Have you ever said something you wish you hadn’t said, then wished you could cut it out of your tongue? I have. I wouldn’t really cut my tongue, of course, but there’s that image in my mind. And in February, I lived this visual aid.
It all started with a broken tooth. The broken tooth lead to a dental appointment, which lead to a conversation that began with, “I don’t want to alarm you, but…” Never has a conversation that begins with “I don’t want to alarm you” ever not alarmed me.
It was the little knobby line on the side of my tongue that caught her attention. Normally, I would ignore the dentist’s warning that it could be cancerous (in fact I had briefly considered, then dismissed, the idea), choosing to remain in blissful ignorance. If I don’t know, I don’t have to do anything about it, right? But this is the year to conquer fear, so I made an appointment with an oral surgeon.
I opted to stay awake for the biopsy because I imagined a needle, or maybe even a cotton swab, collecting a few cells. My grown son predicted, “They’re going to cut into your tongue, and it’s going to hurt like….” Well, you know.
He was right. I got the needle, but only to numb the area. The assistant grabbed hold of my tongue with gauze and pulled it out as far as it would stretch. I flailed like a turtle on its back, and the surgeon asked me to sit still while she sliced into my tongue. (She had to ask me to be still several times.) My mouth filled with heat, then the taste of blood. Then I started choking. Great, I thought, my obituary will read,“She drowned in her own tongue blood.” I gurgled and the assistant stuck the suction thingy into my throat. She left it there because the blood kept coming. The line of suspicious tissue reached farther than I realized, and the surgeon had to cut deep to remove it. Soon threads slapped across my face as tugging and stitching began. Involuntarily, I slid down the chair, trying to escape. The surgeon asked me to sit up.
When the numbness wore off, I was left with a chunk of tongue gone, two layers of stitches and significant bruising, swelling and pain. Because I couldn’t talk until the swelling went down, I used gestures and a marker board to communicate. Now I know this is going to sound obvious and cliché but I promise you, it is the absolute truth. During that time when I couldn’t talk, I thought about every word before I communicated it. I physically could not say a harsh word in frustration or snap out a sarcastic remark. And I found out that much—if not most—of the words that come to my mind are better left unsaid. Too often, my first impulse is to complain. In those few days when I could not complain, I was kinder.
Turned out, no cancer. (Yay!) That knobby line was a kind of callous, probably caused by grinding my teeth. The missing place in my tongue still reminds me to cut out complaining and unkind words, and speak with a softer tongue. For that I am thankful.
No scary situation has presented itself for March so far. I may have to go after one. Got any ideas?