Discovering I had “deep pockets,” my dentist sent me to see a periodontist, a gum specialist. Having been down this road before and fearing pain and humiliation, I dawdled – for many months. She finally insisted I had to go. So I went.
The periodontist’s office billboard announced he was a private corporation (PC) specializing in “periodontal and implant surgery.” After filling out the requisite forms attesting to my fitness (medical and financial) to undergo the trials of modern medicine, and freeing the doctor from liability in the event of untoward results from his efforts in my behalf, and a wait, I was ushered into his chamber.
After another wait, he came in and we chatted about my teeth. He gave me a meticulous examination. Applying great lateral pressure to each tooth, he found that several could be made to wobble. “These teeth need to be saved,” he told me. He took X-rays, which found “extensive bone loss,” illuminating my teeth’s instability. He explained all this to me carefully, revealing a stern concern for my welfare. His conclusion: he needed to operate to determine if one tooth could be saved.
I returned several weeks later and he numbed up the side of my mouth where he would be operating. He engaged in light banter with the hygienist helping him; they displayed a well-practiced patter, like an old married couple. They inserted a variety of appliances into my mouth to keep it dry and to saturate it with water. Then began the “deep cleaning” of my “deep pockets” and the exploration to see if my tooth could be “saved.”
During the hours-long process, I had to halt the proceedings to swallow and breathe.
“Aren’t you comfortable?” he asked with jocular surprise. I was in no distress, but I replied, “I’m a good ways from comfortable, with you stomping around in there.”
The slightest irritation crept into his voice as he corrected me. “I’m not stomping, I’m excavating.” I nodded. I liked the mining analogy. He even wears a head lamp. And he chooses his words carefully.
To lighten things, the hygienist teasingly asked me, ”When have you ever been more comfortable than this?” Answering her own question before I could, she said to the doctor, ”Right before he came in here, I bet.” Very professional.
I shrugged my shoulder. He returned to search for buried treasure and I to breathe and swallow without interrupting his labors.
As they cleaned up and I rinsed, he said he thought he could save the tooth. He had inserted a cadaveric bone graft to stimulate bone growth in the area of loss. He also explained that several teeth did not do their job properly owing to misalignment. Such “inefficiencies” in my chewing added pressure on the wobbling teeth and besides cleaning out my deep pockets I might need further surgery, maybe even orthodonture. Sensing I was not immediately receptive to the suggestion (I’m 68), he assured me he would try to see what he could do to resolve my problem by other, unspecified means.
I was given prescriptions for antiseptic mouthwash, antibiotics, pain pills and an instruction sheet, which he reviewed with me. I was dispatched to the desk where a dour clerk relieved my credit card of several thousand dollars and an appointment was made for my return. I was unsure which step was the actual cleaning of my “deep pockets.”
I was free to go home to rinse and ponder how deeply capitalism has penetrated our lives how each of us has become the terrain of an ongoing treasure hunt, mapped by increasingly sophisticated, “non-invasive” imaging technology. A dizzying array of specialists explores our bodies searching for any imperfections that might be corrected, so that each of us can conform to a preconceived, pseudo-scientific ideal.
“There’s gold in them thar” gums, lungs, hearts, feet, backs, bones, skin or any other body part partitioned off for reconnoitering and quarrying. Especially in geezers like me.
“Golden years” has taken on a new meaning in light of modern capitalist medicine. My physical decline now provides a way for dynamic medical entrepreneurs to mobilize armies of attendants and “create jobs,” the highest social good in our dark times. Seniors like me have a new social role, stimulating a stagnant economy by plodding from visit to visit.
There is no issue of malpractice or malfeasance here, no individual wrongdoing, no violation of accepted community standards of care. Rather the whole of medical practice is dominated by the capitalist ethic: Like Mother Earth, everything – and everyone – is a dead resource to be exploited for private gain.