Climbers’ adventures usually involve lots of well… rock climbing! Trip reports are about routes, areas, and approaches… Today had a little bit of that, but only after the N20 kicked in. I’m Elena Chin and I’m one of Bivouac’s newest educators. When Bivouac asked me to write for them, I was sitting on my mother’s couch in San Francisco and had just come home from oral surgeon, Eric Scharf’s office in West Portal — without four teeth.
Today’s adventure: Wisdom (teeth) removal.
Connection to climbing: Hallucinations.
I decided about a week ago that I didn’t want general anesthesia for my surgery. Climbing has taught me lots of important things, and one of them is to be present, even in painful/scary/uncomfortable situations. Mental presence is an important component of my lead “head,” and I figured getting teeth pulled is one of those important life events to remember — sort of. I’m no woman of steel, so I compromised and took the laughing gas. The coolest part of being on anesthesia was the complete control I had over my mental status. The deeper the breath, the woozier I felt. Want to be back in the real world? Mouth breath. The N20 was being vented straight to my nostrils the whole time Dr. Scharf and his assistant Hannah were at work, so I essentially could opt in and out of tooth-pulling reality.
Where did I go when I opted out, you ask? Tuolumne Meadows, specifically Stately Pleasure Dome . Now, for those of you who have not had the pleasure of climbing on Stately Pleasure Dome, let me explain a little about what this experience is like. Many of the routes are run-out, even by Tuolumne standards, and if you’re afraid of heights this might not be the place for you. When you look down, you’re looking into Tenaya Lake and the stomach feeling is best described by the Beastie Boys, mmmmmm, drop! For me, exposure has always been something that helps me get my mental game together when climbing. When I get nervous, bored, or irritated, I look down, remember where I am and usually get an amazing rush of mega-psych. HELL YEAH! I’m X-number if pitches off the ground! YYYEAH-HAWW!
So I’m sitting in the dentists’ chair, breathing in, breathing out, and my brain is going in and out as well. Hmm, dentist says something about pressure, deep breath; I wonder where the next belay is. I feel and hear pliers slipping on my back, lower, right wisdom tooth. Take a deeeeeeeep breath. Look down between your legs, 20+ feet over your last piece, and check out that golden glitter on Tenaya Lake. Spectacular. Hear your dentist say “incision;” take in the view of Tenaya Peak, look for puffy clouds. Sitting there, I’m literally bouncing back and forth between Yosemite and tooth extraction. The adventure of having my wisdom teeth removed felt something like my experience on the last pitch of American Wet Dream (a standard 5.7R slab to the top of the plop of granite we call Mountaineers’ Dome). If it were to go bad, that could be really bad, but it’s well-within my ability to pull this thing off, and if I need help, I’ve got some great people to call (thanks Will, for offering to rope-gun us multiple times, and thanks Dr. Scharf for all the support and follow-up communication). While leading that pitch my “happy place” for sure wasn’t a dentists’ office, but while I was getting my wisdom teeth out, my “happy place” was somewhere on the sharp end, pretty far over my gear. Nothing like a little jaunt up some Yosemite slabs to put the “real world” in perspective.
From a liquid-food eater on a couch in San Francisco, this is Elena Chin.