English (3rd Hour)
September 30, 1996
Sights & Sounds: At the Orthodontist’s Office
As I walked into Dr. Weber’s orthodontic office, I noticed the receptionist, Jennifer. Off in one corner was a rather large (and apparently also overworked) printer, busily spitting out papers in rapid succession. Jennifer looked up from her screen, which displayed the long list of the day’s patients and appointment times. “Hi, George… today’s the big day,” she remarked upon seeing that I had walked in. “I know! It’s been six-and-a-half years’ wait for this day,” I replied. Mom, who was accompanying me, wandered over to the gray couch in the adjoining waiting area and began flipping through a magazine. From across the room I could hear the pages rustle as the cool autumn breeze came rushing in through the window.
Moments later, the phone began to ring. The secretary picked it up and began talking—it sounded indecipherable to me—to the person on the other end. She grabbed a scrap of paper and began scribbling some notes. The room was almost silent at the time, so even the simple sound of pencil on paper seemed noisy. When Jennifer got off the phone, she handed the hastily written message to Bonnie, an assistant of Weber’s whom I knew pretty well. She began to speak to Weber, but was interrupted by a loud automobile passing by outside—a car whose muffler was apparently completely broken. The deafeningly noisy incident prompted someone else in the room to say, “What in the world was that… a 747?” Turning his attention back to Bonnie, Weber said to her, “Now what were you saying, Bonnie, when that car was driving by?”
Bonnie explained, “There’s been a cancellation. Jenny is attempting to find another appointment time.” She then walked off to the sink nearby to wash her arm—a newly acquired splotch of toothpaste (or some similar gel) was bugging her. From where I was, the minty scent combined with her sweet-smelling perfume made an interesting aroma. It smelled a bit like someone had tried to crossbreed roses with mouthwash or toothpaste. Jennifer had since picked up the telephone again, this time making an appointment with her caller. As all that was going on, an assistant by the name of Ray walked into the waiting area and said, “George Koch, come on back… Dr. Weber will see you now.”
Once I was seated, Weber took a small instrument—a round mirror on a metal rod, designed to fit in someone’s mouth—and did the routine tooth checkup. The harmless mirror was soon replaced by the much-more-menacing device which scrapes teeth to remove any tartar. I hated the thing; it had a hideous, nails-on-the-chalkboard sensation once the scraping began. This ended soon, mercifully, and then it was on to the pliers—the almost magical, long-awaited device which meant freedom from the braces. He snapped the metal wire off in pieces, along with the “fasteners” that kept everything tight and held in place.
Once the top row of teeth had been let out from “behind bars,” Weber walked off for a moment. In his absence, I opened the small drawer on the front of the platform attached to the chair. I took the two-sided mirror, said a quick hello (figuratively speaking) to the teeth and put it back. I noticed the “workbench” filled with various instruments, the recently removed braces, some medical forms left over from an earlier patient and (what I soon would find out was) a glue remover.
Weber returned, so I leaned back in the chair again. I saw numerous shelves towering high in the middle of the room. These contained, among other things, dozens of packets of mini-rubber bands (for the braces). There were also retainers of all sizes and colors, as well as various other parts that I didn’t recognize. Weber took (what I was now about to learn was) the glue machine, turned it on and began using it to remove the glue left on my teeth from where the braces had been. I don’t know how the machine worked and I didn’t ask… but it seemed like there was some sort of melting procedure going on. Bizarre, foul little “glue clouds” formed as the adhesive came off. The melted (or whatever it was doing) glue, in gaseous form, gave off a stench that made burning rubber seem like an attractive alternative if I had the choice.
The doctor asked a question, but over the noise of the machine, I couldn’t understand him. And in the condition my mouth was in, I couldn’t respond very well, either. It sounded like I was saying, “Hut doo hay, Wockr Nebber?” Apparently he wasn’t fluent in Patient-ese, because he stared at me so strangely that I thought I might have grown a second head. He turned to Bonnie: “What did he say?” Bemused Bonnie replied, “That was beyond me.”
Minor distractions and irritations began popping up all over. The chilly wind began blowing in through an open window. A hair on the forehead was getting irritating—I couldn’t brush it away, or otherwise move, because I had to keep my hands down and out of Weber’s way. All I could do at the time was stare up at the orthodontist and his silvery hair. When he asked if I was liking high school, the attempted response of “Yes, it’s easy” came out closer to “Heg, if eegy.”
I finally was allowed to get up, now that the glue procedure was done. I rinsed out the grainy remains in the small sink. I was to head over to Ray at the X-ray machine (appropriately enough). As he tried to get the positioning correct, I was receiving directions: “Now don’t move… no, like this… there we go…” until he was sure that I was in place. The machinery made a lot of whirring sounds, then a comparatively tame “click.”
I had to take a seat once again, this time to get some molds placed into the mouth. The molds had been filled with some sort of squishy, gelatinous substance best described as how it felt: “gooze.” The strange-feeling stuff was removed after probably a quarter of a minute. This was done twice, then I was approached by one of the assistants, wielding a Polaroid instant camera. Near the waiting room, an electronic message board displayed announcements as well as patients’ “achievements” so I saw that I was part of the day’s “news” in the office. I was surprised by someone’s shout of “Dr. Weber, phone call on line five!”
I headed to the small side room where the staff dried the molds to resemble the patients’ mouth. The mold I’d had made was already white and being dried. I went to go clean up. As I left moments later, I got congratulated by the staff and was given a pack of various candies that the “braces-off” patients receive. Mom and I had lunch at a small hamburger joint, Cock Robin, near the orthodontist’s office. It felt strange eating with “bare” teeth, but the teeth felt “liberated.” In between bites, I said to Mom that this was the “first lunch since age eight-and-a-half.” She corrected, “You mean your first brace-less lunch since age eight-and-a-half.” True enough. Within moments, eating felt normal again. It had been a long, long time.