I need to confess today.
Actually, I confessed multiple times last week, but today I confess publicly:
Before Thursday, when I found myself with zero choice, I had not seen a dentist since age twelve.
Going to the dentist after so long scared me. The actual dentistry did not scare me–the needles and drills and scraping sound terrible but also restorative–but the cost and the shame scared me.
I have ignored broken teeth. I likely need numerous root canals and fillings. My teeth look like they haven’t been cleaned in nineteen years–and I owe a gracious “Thank you!” to everyone for not mentioning it. I will need to some something expensive about the salvageable teeth.
Do you know how much shame I feel writing that? I asked my nurse sister about interactions between amoxicillin and pseudo-ephedrine–because I cannot just have dental problems, I also need to have sinuses that act up concurrently–and I prayed she would not ask me the doctor prescribed me amoxicillin so I would not have to confess I had not seen a dentist in nearly two decades and only found one out of extreme pain and swelling and that the visit included Novocaine and antibiotics, which only means one thing.
I also have two kickers: one, I have had continuous dental coverage for the past five years and spotty but at least occasional coverage for the past thirteen, probably some before I know nothing about; and two, my wife works in the dental field.
I have no reasons aside from shame and fear.
The fear comes from cost. I will not spend a lot of time griping about dental costs and how worthless dental insurance is beyond cleanings and x-rays and how it should cost more to receive dental implants in the United States than to take a month off of work, live in Europe for a month, and receive dental care from a UCLA-trained dentist. It really should not cost less to do it twice in Europe than once in the United States.
No, not an exaggeration or hypothetical. Literally know someone who did it and had that exact cost experience.
A realization fascinated me as I drank my chocolate malt for lunch because Novocaine: no one made me feel ashamed at the dentist.
They acted confused and shocked a dental lab technician’s husband had not seen the dentist in so damn long, but they did not shame me. They had, and have, the goal to get me back in to clean and x-ray my teeth and chart a plan of attack to get my mouth healthy.
How much suffering had my shame and fear caused me?
I believe I stumbled upon a thing, not unknown but also known widely discussed. We do not go to counselors because strong people can take care of themselves. We do not go to doctors because we fear blowing sicknesses out of proportion and hypochondria, or we need to improve our self-care to justify having a doctor try to fix our problems. We do not admit our exhaustion because good pastors/ministers/church leaders/parents/teachers/… … … do not get worn out given our amount of work. We do not admit that we need help with our faith and our church life because a strong, faithful Christian would not need it given our place in our faith journey.
Eventually it festers until we do not have a choice and we have to let the giant needle go in and have the blade and pliers remove we we maybe could have salvaged had we just taken care of it initially instead of letting it get so bad it risked hurting us irreparably.
Or worse, letting it fester long enough to hurt us in a way we cannot recover from in.
We have a problem, though. My dentist appointment went as well as getting a tooth ripped from your mouth can go. The last time I saw a doctor, though–after going to the ER because my indigestion tried to convince me my heart would explode and that doctor telling me a thirty-year-old can no longer not have a primary care physician–the PCP gave me zero answers to any problem I brought to her. We did no actual diagnostics because the blood work came back normal, and all of my stomach issues were chalked up to my weight and she told me losing weight would solved them if one possible diagnosis ended up being correct.
I realize the level of my obesity. I have struggled with my weight for 23 years, more and more as I age, and I know some minor weight-loss and mildly alleviated some of my symptoms, but never fully and never some of the newer symptoms I have.
The doctor did not try to actually find a problem, instead just making it about my weight. Even if we can blame the weight 100%, I need to know what the weight does to my body instead of implying fat people just get heart burn and stomach pains magically because of fat.
Many times, when you try to help yourself and seek the help of someone who has the skills to help you when you cannot help yourself, that skilled person shames you for needing help in the first place. The idea of “Pick yourself up by your bootstraps!” guides so many in positions to help.
“If you just do the right things, the bad things will stop.”
The church does this, too. We forget about the cross and the empty tomb, instead making people think they can be good enough–or not good enough–for church and for the help that the church provides. We forget we need of Jesus in our own lives and something higher than ourselves saves us, too, and we believe people need to lose enough “sin” weight before we can take their needs and problems seriously to try to help them.
We see some people as “fallen” and others as “hopelessly fallen” even though we all are “hopelessly fallen.” We contribute to the shame that makes people not want to seek help, instead opting to suffer until they cannot suffer the pain any more and succumb to it.
We withhold love to those we deem unworthy and shame them for their unworthiness.
We need to take care of ourselves and reach out for help when needed. We need to admit when we are inadequate to fix our problems. We need self-care and care from outside ourselves.
And we need to be open to caring, not blaming and shaming but just trying to help. We need to love without reservation or requirement.
Also, Novocaine is terrible and even though it far outweighs the alternative, it is terrible.