The pain jolted through me like an electrical shock — so sharp, so sudden, I bolted from my chair and ran for the restroom.
I tried to be inconspicuous and hoped no one could see the tears squirting from my eyes. I prayed no one would want to stop me to say hello as I made my mad dash to the latrine.
As I propped myself up onto the lavatory counter and endeavored to become one with the mirror, I pried my mouth open and searched desperately for the dagger that must be wedged between my last molar and wisdom tooth. I could see nothing.
I used my finger to prod at each tooth, but it was to no avail. Nothing was loose. Nothing was lodged in my gum or between my teeth. But then, as quickly as it had arrived — the pain was gone.
As I lowered myself from the counter, straightened my sweater and dried my eyes, I felt almost silly for having reacted so spontaneously. I knew that something had “struck a nerve,” but wow — what was it? Never had I experienced such pain.
As I made my way back to my table, I scanned the room to make sure I had not wiped out any tables or chairs; no little old ladies or children had been knocked down as I raced by.
Afterward, I agonized over every bite and each swallow of liquid. What if the ice cube touched my tooth? Would that cause the searing pain to stab at my jaw?
Soon, the meal was over, as well as my anxiety. By the time I made it home and prepared for bed, I’d almost forgotten the entire painful episode. I was still cautious brushing my teeth, but I was willing to write off the whole experience as an anomaly.
But at 2 a.m., I sat up in bed, my entire jaw aching in pain.
I fumbled for the bottle of Ibuprofen and read the label: 200 milligrams each. Was two enough? Could I tolerate four?
I compromised and downed three. I grabbed a washcloth and soaked it in cold water. I used it as a compress and endeavored to lie down once again. For 20 minutes, my head pounded and my teeth ached beyond belief. Once the Ibuprofen kicked in, it seemed to only mute, not eradicate, the pain.
2:55 a.m.: Another rush of pain, so intense I found myself standing up beside the bed, with no memory of getting up. What could I do now? I couldn’t take any more Ibuprofen. I paced the floor, desperately seeking something to ease the pain. Then my eyes landed on a bottle of Seagram’s 7 Whiskey.
Didn’t they used to rub whiskey on babies’ gums when they were teething?
I found myself prying the cap from the bottle and taking a swig that would have made a sailor proud. I swished the whiskey about like mouthwash. My gums tingled and burned, but soon I noticed that the pain had begun to subside.
At 4:30 a.m., the pain returned. To heck with three hours between pills — it was time for two more Ibuprofen. But after just 30 minutes of rest, the pain screamed back. Another whiskey elixir numbed it. But at 5:45 a.m., I found myself again pacing — jaw throbbing, eyes watering and contemplating going to the garage to find the pliers and yank out a tooth — any tooth.
Again, I reached for the whiskey.
I consumed more whiskey in those four hours than I had in the past four years. When the pain subsided once again, I placed the whiskey bottle back on the shelf and contemplated whether I should call “Betty Ford” now or wait until the entire bottle of whiskey was depleted.
The next day found me in the dentist’s chair. He took X-rays, poked and prodded. “No, nothing here. Your teeth are fine.”
Needless to say, I didn’t believe him. Then, almost randomly, he touched the side of my face just in front of my ear. Once again, the pain soared through my nerves. The tears streamed down my face.
“Tell me where the pain begins,” he said, “and where does it end?”
I pointed to the area he’d touched and drew an imaginary line from my ear, down my neck and out to my shoulder.
“Aha! What you have is a sinus infection.”
And with that, he fired off a prescription for Augmentin, which would cost me more than $100, and said, “Take these until they’re gone. You’ll have a lot of pain for the next 48 hours, but it will soon be over. Can you cope with that?”
My mind immediately went to the Seagram’s 7 bottle. Would it last 48 hours, or did I need to make a Costco run?
It lasted, and now it’s back in the liquor cabinet where it belongs. My pain was gone within 48 hours, just as the doctor said, and once again, my sobriety is secure.
• Thinking Out Loud runs occasionally in Our Town. To reach Jack, write him at email@example.com or call 835-2244.