There are few aching pains in life that wake you from a sleep, and the worst, I feel, is the ache of an infected tooth. The pain is constant, not like a cramp that goes away for a few moments before returning or a cough that hurts your chest leaving you with the chance to gather yourself. The piercing pain of a tooth ache reverberating through your nerves not allowing you to focus on anything else other than the pain being shot straight to your brain is the king of all pain. With nothing greater in my reach than a mild aspirin, I reach for the bottle of Jameson to blind this great pain away from my usual troubles and give me some time to deal. I take a glance at the clock and it is five thirty in the morning.
The alcohol is taking its time working away the pain and the cold of the liquid on my infected tooth seems to be working against me. I try to drink more, but then begin to heave and vomit, with nothing in my stomach from the night before. The strenuous act of heaving has masked the nagging, aching pain for a split second and I am overjoyed for that second until the pain returns as if to laugh at my attempt to drown the king. It is now six in the morning and I gather my socks and boots, put on my shirt and grab my jacket heading for the door. The ‘healthy smiles’ van that sat in front of the government building the other day should be open and they will be able to pull my tooth and rid me of this horrible, unstoppable pain. I shoot out of my apartment and walk down the few blocks to the main drag, keeping a wet tissue in my gums to stop any cold air from irritating the tooth anymore than it has already. I am breathing hard and if you were walking anywhere around me you could hear it, the pain, and it was winning. I kept my head down and walked fast, hoping to run into a cab instead of courting one, per usual. My first thought was to get to the bus just as it made its way to my stop. At that moment, the pain almost dropped me to my knees as if it had entered my mind and denied the thought from inside my head. I found a cab, got inside and mumbled DC General Hospital as quickly as I could.
He was Ethiopian and the pain had stopped me from the normal how-do-you-do’s that would get a cabby to empathize with my situation. King pain and I just shouted orders at him and explained that I needed to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. The cabby driving down the road, with a green light ahead, pulls off the gas to explain he recently got a ticket for driving too fast. I pointed at the green light and interrupted him, as the pain started to swear obscenities at the window and I began to breathe hard. The pain did not change. It did not care that I was in someone else’s cab or that the stupid cabby pulled onto a residential, one-lane street behind a garbage truck. We seemed to be getting all the lights that would turn yellow then bright red as soon as we approached. The breaths were getting louder and turning up the talk radio didn’t help anyone. We finally pull up to DC General, after a few wrong turns as I open my wallet and fling out the few dollars I had. I threw the fare at the front seat and slammed the door, running into the old building to be greeted by a few officers and people who were going through a metal detector. I point to my mouth and the lady guard tells me to walk across the campus to the dental center.
I hurry across the parking lot and bit of grass only to see the cabby making his turns and we pass each other as the pain, impersonating me, cocks back my arm as if to punch the cab window out. I keep walking and enter the automatic doors to a guard sitting alone. I again point to my mouth, telling her I am with great king pain. She tells me that this is now residential housing and that they do not have doctors on site. The pain asks her to repeat it. Then when hearing the same lines come from her, the pain proceeds to walk out, not before punching and moving the door off its track. I look back and a few people outside begin to stare. I walk back across the parking lot and head for the main road.
I finally get another cab, this time an older West African man, and he is taking his time with ending his phone call, ignoring the great moans and loud breathing coming from the backseat. I explain that I need to go to Howard University Hospital and I am with great pain. The pain has introduced itself, by having my head gently pound itself against the window as I begin to massage my jaw line. The massaging did not alleviate any pain but it didn’t confuse it for a few seconds and for that I was grateful. I did not stop massaging. I didn’t stop when I explained that I needed to make a stop on H street to take out some cash for this unexpected trip. I got out of the cab and walked to that bus that I had seen a few days earlier. The workers were handing out cards and telling everyone that dentists on the bus were able to clean, treat or extract teeth and it wouldn’t cost a thing. I decided to ignore their suggestions at the time. The pain was worse now. The massaging was just a thing to do, at this point. I get the bus and knock on the door where an eastern European man opens and explains that they are not open until nine or nine thirty that morning. It was seven and the pain took over, asking him to explain himself. He told the pain that no doctors are here and he was simply a driver. I walked away and tried to grab another cab, this time to the hospital where I knew people were working.
I get to the emergency room of the hospital and immediately feel the disrespect of someone in pain, while others are just trying to do their job and get their bills paid. The women at the desk did not seem to show any urgency for my situation, still on the phone repeating her hours and schedule to someone on the other line. The pain let out some more obscenities and another woman come to my aid and quickly entered my information into the system and put my name on the list, next to the handful of strangers sitting in that desolate waiting area. From the looks of it, I was the only one is constant, aching blatant pain but how was I to know. The others may have had a worse situation and nobler pain than mine, but didn’t show it. All I could do was to keep massaging and hope that my name was called in the next few moments. Those moments turned into tens of minutes.
When inquiring about my status, I was told that I had to walk to another area to be help so the pain shuttled me to that destination, leaving a flurry of remarks, in case someone wanted to find me. I get to the triage and a male nurse asks me general questions and takes my blood pressure. This was all done with my head down and my hand continuing to massage my jaw. After a few more minutes, I am put into a room and told to wait until the sole doctor is ready. The pain had other plans for me and began to pace me around this little room and even pushed me out into the hallway. I looked around each time I circle that little room and hallway and saw no one around, to then seeing a worker pulling and dragging equipment to no one in sight, again. I stared at the tight outfit of the worker and how it hugged her body, staring at her visible panty line, in some sort of natural reflex. The nurse came back with a single pill for pain relieve and then second guessed whether he should have brought another, seeing myself standing beside my pain. The second pill took a while, as it had to be approved by the doctor. It took a good, long while, but the pain was now cooling down but not enough for me to collect my thoughts of the frantic morning activities. The massaging continued as I jumped into the hall and noticed the doctor to be, sitting in front of the computer entering data from her clipboard.
The pain began to have a couple of good arguments as to why the doctor could not wait to proceed with data entry after she had seen all the patients that desperately needed assistance. I agreed with the pain and began to lobby and plead with the empty room to take these valid messages to the doctor. The doctor finally arrives and begins to ask what the problem is.
I tell her of my accompanying pain and that my infected tooth has begun to take over any and all control of my body. She pauses, then reaches for her equipment, tilting my head back, then explains to me that I have an infected tooth.
She then tells me that the dental department of the hospital has not begun to work on patients and I would have to wait for them to open, with a warning of also having to secure an appointment before any work can be done. Before she exits the room to retrieve my prescription note, I explain to her the severity of the pain and how the pain has asked me to not be given a simple aspirin, and instead a possible high-tier pain reliever. She says nothing and returns with a note for some antibiotics and a mild pain reliever. The pills were starting to combat the pain and its army. The time is eight in the morning. The king is dead, for now.
[Author’s note:] The next few hours play out this way; I get called a pervert from a school girl while waiting at the pharmacy. The receptionist on the bus where I head to next distracts me with her disproportionately inflated backside and continues to bend over in front of me, directly challenging my medication with arousal felt each time she passes. The doctors on the bus that I returned to, heavily medicated, tell me that my tooth needs to be taken care of at a hospital. And, most importantly, I am down to my last few pills.