“Look at the bright spots. Look at the things that energize you.” – China Brooks
“Your son did a great job and you were amazing too” the dentist said to me as we were heading out the door. I know she meant it sincerely but it’s hard to accept a compliment for something that you never wanted to be good at. As was the case here as I had just held my 2-year-old son through getting a root canal.
It had all started with Mr. D’s dental checkup on Tuesday when they noticed a cavity. Two hours after the appointment his temperature spiked at daycare and they sent him home. I called the dentist, described the bump she saw on his gum and she dismissed it as unlikely he had an infection.
Until we showed up Friday to get it filled and she took one look and declared it was abscessed and he had to have a root canal. The tooth is important for the spacing of the next tooth to come in so they have to try to save it.
I’d spent the last two and a half days nursing him back to health after the temperature spike and so this was an unwelcome surprise on top of a dumpster fire of a week of only being able to work at night after the kids were in bed.
The only routine that made it through the week intact for me was my self-care routine in the morning – yoga, meditation and writing.
As I sat in that hot room, stinky with the smell of teeth and hissing with the noise of the drill I wondered if the reading, writing, and meditating made any difference. Then I paged through the thoughts that arose:
Therapist and author Deb Dana declares having a well-regulated central nervous system a gift to those around you. Whether or not we intellectualize why, the “neurosception” of our body as it senses another nervous system often reacts to what it finds. Our brain then gets a sense of whether or not we feel safe simply cued by the nervous system.
I thought of the comment that apeacefultree made in this post asking Can we be selfish and selfless at the same time? “Healthy selfishness can include self-care and putting our own oxygen masks on.”
Then I landed on the research of Daniel Kahneman, psychologist, behavorial economist and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow who found the way that we remember both painful and pleasureful experiences as defined by the peak moment and the end moment. It helped prompt me to try to make the end moments of this procedure as good as possible in order to help Mr. D’s memories of it less painful.
Cycling through those thoughts, I came to the conclusion that the time reading, writing and meditating made a big difference. Because this was life – this was showing up when it mattered. Of course it’s also in the dance parties and the snuggling up to read at night but you can’t have one without the other. Or at least not the depth of one without the depth of the other.
It was because I’d taken the time to meditate and get myself in order before this appointment that I got through. The credit goes to Mr. D for being an easy-to-calm kid but I can at least say that I didn’t make it worse as I’m sure I would have if I’d gotten in a few more billable hours but had come in hot.
It’s so hard to stay present for someone else’s suffering. But it also is an honor to be able to do that for the people we love. And I think why we call people like Mother Theresa saints for witnessing the suffering of people they don’t even know.
At the heart of this is that I wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else. The experience taught me that I need to keep doing my self-care if I’m to have any chance to help Mr. D work through this a traumatic experience. Especially because we have to go back for the second part of the root canal in 8 days.
(featured photo is of Mr. D playing at the dentist before the procedure)