Wednesday, February 25, 2009


The first time I ever experienced nitrous oxide was as a college junior back in the mid-70's. I went to a dentist within walking distance of the campus to have a filling made (it should be noted at the time my hair hung halfway down my back).

"Do you want novocaine?" he asked.

"Never use it," I replied.

He glanced at my hair. "Ever tried nitrous oxide?"

Without missing a beat, I said, "No, but I'm game."

They laid the nose piece on me and turned on the gas. After a few minutes the nurse came to check on me. "How are we feeling?"

I shrugged, not really sure what I should be feeling.

She called the dentist over, who looked at some knob or valve out of my view and frowned. They turned away from me and consulted in lowered voices. "Sometimes," she smiled, "If you are a heavy drinker or smoker it takes a little more." I rolled my eyes. She patted my arm. "We can tell."

The dentist turned something and I heard the hiss of additional gas. A cloud of joy and mirth rolled over my like the surf. I could no longer feel my toes.

As I listened to them talk, their conversation seemed to grow more and more outrageously absurd. I fought an uncontrollable urge to snicker.

"He's ready," said the nurse.

Nitrous is also known (for obvious reasons) as Laughing Gas.

Three weeks ago I went to get a crown on a filling (maybe that same filling) and lay gassed up and deadened for 3 hours, grooving on tunes from my mp3 player, and today was back for another hour as they installed the permanent crown.

Nitrous oxide and novocaine are the ideal dental cocktail. My father once described the effects of nitrous as the same as 2 or 3 martinis. Only your bartender has his hands in your mouth and using high-speed drills. The general effect though is frighteningly similar. Fucked up is fucked up.

The best part? When he's finished, he turns off the giggle gas and puts me on oxygen, which flushes all the silly out of my system. You can have a lost weekend for 2 hours while the drilling is going on, and 15 minutes later be a sober pillar of the community again.

I don't know if it's because I'm older, or because my current dentist is more parsimonious with the N2O, but I just don't seem to laugh with it these days. Life does seems more pleasant and endurable, and I guess I'll take that.

I watched the Obama speech last night on TV and think what we need is the equivalent of Laughing Gas for our current recession: something to take the edge off the pain while all this is worked out, that lets us turn up the oxygen when it's over so we can flush it out of our system when the worst of it's over.


Dan Brekke said...

A couple years ago, my dentist talked me into getting my wisdom teeth pulled. These days, they put you under for that procedure. But I screwed up and had coffee the morning of my appointment; they told me that I'd have to make a new appointment--the next opening was about three months away--or have the teeth pulled with just local anesthesia. I just wanted to get the thing done, so I did the local. When I got to the extractor's office, though, they asked whether I'd like to have some nitrous on top of the Novocaine. I had never had nitrous, but I thought it would be good to take the edge off. It worked -- I was totally aware of what was going on, but just felt completely relaxed about it.

The Whited Sepulchre said...

You were able to watch that speech without laughing?