Written by: Nicholas Perell
Art by: Alyssa Luongo
Friday, February 22nd, 2019 C.E., 7:12 A.M.
I woke up that morning to someone else’s alarm. I don’t know why one of my roommates had an alarm set for 7:12 A.M. instead of 7:15 A.M., but mine was for 7:15 A.M. My first motion was to get out of bed to turn it off.
Summit 100 wasn’t a bad room—we weren’t in Summit 202 (a quad the size of double) — but back in August it started out a logistical nightmare. It was a maze to move about the furniture. Out of necessity, we lofted all our beds. We slid our desks and dressers under them, and put our closets against the wall. The unintended side effect was that the ends of our beds were blocked by furniture or the wall. So, I used my desk to get on top of my bed.
It was the same going down, but that morning when I slung my legs over the ledge of my bed, they weren’t over the desk. As soon as my hips slipped past the edge of the mattress, I was already falling, but my body went into damage-control mode. I turned around, tried to slow myself down, grabbed at the sheets, and pressed my arms onto the mattress. I pointed my legs to the desk. My feet hit against the desk at separate times, and my body slipped past it. When my feet hit the floor, my body kept falling, and my legs bent. I tried to put my hands out to stop my torso from lurching into the desk, but it was too late — my face collided with the edge.
I felt the impact pain — the kind you would get if someone were to slug you in the face — across my lip, on my upper gum, and along my cheek. One of my teeth made contact with the desk, and a sharp, new pain came in like a scream through the bone. And there was an old feeling — the overt and aware sensation of one’s teeth usually reserved for years in elementary school: loose.
I reeled back and covered my mouth with my hand. I rolled on the ground, and I groaned. “Ahhhhhh… fuck!”
Damion walked over to me as I got onto my hands and knees. “Are you okay man?”
“I think I hit my tooth on the desk. I think it’s loose. I’m…I’m gonna smile at ya — okay, Damion?” I sighed. “…And I need you to tell me how bad it is.”
“Okay,” he said.
I squeezed my eyes shut and I turned my head up with a smile — the biggest, shit-eating smile I’ve given another human being. I opened my eyes and exchanged casual stares with him. “Yeah, that’s pretty bad,” He nodded. “You should probably wash out the blood in the sink.”
I sat up. “Alright,” I said. I was tasting pennies in my mouth.
I stood up and I speed-walked out of the room towards the bathroom. I didn’t make it very far. The world suddenly felt like it was tilting, everything went blurry, and black spots grew. I placed my hand against the wall so I could slide my back down it and sit there with my knees bent to my chest. Closed eyes or not, everything was a brown and black blur for a moment. I slowed my breathing, and I sank back into reality.
I decided against making the full trek to the bathroom, and went back to my room. I grabbed my phone from my desk (yes, that one) and turned off the alarm. “I don’t have any service — can one of you call CPS?”
I was still putting myself together when the CPS officers showed up. The white-haired guy spoke up. “We should probably take you to the Fanny, then.”
The woman officer looked at him. “Wouldn’t it make sense to go to the ER?”
“The Fanny has a dental surgeon there.”
“The Fanny” as he called it, was a part of the UVM medical center, only it was a ten-minute drive to it in Cholchester. When we were on the road, I got some service, and I tried to call my dad. He didn’t pick up, but he texted me back.
“Did you just call?”
“Yeah. So I lost my footing real bad on the way down my bed.”
“Are you OK?”
“Hit my tooth. Not out but it’s definitely loose. Campus Security is giving me a ride to a place with walk ins and a dental surgeon.”
I was dropped off at the Fanny with the officers discussing how one of them had never heard anyone call the Fanny Allen Campus “the Fanny” before and the other claimed that it was what everybody always called it. I went in as they drove away, and I checked myself in for my tooth. While I waited, I emailed the professor for my 9:30 class that morning.
Subject: Had a bad spill.
“So I accidentally had a bad tumble on the way out of bed and smacked my tooth on the corner of the desk.”
“I don’t know if I’ll be there or not.”
“If I don’t see you in class, I hope you and everyone else has a nice day!”
I was called over to another room and sat down at a desk across from a middle-aged woman with blonde hair to her shoulders. “We don’t have a dentist here.”
“Yeah. That’s something the ER would have.”
I called CPS for them to pick me up from the Fanny and take me to the ER, which would have been a three minute drive from Summit in the first place. I texted my dad while I waited ten minutes for CPS to pick me up.
“As it turns out the place does not have a dental surgeon — the ER does. I’m not trusting CPS on this again. I’m just waiting for a ride.”
“Beware that if the hospital doesn’t think it’s an emergency they won’t see you. Make sure you play up the pain or discomfort.”
“Does ‘my tooth feels like it’s pretty close to falling out and every time I close my jaw, it’s like a telegraph of pain’ work?”
“Let them see some worry about losing a tooth for an accident that just happened. If you are laid back about it, they will turn you away and tell you to find a local dentist.” He sent the elaboration as I sent my response. He added, “Maybe you won’t even have to act.”
