During the opening weeks of 2008, the long overdue consequences of my lackadaisical oral hygiene manifested as a raging abscess on an incisor which had been reconstructed after shattering a few years prior. It was the first time I’d experienced such a thing, and so I ignored the escalating levels of pain until they bloomed into white hot agony requiring an emergency root canal.
I chronicled the event as it unfolded on the previous incarnation of Armagideon Time (whereas these days I will postpone writing if I feel a mild sniffle coming on). In my sleep-deprived, pain-wracked delirium my mind kept looping back to a specific song as a guidepost to a future free of wanting to rip my teeth out with a pair of vice grips. I don’t know why it settled on that particular track, which I otherwise hadn’t heard or thought about in ages. Perhaps, when thrashing in the grip of an unpleasant “now,” my subconscious decided to dredge up something cozy and comforting from the furthest recesses of childhood memory…
…and pulled up Elton John’s 1975 blue-eyed disco-funk ode to a women’s tennis team. In any case, I listened to “Philadelphia Freedom” at least a hundred times in the weeks immediately following the procedure, as some strange form of thankful affirmation.
The root canal itself went fairly well, although there was a unexpected round of additional agony between the local fading out and the antibiotics kicking in. The endodontist suspected this might happen, so hooked me up with a script for Vicodin to get through that initial rough patch. Unable to sleep, I sat on the living room couch sucking on ice cubes and playing Katamari Damacy to distract myself from the ache in my jaw. I really didn’t want to dip in to the Vicodin if I didn’t have to, but the pain got the better of my aversion to drugs.
I popped one, and nothing happened. I popped another an hour later, still nothing. Then a third thirty minutes later, and the pain remained lucidly as foregrounded as before. Eventually I passed out due to sheer exhaustion. When I opened my eyes the following morning, the infection — and the pain it caused — had been flushed by the penicillin. When I tried to stand up, the walls and floor wouldn’t stop moving because of the weird hangover that ended up being the only physical effect of the (slightly excessive dose of) Vicodin.
I’ve steered clear of mind-altering substances (besides a family history of addiction) because the idea of willingly surrendering control or becoming disoriented terrifies me. Other folks might groove on it, but I find that impulse utterly incomprehensible. This after-the-fact painkiller trip only confirmed my position on the matter.
It also caused another song to start cycling through my skull — a half-remembered relic of the late Nineties electronica boom buried somewhere in Maura’s pre-cohabitation collection of compact discs. The urge to hear it compelled me to stagger up the narrow staircase to our attic and dig out a dust-glazed copy of Crystal Method’s Vegas so I could flop out to…
…”Trip Like I Do.”
One might think that both these songs would’ve turned to ear poison due to their deep and abiding connection to what was one of the most excruciating experiences I’ve ever gone through. In fact, the opposite ended up happening. Ten years later, both remain in heavy personal rotation and my ears always perk up when I catch snippets of either in the wild. When I got back into buying records of personal import, I picked up the double-LP reissue of Vegas on its day of release and dropped a handful of dimes on a clean copy of the “Philadelphia Freedom” single.
As for the bad tooth, I balked at my insurance’s co-pay for a permanent crown and it eventually shattered, leaving behind nothing but a jagged stump with the metal post sticking out of it.
I should probably do something about that.