Wednesday, February 4, 2009

live and let die

I'd almost forgotten about some great eavesdropping I did in the dentist's waiting room yesterday. 

I was huddled in a chair close to the door, imagining the gruesome, festering horror that might be lurking deep in my mouth. Damn those graphic Listerene commercials. 

As I sat whispering my goodbyes to my beloved molars, a twenty-something, average-looking girl came out of the exam room and stepped up to the reception desk to make a follow-up appointment. 

"So," said the receptionist,  "Dr. McToothington (not really the name of the dentist -- although, it should be) gave you a prescription for penicillin. Now, I'm going to schedule an appointment for you with the oral surgeon in the next week or so -- he'll want to see you while you're still on the antibiotics --"

Here the girl interrupted. 

"What happens if I don't take the penicillin?"

"Well . . . you run the risk of the infection getting worse," the receptionist replied. 

I began to literally quake in my seat. What kind of indescribable nastiness could be going on in this girl's mouth that required actual prescription drugs? Was she harboring some sort of rare and insidious mouth parasite? Did her teeth explode? Why was she not writhing on the floor in agony? 

"I really don't want to take the penicillin. I've never taken an antibiotic before," the girl said. 

I was now openly staring at her. Never taken an antibiotic?? To my mind, she might as well have told the receptionist that she'd never used toilet paper before, or could only make out her check with a quill and ink. 

Please understand, antibiotics and I go way back. I spent pretty much my entire childhood on a maintenance dose of heavy duty drugs, in order to keep from going deaf due to chronic ear infections. My favorite was Ammoxicillin - a sweet, pink, syrupy liquid clearly designed with children in mind. I remember thinking it would go great on ice cream --  I would literally cheer as the doctor wrote out the prescription. 

 Sadly, my body grew immune to the kiddie stuff pretty quickly, and I was bumped up the scale to some nasty, nauseating "orange"-flavored tablets that tasted like an orangutan's asshole. These bad boys came with all the much-heralded "side effects" of hardcore antibiotics . . . I will let your imagination fill in the details. 

But . . .to have never experienced the stomach-churning, wonder-delirium of some serious anti-bacterials coursing through your system . . . what's that like? Where the hell was this girl raised? In a bubble? In the middle of the Australian outback? In a magical world of witchcraft and wizardry?

The receptionist, I was pleased to see, was as baffled as I was. 

"You've seriously never taken antibiotics before?" she asked. 

"Maybe once, when I was, like 3," the girl scoffed. 

I fought the urge to chime in -- Aren't there antibiotics in milk? But as I get a lot of my "scientific information" from The Daily Show, I thought it best to keep quiet. And anyway, I think I might be confusing antibiotics with growth hormones. Milk is the reason girls get their periods at age 6 now, yes? I think Oprah told me that . . . 

At this point, the hygienist wandered into the waiting room looking for me, and I was distracted from the end of the antibiotics debate by sudden panic and fear for my teeth (needless panic! teeth and i will be together forevah!). But now I am left wondering about Anti-Antibiotics Girl. 

Is she gonna take 'em? Or will she remain steadfast in her boycott of modern medicine? Will her mouth become a cesspool of bacterial decay? Can't an infection like that travel from your tooth to your jaw . . . and from your jaw, why -- its just a quick hop to your brain! 

Take the drugs! I should have shouted to her. You are young, and apparently healthy aside from whatever hideous situation is currently going on in your mouth! You have your whole life ahead of you . . . if not for your teeth, do it for your brain! Your beautiful, beautiful brain!

Maybe I am misguided. Maybe that girl and her pure, undiluted immune system will survive some coming Space Plague, while my sullied and much-abused body will be thrown into a mass grave after the first 3 days of pandemic. No matter. All I know is, antibiotics saved my hearing and blessed me with a keen ability to rudely listen in on other people's conversations. And for that, they will always hold a special place in my heart. 


  1. I loved that pink amoxicillan goodness...until the rashes started showing up and freaked my parents out. No more pink goodness for me :-(

  2. Ummm...because I like to share too much:

    If a tooth dies, the space where the root used to be can abcess, which basically means normal mouth bacteria get where they shouldn't be (inside the gums) and wreak havoc. It hurts. And swells. And after they've drained as much of the fluid as they can (always a good sensation) and before they do the root canal, they put you on antibiotics to kill the infection. Otherwise, yes, it could eat through your skull and into your brain. More likely (and, it turns out, deadly) though, it can get into your blood stream and your body can become septic. Still, there'd likely be a doctor's visit and another refusal of antibiotics before you reached the tied-to-a-hospital-IV stage. And this is why dentists recommend root canals the moment a tooth is detected to be dead. Infections of the gums suck.

    Really, the thing that can eat through your skull and into your brain is a sinus infection! Because your skull is really weak there. I know this because it was the only way my doctor could convince me to shoot steroids up my nose.

    ...I'm full of really disgusting knowledge.