The Seventh Sense
A dental chair is man’s worst enemy. I guess all of us feel that way. But there are some who can make a joke of it and laugh at their own orthodontal nightmares, as does Jefferey Feingold.
Did you ever wake up at the crack of dawn to find Bruce Willis, naked from head to toe, bald as a newborn baby, as mad as a bull, standing by the foot of your bed? I have. He looked as if he’d walked straight off the set of Die Hard into my bedroom.
“Feingold,” he said, “wake up! Why do you keep putting me in your essays? What’s up with that? Some sick, twisted man-crush?”
I was disoriented. I sat up in bed, thought for a moment, then asked, “which essays? Do you mean Nowhere Man? That’s about The Frugal Gourmet and Itzhak Perlman, you’re not in it. The one after that was America’s Test Chicken, but that was about Chris Kraven, the guy from the TV show America’s Test Kitchen.”
Bruce rolled his eyes and leaned menacingly towards me. “The essays about Russia, bro, when your driver says ‘you luke like Bruce Villis.’ You don’t look anything like me!”
It was true. I’m tall, thin, of slight frame, blonde, and with the finely structured nose and chin and cheekbones of a European. This can’t be right, I thought. Just then, I thought I should pinch my forearm hard to see if this was a dream. I pinched, and then I looked over again at the foot of my bed. No Bruce Willis. The blood I’d seen on my hand, and the searing pain I’d felt in the roof of my mouth, were also gone. I’d just awoken from a nightmare about surgery I’d had thirty years earlier. The day before this nightmare, I’d met with the same surgeon who, so long ago, excised a large piece of flesh from the roof of my mouth and sewed it in strips over the receding gums of my upper front teeth.
“If it won’t stop bleeding,” the doctor had said as I sat in the operating chair in his periodontal office, “suck on a tea bag.” For weeks, I tasted the murky mixture of blood and saliva and Darjeeling as the gaping wound on my palette healed as quickly as an amoeba swimming from one side of the Atlantic Ocean to the other.
Now, the day before the nightmare, I was back in Dr. Pane’s office, as he inspected my gums. The week before, my dentist informed me that it was time again to consider gum grafts. “Wouldn’t it be easier,” I asked my dentist, “if I just slit my wrists and bled out?”
“There are some new procedures since you last had surgery,” he replied. “Dr. Pane (spelled like ‘pane’ but pronounced like ‘pain,’ a terrifically horrible yet true name for my periodontist), will explain it all to you.”
“That sounds like the title for my first graphic horror novel,” I noted. “Dr. Pane Will Explain It All to You, a graphic horror novel by Jeffrey M. Feingold. Published posthumously after his death from gum surgery.”
“Oh, nothing to worry about,” my dentist assured me.
“What, me worry?” I asked.
The next week, as I sat in Dr. Pane’s Chair of Pain, my mouth as wide open as an angry hippopotamus, as he poked with cold pointy instruments of torture the places at the bottom of my teeth where there should be gum but was now only nerves and pain, he offered this astounding periodontal news:
“We can still do the same procedure we did for you last time, but because of the pain and bleeding, most patients opt for the latest procedure.”
“Mum mum grrr grrr ra ra,” I said.
“What did you say,” he asked, removing his ice pick from my mouth.
“I said, that’s great! I can’t do the same thing again; it took a month to heal, and I can’t be off the grid that long now. So, what’s the new option?”
“We use tissue harvested from the departed,” he offered.
“Wait,” I said, “you’re going to put parts from the deceased in me?”
He looked at me, deadpan, and clarified: “yup.”
“From people who bought the farm?” I asked with disbelief. “People who are pushing up daisies. Who have gone to meet their maker? Who have been laid to rest? Who are out of commission? Who are six feet under? Who are … dead?”
“I know,” he said, “it can seem a little strange. But it’s all from donors. And the tissue is dead and fully sterilized.”
“Well, I’m glad it’s from donors,” I noted. “I’m glad it’s not extracted from people forcibly, against their will while still alive. Still, it just seems, well … creepy.”
“Up to you,” he said. But there’s close to no pain this way, since we don’t have to remove a large piece of tissue from your palette.”
I felt between a rock and very hard place. I’d either submit to a month of excruciating pain, or have dead people inserted into me. But I knew the former was out of the question. Not because I’m chicken, though who loves intense pain? But because I couldn’t be out of commission for the extended recovery required with the palette process. So, I agreed to join the dead-beat club.
I signed some forms for the doctor before leaving his office. One was an agreement to pay for the procedure. The other was some release of liability. I guess if it all went wrong and I kicked the bucket, my surviving family wouldn’t be able to sue him. But he would be able to donate my gums.
The next morning, I woke up to Bruce Willis, as previously described. But the real problem was that evening. That’s when the trouble began. Flipping through the channels of my large screen TV in my living room, I came across the movie The Sixth Sense, part way through. Watching the scene in which Cole, played by Haley Joel Osment, says “I see dead people” to the psychologist played by Bruce Willis, something in my brain got re-wired. My gum surgery was scheduled for a few days later. But I just knew I couldn’t go through with it.
That night, I went to sleep after turning off the movie. It was August, very hot, bedroom windows open, air heavy and thick. I awoke in a sweat in the night to find Bruce Willis at the foot of my bed yet again. Only this time he had hair, and a tie, and clothes. Thank God for that, I thought. He was dressed as the doctor from The Sixth Sense.
“I’m here to help you.” He spoke slowly, in a soft, gentle, un-Willis like voice, just as he did in The Sixth Sense.
“You can’t help me,” I said. “No one can.”
“Why not,” he gently inquired.
“Because … I taste dead people. Only they don’t know their dead. And they don’t know what they taste like.”
“What is that” he asked quietly.
“Chicken,” I said. “They taste like chicken.”
“Is that so bad,” he asked.
“Yes,” I explained. “I’m a vegetarian. If they tasted like peppers, or maybe apples, that might be OK.”
I started to pinch my forearm hard again. Then I looked up. He had vanished. Before I could even tell him that he, too, tasted like chicken and that, therefore, just as in the movie, he must already be dead. I rose, went to my kitchen, where I had enough sense to drink six glasses of Cabernet
Franc. Then went back to sleep.
The next morning, I called Dr. Pane’s office to cancel the surgery.
“Why are you canceling?” the doctor’s assistant asked.
“Because I’m a vegetarian,” I explained.
I’ve never had gum surgery since. And I’ve never eaten a chicken. And I’ve never watched another re-rerun of The Sixth Sense.