I don’t know when the tooth broke, only that I began to feel a strange tightness in my jaw that would later turn to a dull pain when I touched it. A day later, I woke up and my jaw felt stranger than ever. I walked into the bathroom, looked in the mirror, and, beyond my crusty eyes and rat’s nest hair, I noticed the swelling.
My jaw was bigger than normal. Like, almost baseball-sized bigger than normal. Had I grown a goiter overnight, or was something wrong with my molar? Because neither prospect was terribly appealing. A trip to my dentist confirmed that I had, somehow, cracked a tooth, and that infection had set in. A root canal was my destiny, after a good stiff round of antibiotics did some prep work.
The only problem at that point was eating, because eating really had become a problem. So what stuff do you eat when you really can’t eat stuff? I was about to find out how much I loved mashed potatoes. And not just mashed potatoes, but the oh-so-convenient Bob Evans mashed potatoes in those single-serve cups.
I always seem to have those things around in case I need a quick snack or small meal in a pinch. It never occurred to me that these unassuming little things might one day be lifesaving, but in this predicament, they were. Surely, you’ve had them, too. You tear off the plastic seal, pop it in the microwave for one minute, stir, add salt and pepper (and whatever else you want to add), put it back in for about 30 more seconds, and you’re done.
The crazy thing is, it tastes really good, with lumps and everything. I hate to say it, but they’re darn near as good as the potatoes my mom and grandma used to make. And best of all? No chewing necessary.
My breakfast on Day Two of my journey through Dental Debacle 2017 (DD2017, if you will) was a “poached” egg, a dose of amoxicillin and 12 ibuprofen tablets. I have friends who bring me farm-fresh eggs, and thank goodness, because they too are easy to prepare in the microwave, and require only minimal chewing. I put mine in a little dish, top them with salt, pepper, hot sauce and a bit of shredded cheese, and it’s like having a mini omelet — one you can hold in your mouth until it dissolves, no less.
I ran out of mashed potatoes on Day Two, and knew I had to get creative. I found that peanut butter fingers were another life-saving technique in DD2017. I love Cheez-It crackers and peanut butter any day, any time, but if you take away the crackers, that means one important thing: No. Chewing. Just dip the index finger in the jar, suck the protein-packed substance into your mouth, swallow and repeat. For that exercise, you don’t even need molars. And we know that no one is going to suck a steak through a straw, right?
Guess what else I learned during DD2017? Pickle juice is food, people. I always just considered it a delicious, occasional treat, but in a pinch, it will keep you alive. Trust me. And the same goes for olive juice, although my olives are beginning to look a little dry now.
Have you ever eaten hummus with a spoon? I can’t say I recommend it, and here’s why: While the flavor is still good, without the pita or vegetables or chips you would normally use as a vehicle for eating your hummus, you begin to notice that hummus has a texture that is sort of like really gritty pudding. Imagine sand pudding with roasted red peppers and garlic in it. But the upside, again, was that no chewing was necessary.
By Day Four, the antibiotics had done enough work that minimal chewing was attainable, so I made my way to Plehn’s Bakery one day at lunch for the $4.95 chili-and-a-drink special. Homemade chili with noodles, and only the big chunks of meat gave me any jaw stress. Later in the day, I managed to nibble on some shredded chicken. I had made the chicken in my Crock Pot to use as taco meat but, well, getting my mouth around a taco wasn’t yet within reach, even by Day Four of DD2017.
Which reminds me, I really need to buy more pickles and olives.