I never thought that my meditation practice would lead me down the path to having emergency root canal surgery, but that’s exactly what happened.
I was thrilled to be able to devote my entire summer to deepening my connection with body, mind, and spirit. It was the final segment of my four-year Feldenkrais training program. I was living in a laid back, granola-type town in Sonoma County, California, on a fourteen-acre farmhouse with other wonderful folks in the program. I mean, how much more in the zone of love, nature, and meditation could I get?
And the best part was that I had orchestrated the whole thing. I set myself up to have a summer of deep awareness and mindful meditation, surrounded by loving friends, in a beautiful place. So I was feeling pretty damned good about life. Each morning, I woke up when the rooster crowed, and spent time just being thankful for my life, the people I love, and the things I was learning.
In my training, we were learning how to use the breath to connect with our bodies. We followed three or four breaths from beginning to end, noticing where we held our breath, and how deeply the breath came into our bodies. They key was not to change the way we breathed or to judge it, but to simply notice what we did as we breathed. Invariably, this practice led me to drop into myself and be present in the moment. Three simple breaths and voila—I was there. Who knew meditation and awareness could be this easy?
And yet, this time it felt different. With each breath, I felt it. Deep, searing pain on the lower right side of my face. Damn it! What’s keeping me from relaxing into my body? We’d already covered pain in my training and how not to let it encompass my whole self, so I knew what I had to do. I took the pain and brought it outside my body. It was still with me, I just wasn’t focused on it. Pain was not going to control my world.
I’m sure that highly trained athletes or performers have similar techniques to help them run/lift/dance through the pain. I remember reading about an opera singer who went on stage and sang with a fever of over 104 degrees. She sang well. When the show was over, she died—right after the curtain call.
Somehow my pain became much more acute when I was lying down. During the day, I was okay. As long I was moving and keeping busy, I was able to keep the pain at bay. But each day, the pain got worse and worse. I started mediating more often, which helped, but it wasn’t enough. I finally succumbed to taking ibuprofen to alleviate the throbbing. When I got up to eight ibuprofen a day, that’s when it hit me. Jodi, this isn’t right. Of course, I decided this at 4:30 p.m. on a Friday and I didn’t have a dentist in the area.
I’m not sure how I got through the weekend. I remember eating only on the other side of my mouth. But even the simple act of talking, eating, or drinking was utterly and ridiculously painful.
Armed with the phone book and the Internet, I started making calls at 8 a.m. on Monday morning. What dentist will see an out-of-state patient today? Did I mention that it was the first week of August? It seems as if all doctors and therapists escape their practice for the first two weeks in August. Let me just say up front that good receptionists are worth their weight in gold.
The first two places I called were not taking new patients. Whatever. The third place I called had no openings for two weeks. And so it went until I spoke with a receptionist who heard my pain. I’d hit the jack pot.
“Hi, I’m really hoping that the dentist is in today. I can barely open my mouth, let alone breathe, and I’ve called a million places and no one will—”
“Sure,” she said. “We had a cancellation for this morning, so come on in.”
Confession time, I would rather see a proctologist than go to the dentist. I read somewhere that gums feel pain more intensely than anywhere in our bodies, and I believe it. Let’s just say I wasn’t thrilled to be at a strange dentist’s office in this first week of August. I mean, what’s wrong with this guy? Why wasn’t he on vacation along with every other doctor on the planet?
As I was walking to my patient chair after arriving, I saw him talking so sweetly to a boy of around eight. It wasn’t that fake sweet, either. He was developing a real rapport with this kid. So I felt optimistic.
After he spent five minutes looking in my mouth, he told me he couldn’t even fathom how I’d been managing with that tooth still there. He said I should have had a root canal months ago; that tooth needed to come out today.
Pain was something I had ample amounts of; cash, not so much. I searched my brain for ways to save a buck here and found none. The simple truth was that I had to end this pain and no amount of meditative breathing was going to do the trick.
This prince of a guy told me that he could do it but it would be a whole lot less painful if I went to an endodontist. I had never heard of an endodontist. The good doctor explained that endodontists specialize in root canals. And here were the magic words for me: this doc would have the technology to make the procedure go a whole lot faster and have it be less painful than a regular dentist.
The stars aligned for me that day in Sonoma County. The lovely receptionist called an endodontist and they had an opening that afternoon. Forty minutes in the endodontist’s chair—with NO pain whatsoever—and I was out of there. The source to my pain had been rooted out. Yet the pain of paying for the procedure would be with me for the next year, and no amount of mindful breathing could change that. Sometimes meditation and deep breathing will not help you release the root of your problem. Sometimes, it takes a root canal.