A couple of weeks before a family wedding, I needed to have an infected bottom molar yanked out. The throbbing I could have tolerated, but x-rays showed significant infection – and you never ignore an infection. I could have taken strong antibiotics until the festivities were over, but that option had its risks as well, so I opted for the extraction. The tooth was all the way in the back, and no one would have a clue that I was on my way to becoming a toothless hag – unless I mentioned it in my column. Luckily the root canal for the adjacent tooth could wait.
After the procedure, I wryly mentioned to the oral surgeon that I was a bit concerned about my potential toothless status in the future, and she jokingly told me that she had just recently mentioned to her elderly mother that because people are living longer, they are outliving their body parts! Hopefully, the day won’t come when gum-smacking baby boomers will compete with the young mothers in grabbing the few remaining jars of strawberry oatmeal in the baby food aisle!
I was given very clear instructions on how to care for my newly debuted tooth socket, specifically “eating” foods that didn’t need chewing, like yogurt, soup, ice cream (yes, finally a guilt-free reason) mashed bananas and potatoes (separately, of course – though, a merger might be interesting).
And, of course, I was told to ice my cheek and jaw to minimize the swelling. Being a two-for-one kind of person, I had the brilliant idea to take the bananas I freeze and eat as a low calorie, healthy frozen snack and use them like ice packs. Once they were thawed and very mushy, I could eat them. I did that several times for the first few days, pressing half a banana across my lower cheek and jaw for 20 minutes or so. It seemed like a win-win situation. Ice my jaw with the frozen banana and then eat it when it was soft. The folly of my logic became quite clear when I looked in the mirror and was shocked at what appeared to be a two-inch brownish bruise above my jawline.
The medical men in the family, upon seeing the photo I texted over, immediately concluded that I either had freezer burn or a skin infection. I was instructed to smear aloe vera on the area and to circle the splotch with a marker to see if the discoloration would spread overnight beyond the marked perimeters. A spread meant a skin infection; if it stayed the same it was freezer burn, a condition I thought only happened to deceased raw chickens whose long-term resting place was in the back of an overcrowded freezer.
Who knew living flesh could get burned by a frozen banana placed directly on it? It had felt good numbing the throbbing in my cheek while morphing into a tasty snack!
I imagine people were wondering how I managed to deeply “tan” just the bottom left side of my face. I guess I could “save face” by saying I consistently missed a spot when slathering on sunscreen. Sounds more plausible than saying I got burnt by a cold banana.
But the purpose of this article is not to teach you the ABCs of post extraction gum care. It’s to share the mindfulness I attained when more than a week later, after being saturated with yogurt (I was on antibiotics so yogurt with cultures served a dual purpose – like the bananas), I was given the green light to eat chewable foods. Most of us, when grabbing an apple or a piece of cake, automatically make the appropriate bracha. But we’re on automatic pilot and we don’t give it too much thought. Or if we do, it’s on an intellectual level – we thank Hashem for the food. Period.
However, when I could finally eat my crunchy almond and sunflower seed-covered granola bars, I experienced the bracha on a whole different level; emotionally, and with a heightened awareness; with joy and appreciation that I had the ability to eat. With a keen mindfulness of what a gift it is to both have food and to eat it. Bracha means blessing, and when we recite the bracha with thoughtful concentration, the words serve as hakarat hatov to our Creator, and a much-needed reminder that we are indeed blessed.
We tend to take our routine abilities for granted, a reality that sadly pulls some individuals into envy or depression – inducing a mindset that has them focusing on the minor things that they perceive they lack, and oblivious and clueless of the amazing things they do have. Like good health that allows them to pursue whatever it is they want to obtain, and parnassah that enables them to obtain food and shelter for themselves and their family.
For example, there are people who resent having to drive an old clunker of a car when some of their peers drive newer, high-end models, and there are those who feel sorry for themselves as they try to revive an old sheitel because a new one is out of financial reach.
But being mindful of the fact that you woke up in the morning; that you were able to get out of bed; that you are physically able to get in and out of your old car; that you have a reason to put on your sheitel and get out of the house, should suffuse you with joy and a sweet awareness of how good you actually have it.
This month we recite the bracha of Shecheyanu several times. For the most part, the words roll off our tongues without us absorbing their meaning emotionally. We dutifully thank Hashem that we lived, exist and reached this moment in time. Perhaps, the next time you say the bracha, think of a loved one’s wedding; remember holding a long-awaited baby, or picking up a friend or relative who was discharged from a hospital. Remind yourself of a setback you overcame, enabling you to reach a sought-after goal; and your heart – and not just your mind – will truly grasp the meaning of Shecheyanu.