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November 02, 2009

Advances in Science

The other day I had a tooth extracted. It was a necessary procedure, given the fact that the poor tooth had never fully been well since an emergency root canal operation about eight years ago. My dentist, Dr. Katherine Horutz, is fabulous. I felt no pain and not even any pressure, though she apologized throughout the procedure for any discomfort I might be feeling.

The immediate recovery was also uneventful. Bleeding stopped after about six hours and the pain was barely recognizable as such. I’ll have to be careful of the wound for a while, but that’s no big deal.

As I lay in the chair with my mouth open (and no doubt drooling), I thought about the novelist Fanny Burney, Madame D’Arblay, who, in 1811 in Paris, endured the removal of a breast with absolutely no anesthesia. The doctor put a thin piece of fabric over her face so that she might be spared the sight of her own blood, but the fabric was very thin and Fanny had to close her eyes against the doctor’s instruments cutting into her flesh. Afterward, she wrote a long account of her ordeal, in itself an act of extreme bravery.

No one ever said it’s easy being a woman – being human, rather – but the story of Fanny Burney’s experience (typical of many such experiences, I’m sure) really made me feel very thankful to be living at a time when anesthesia is available and recovery from surgery is much more of a sure bet than ever before.

Of course, not everyone is as lucky as I am to have health and dental insurance (for which we pay an extraordinary sum) . . . But I won’t go into politics here.

I read about Fanny Burney’s surgery in Richard Holmes’ wonderful new book entitled THE AGE OF WONDER – How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science. I recommend it highly.


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