Dentistry in the 1950s, like many other activities of that time, was pervaded with a devil-may-care attitude. There were possibly two dentists in White River, and the one my mother took me to was on the lower side of town. Fillings were done with amalgam, a heavy-metal concoction: silver and other metals dissolved in mercury, which would harden when compacted into the drilled-out cavities. Extractions were carried out with pliers. For some potentially more traumatic procedure, although I cannot imagine what it could have been, the dentist gave me a general anesthetic, to which purpose he sloshed some chloroform onto a wad and held it over my face. The last thing I remember was the smell of that chemical and the buzzing sensation as my brain shut down. My mother, who was in the room, told me that the dentist, after looking at me, rushed from the room. She went over to where I lay in the chair and found that my heartbeat and breathing had stopped. She bashed on my chest, pumped at my ribcage, and somehow got me restarted. The dentist did not return and when I came around, Lesley took me home. We did not make a fuss, or sue, but we never went back.


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