“Professional Writing, man. Don’t knock it.”
The female CPS officer was the one who drove me from the Fanny to the ER, which was another 10 minute drive. The view of passing trees and moving traffic was eye bleach — the static, samey, soundless atmosphere of the Fanny had been an hour of purgatory.
The ER waiting room was even more purgatory. The only thing of note in the waiting room was a cute hat rack some old lady had brought in for anyone to take from. She had knitted all the hats herself, and the hats were the perfect size for a baby’s head.
I was feeling worse about my tooth by the time I was waiting in the ER than at the Fanny. It hurt more, and it felt more loose. At one point, I started to swallow some of my saliva, and I felt the tooth shift inwards. I stopped, and had to take another moment to breathe. From then on, I pressed my tongue behind it whenever I swallowed. The tooth pain transformed from a screaming sensation in the tooth to a ringing that ran from my tooth down into my gums. And of course, pressing my tongue against the tooth hurt every time.
Eventually this constant game of tongue movement and the unique sensation of nearly swallowing a tooth made me feel a little insane in the waiting room. I resorted to texting my dad.
“Can I just say that it sucks being constantly aware of your own teeth. It’s an awful feeling. Existential dread inducing.”
“If you lose a tooth we will get it replaced, don’t worry. Maybe a gold one?”
“I’d like to still have this one for now. It’s treated me well — torn through many bagels.” It was 10:13 A.M. when my 9:30 A.M. professor responded to my original email.
Re: Had a bad spill
“My goodness, how terrible! I hope everything is alright, did you make it to the hospital?”
I summarized the tedious process of waiting in the ER. “I didn’t realize just how unaware I usually am of the existence of my own teeth until now.” It wasn’t until around 10:30 A.M. when my name was called. I entered a room identical to the one at the Fanny to identify and explain myself again, and entered with a paper bracelet on my wrist.
A PA student saw me and I told her about falling and hitting the desk. “That sounds bad,” she said. I opened my mouth and pulled my top lip back so she could see the tooth. “Ooh, Alright,” she nodded, “I’ll try and find a doctor to be with you shortly.”
“Thanks.” After the PA student left, I stared at the blank wall and the floor tiles, playing tongue-footsies with my tooth.
She came back with a doctor at 11:15 A.M. I recounted the desk-face collision for him. I shrugged. “So, yeah—‘my toof hurts.’”
I opened my mouth for the doctor. “Is it this one?” he asked. And then he touched it. I deserve credit for only jolting my head back and going “ah” because it felt like the scream went from one person to a well of trapped souls. I opened my mouth again and he leaned in. “Yep, I can see the line right there…” he said. “Your tooth is definitely fractured. Usually it can’t be saved when that happens, unless we were to make a splint or something. We have a dentist on call and we’ll see if he can do anything. In the meantime, we can give you some novocaine.”
The PA student and non-dentist doctor returned with a needle to jab into my face so I could feel better. When the needle was pulled out, my sigh of relief made an audible “guuh.” The pain went away in my gum, and instead a painless pins-and-needles sensation spread from my gums to my upper lip to the bottom on my nose. “This feels weird.” For the next ten minutes sitting by myself, the parts I remembered of Green Day’s Give Me Novacaine played in my head on repeat. Billie Joe Armstrong hadn’t prepared me for this. It was funny until I started panicking over whether my nose was itchy or just numb. The confusion only subsided an hour later, and afterwards I sniffed indiscreetly and rubbed my nose because it felt like it was constantly running. The pain came back in a half-an-hour, but the fucking awful feeling novocaine gave the rest of my face wasn’t gone until 5:00 P.M.
The PA student checked in on me. “Do you want some water?”
“I would,” I said, “but I’m worried that if I drink it, the liquid might go through the tooth or push something.”
“I may be able to find something.”
She came back with this comically large, dark gray, plastic cup full of water with a clear lid. A regular, clear straw poked through the middle. “Thank you!” I said. I took the cup with both hands, and until I finished the water, I had to continue holding it like that, sipping from the straw provided for me that looked absurdly teeny in comparison.
The dentist finally showed up. “I called the dentist office for you to go there because the hospital has none of the equipment required to address this.”
“Okay. Thanks.” I was given an address and told which corner to turn down to leave.
The dentist office was the longest drive, but the shortest time spent at. The worst part was being forced to fill out paperwork in a waiting room blasting songs on par with Pac-Man Fever. Turns out, when a tooth fracture goes past the nerve, it’s over — my tooth was gone since it hit the desk that morning. They put a stilt in so what part of my tooth had broken off wouldn’t fall away completely and leave me with a noticeable hole in my face, applied a painkiller that treated me much better than novocaine ever did, and told me to come back later to discuss what the process would be to replace it. I got back on campus at around 3:30 P.M.
The next week I found out they didn’t take my dental insurance.