Recently, two incidents happened that left me calling myself an idiot or otherwise mentally kicking myself: Two weeks ago, I was at a return visit to the dentist, asking him to adjust the night guard that was fitting horribly and causing me pain. The adjustments had taken so long the previous visit, I had felt uncomfortable asking the dentist to continue adjusting the damn thing. “I’ll live with it,” I had told him.
In response, the dentist had assured me that the plastic would mold to my teeth over time. Which, who knows, might have happened, if it didn’t hurt like hell the moment I stuck the contraption into my mouth. So on the return visit, I was hell-bent on not leaving the office until the night guard fit like a charm.
The appointment kicked off with me waiting 45 minutes past the appointment time. Two or three times, I made it clear that I could not stay late, because I had to teach a class. Still, the clock ticked on. I decided it was more in my interest to get the night guard fitted and get it over with, risking arriving to my class at a less-than-optimal hour, than to storm out of the office and have to come back again.
Besides, I was scared about the state of a particular lower tooth, which had taken to wobbling. I have quite a bit of bone loss, as well as gum disease, and grinding my teeth at night does not help matters. It felt urgent not to let more time pass by before getting a solution in place.
Maybe it’s because it was challenging enough to focus on making sure the night guard fit impeccably. Or maybe it’s because, as a friend said, you’d like to think you can trust a dentist and just lie there for treatment; and besides, there’s a certain extent to which you feel compelled to be compliant, so as not to interfere in the dentist’s job.
Whatever the reason, I didn’t speak up twice when the dentist pressed unnecessarily hard on my jaw, trying to force the night guard into fitting on my teeth. There was plenty of mental chatter, of the “what-the-hell” variety, going on in my head, but none of it was audible. Only the third time did I say, “Please don’t press hard. I have TMJ.”
Truth be told, I was just trying to find a nice way of saying “What the fuck are you thinking, shoving down on my jaw, especially without putting your hand under to stabilize it. The jaw joint is not meant to withstand this kind of pressure, idiot!” TMJ in fact had seemed a thing of the past until I left the office, night guard broken in two pieces by one frustrated dentist. “You’re right,” he’d finally conceded. “This is made badly. It is wobbly and doesn’t fit.” Between you and me, I think he took his frustration out on my jaw.
For the next two weeks, I had jaw pain. In fact, I still am dealing with a lower-grade version of it. For the first two days, I also was busy kicking myself. I know better. Hell, I just wrote an entire freakin’ magazine article on the Good Patient Syndrome. I can list all the reasons patients don’t speak up, as well as a plethora of strategies for how they can. So – what the fuck?
Then there was the hair appointment I had today. Gorgeous facility, excellent products, and fantastic hair stylist. Just one problem: He had a go at my brows, without asking my permission, and just an hour after I’d informed him I’m getting my brows done tomorrow. Did I stop him? No.
And here’s the crazy thing: I have serious eyebrow issues. As in, don’t anyone who has not been triple-screened, my seal of approval smack on the forehead, even think of coming within ten feet of my brows. I’ve had enough brow drama in the past. So why why why didn’t I say anything?
Because he had great, nurturing energy, and his touch felt good. Because he was so into doing my hair and giving such care to the whole process of making me look fabulous, that I felt safe and trusting. Because he, an Armenian, ethnically bonded with me: “You can see your [Iraqi] heritage in your brows,” he said, making me laugh. Because it seemed that he was just lightly trimming them, and I saw no harm in that.
But then when I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror, I wanted to cry. There are little naked gaps now. The ends of my brows do not tend to grow, so they were sparse to begin with. The long growth of hair on the inner sections was necessary to keep it looking like I had, you know, two eyebrows over my eyes, not two clumps of brow with something faint and scraggly on the sides.
Oh how I berated myself the whole way home. I know, I know, self-abuse is not helpful in any way, shape, or form. I just felt so powerless. And angry at myself for not speaking up. I know how to speak up. I usually do speak up. Hell, I’m always speaking up.
And then I understood why I was silent:
Navigating through life with chronic pain, hypersensitivity, and a history of medical trauma is exhausting. Being an empowered patient, not to mention strategically protecting my body space every time I walk down the street or down a grocery aisle, is taxing. I have to micromanage everything – watching people’s energy fields so I can pre-empt a movement that can hurt me; extensively researching and interviewing medical providers before going to see them; responding ahead of time to every stupid little thing that can end up leaving me in pain.
Sometimes I want to just lay back and go with the flow. That phrase, in fact, was wafting through my head as the hair stylist did my brows: “Go with the flow.” Oh how I wish I could do that without consequence.