On Leap Day this year (2020) I received the poignant not-unexpected letter that my beloved dentist, Dr. Martin Nigrelle, with wife, Karen, and daughter, Holly, is closing his principled preventive effective practice March 1. March 1-6, I joined an Intensive Silent Contemplative Outreach Centering Prayer retreat at St. Andrew’s House (Episcopal) in Union, WA along Hood Canal. New behavior: social distancing: no hugs, frequent hand-washing, and the advice on coming home, to stay home.

At first my teeth went crazy: sensitive to cold, nerve pain on upper right, subsidence, lower left pain, and an awful reaction to ONE peanut butter GF cookie. I have been feeling that my old gold and silver-filled teeth have become my second pantry! As I moved into the soothingly structured order of sits, eased into my small, comfortable room, sleeping under a contemporary icon of Theresa of Avila, and increased and gentled my cleaning routine, my teeth eased.

Chef Treacy carefully adhered to my dietary needs: avoiding wheat, sugar, and acid foods like tomatoes, citrus, vinaigrette. After a horrid inflamed response to just one GF peanut butter cookie, I cut out all known sugar. Treacy made me a special batch of banana GF muffins that made me feel supremely seen and loved like my mother at her best. A psychic warm embrace. My heart and teeth calmed more.

I came home on Friday via Bremerton where I picked up my 60+-year old Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter, that Paul Lundy beautifully cleaned, polished, and secured to its base.

Returning on the 3:00 pm ferry, I was directed to park close to the left wall of the center car deck. Proceeding to the forward stairwell, as I hopped along the left wall, left foot higher on curb, right foot lower on deck, I encountered two wheel chocks and in passing them, lost my balance and pitched forward, full fall, my left lower palm, taking the brunt. I thought, going down, of my gratitude for Neil Yamamoto’s teaching me to fall, and I was wearing my new heavy Fjällräven coat, so I think I relaxed. As I sat up, people inquired if I was okay. My cheeks did not sting (my signal of shock). My palm below my little finger was red and sore, and a surprising hot spot on the outside base of my thumb prickled. Proceeding upstairs, I saw the second mate’s office door with FIRST AID sign, but the mates were all aft launching the boat. 

Shortly after, I hailed a passing crew member who let us into the office and located a cold pack. He kindly whacked it active in a karate chop that made me wince at the power and sound. But the cold it provided as I rested with my feet up in the sparsely populated upper lounge, perusing the scene with my binoculars in right hand, put me ship-shape by landing.

Safely home in time for dinner, unpacking, and mail. A note from his co-worker Sean expressing an accolade to our son Carl with Congratulations and Respect for raising such a person, primed me for the next morning.

After starting laundry, walking with my neighbor, Carl called at 11:00 am. “Mom, stay out of the emergency room and self-quarantine for 15-30 days.” This delivered soberly, lovingly, with teeth.

Prescient, Carl has led our family into new waters. I keep thinking of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Love in a Time of Cholera, but this is Corona Virus with an inept, depleted, federal response, a prevaricating, corrupt, self-serving president, and strewn with needless deaths, and untold acts of kindness, heroism. Carl can read the graphs, understands the numbers. Back to Martin Nigrelle’s retirement, he has suggested successors, but the search must wait.

Meantime, memories surge: of my first dentist, Dr. Clifford Atwood, succeeded by his son, Douglas, in their elegant office near Newbury Street, Copley Square. Nearby were the alluring Bonwit Teller store (I was told that MIT occupied it for a while during the building of MIT, and—F. A. O. Schwarz-toy wonderworld where I got to go after what often was a difficult session to treat abscesses, or drill for fillings. How my father treated me to sugar cubes, dubbed “Ocean Candy” in restaurants, and offered Wintergreen Life Savers to comfort me after a bad dream. Sugar poison. My poor teeth. 

Next, in third grade. I dissolved a baby tooth in CocaCola as an experiment. It took 6 months! From 6th grade roughly 1956, through high school I went to Dr. Hunt, orthodontist in Lexington, for upper inner and outer braces and inner lower braces to rein in my errant “fang” upper right incisor and adjust my bite. Columbia University, 1958, announced the importance of flossing: hard to do with braces. The four molars that anchored the braces now sport precisely crafted gold crowns by Dr. Philip Tucker, Seattle. 

Meantime, Martin Nigrelle has instilled in me the 7 Dental Steps for cleaning, preservation and superlative self-care. http://7dentalsteps.com/ Teeth are the portal to alimentary and circulatory system health. I feel my mortality in my teeth. I befriend them.


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