of memories. Sometimes, the place where you grew up was a black hole or time warp for all memories, both good and bad. Some will never disappear while other fade in and out of consciousness like a vaguely remembered dream.

As I left the office, Dr. Rosen suggested that I have a couple of beers to help take the edge off. At that point, I should have went in for the kill and asked for a prescription for pain killers. After all, I finally had a legitimate reason to use them. For now, I was well stocked after bartering for pills in different parking lots across America while on Phish tour. I'll wait until I return to Dr. Rosen and then I'll hit him up for a bottle or three. Yeah, once my inner junkie got wind that a dentist is a shortcut towards pharmaceutical heaven, he quickly made three future appointments.

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