THIS SIDE UP

Stretch out and relax for this trip

By JOHN HOWELL
Posted 7/31/20

It was a steady hum, like airline jet. The kind of noise that has your mind wandering and can even put you asleep. I was relaxed. I was reclined. The light was soft. All I heard was the whir of the machine beside me. It would be easy to nod off. "Are you

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THIS SIDE UP

Stretch out and relax for this trip

Posted

It was a steady hum, like airline jet. The kind of noise that has your mind wandering and can even put you asleep.

I was relaxed. I was reclined. The light was soft. All I heard was the whir of the machine beside me. It would be easy to nod off.

“Are you all right?” came the voice from beside me. I knew the voice, but when I looked I faced an apparition in a white puffy outfit, a hair net fit tightly over her head. A pair of eyes held my gaze from behind a mask and a clear plastic shield.

“I’m going to move the elephant trunk,” she said, reaching for the 6-inch gray flexible tube about 2 feet from my mouth. The so-called elephant trunk looked more like the arms of the Michelin Man reaching out to grab me.

In a sense that’s just what this device is designed to do. It was the suction end of a high-tech filtration system that was sucking in the air I was exhaling, along with any droplets capable of carrying the coronavirus and any other nasty stuff.

This was my first visit to my dentist – Dr. Mutewera Peri – since the March shutdown. A lot had changed. For starters, I couldn’t just walk in, slide into a chair and be entertained by the world within a giant fish tank or browse through a magazine while waiting for Sue the hygienist.

A half-hour before my appointment, a text alerted me to call the office number once I was parked. I was also reminded to wear a mask. I pulled into the lot and called as instructed. In short order an assistant clad in PPE and wearing blue gloves and carrying a clipboard approached me. She addressed me by another name, apologized and went to the truck parked beside me. She had her patient.

A couple of minutes later she was back for me. She started with a temperature check followed by a series of questions to which I mostly answered “no.” Only then was I admitted to viewing the fish tank. The school of fish looked to be there contentedly moving about their own unaltered world. Only if things were so easy.

Sue, barely recognizable beneath so much protective gear, guided me to a chair and, after installing a bib, handed me a paper cub with what appeared to be water – but then it could have been vodka or gin, too.

I held it up as if to make a toast.

“A drink?” I said, questioning whether I should make a comment about the thrill of being back at the dentist.

“No, no, rinse,” she said. I took a gulp. It was hardly a celebratory cocktail, but I was good. I didn’t instantly spit it out as other clients had done. The concoction was water and hydrogen peroxide, which if you haven’t tried it makes the inside of your mouth feel like dried leather.

After my cleaning, I moved to another room with the elephant trunk and the whir of the air filtration system that came at a high price from Switzerland. There was no additional libation before Dr. Peri went to work. However, she did slide in a clear plastic separator between my open mouth and masked face. It offered a remarkably clear reflection of my mouth, and for the first time I had a clear picture of what was being done to me.

It was an improvement.

But I can’t say the practice of dentistry, at least from my experience, is any better off because of the virus. My advice: sit back, imagine you’re aboard that flight and bring along some mints to kill the taste of the onboard “cocktails” when you’ve landed.

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