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It began a little over a week ago with an on-again-off-again niggling pain in the tooth nearest the gap created when I had my wisdom tooth pulled in October. I thought nothing of it—those type of small discomforts come and go. But this one just came. Each day it got a little worse until it got to the point where I decided to see a dentist.
I like the dentist I’ve used since we moved to Colorado, but he isn’t in my insurance network. I talked with coworkers and they recommended a place called North Gate Dental.
On Thursday, February 8, I got on the North Gate website and asked for an appointment. I heard nothing from them that day. On Friday, I called. I got a message informing me that the office was closed. It turns out they are only open Monday-Thursday. By this time, it was too late in the week to call my old dentist. Besides, I was beginning to suspect an impacted tooth because the pain was only getting worse, and I didn’t want to have to pay for that out of network. I was facing a weekend with a sore tooth.
Saturday wasn’t terrible. The pain came and went in the morning. By evening, it had settled in. Sunday wasn’t fun. We had tickets for the Ice Castles in Dillon that evening. I would have stayed home otherwise. (Check out my post on our adventures that night.) By afternoon, I was popping aspirin every four hours, which barely kept the pain at tolerable levels.
By Monday, it was imperative that I find help. I called North Gate and finally got hold of a real person. She said she had seen my email from the Thursday before and was just about to call. Maybe it’s even true. She said she could get me in on Tuesday to deal with the pain and on Wednesday for a cleaning. I told her Tuesday for sure, so we set up an appointment for 8:00 on Tuesday, the 13th.
The pain in the tooth was radiating up into my temple and giving me headaches, so I spent Monday evening watching a movie and trying not to move more than necessary. On Tuesday morning, Sally dropped me off at 7:30 at a coffee shop near the dentist’s office. I hung out there until 8:00 and then walked over. The receptionist, who admitted that she was the one who had talked to me on Monday, told me she had me down for Thursday. This made me feel pretty stupid, but then I got to thinking—she’d said sore tooth one day and cleaning the next, and the office is closed on Fridays, so she couldn’t have been referring to Thursday …
Anyway, she said she could fit me in. The office is fancy. There’s a waterfall taking up one room of the reception area.
I was ushered into an office and asked to sign a form that stated, in essence, that they only do top-end, high-tech, leading-edge treatment, so if I’m looking for inexpensive, I’m in the wrong place. I found out a few minutes later that the dentist chair was also a massage chair. Here’s my view from the chair in the examination room.
The assistant took X-rays and 3D images and my blood pressure, all with the latest, top-end, high-tech, leading-edge equipment.
I didn’t have to wait long for Dr. Morgan. I had taken aspirin earlier in the day, and my tooth wasn’t bothering me a lot, but he pried and banged and squeezed and prodded until we managed to isolate the pain to the gum beneath the penultimate molar on the lower left—tooth 14, to be exact. He took some more X-rays and concluded that I probably needed a root canal in that tooth. He said they had time to do it right then. I told him to get it over with. I asked him if I should text m boss to say I wouldn’t be coming into work, but he said I should be fine. More on this later.
That tooth has a gold crown that’s probably 30-years old. He said he could drill through the gold and do the root canal without removing the crown, and that he had time to do it right then. I said, “Let’s get it over with.”
They prepped me and shot me up with a gallon or two of novocaine and went to work. I had turned down the chance to watch a movie or wear noise-cancelling headphones—to the assistant’s surprise. I could hear everything that was going on. Much of it was in dentist-speak, but after a half hour or so, I was picking up that it wasn’t going swimmingly.
After about two hours, they took off all the gear I was wearing. Dr. Morgan sat down next to me with a very serious look on his face. He explained that my tooth had turned out to be a very complicated tooth. To begin with, one of the roots had a decided hook to it—he showed this to me on the screen and I could see that it curved sharply. Also, this tooth had apparently been dead for a long time. There was a lot of calcification, including a ball of calcium that was blocking the root channels. When he removed the ball, part of the tooth came with it. At that point he decided the job was beyond him. He was now telling me that they had set up an appointment for me with a specialist who has a telescope.
My appointment was with an endodontist near Focus, about four miles away, at 11:30. It was already past 10:30. I wasn’t up to running four miles, so I told him I didn’t have a car. To his credit, he hardly paused. He turned to his assistant and told her to get an Uber. Then he told me that they’d have another Uber pick me up after I was done and take me to work.
This was my first Uber ride. I texted Beth from the backseat and asked her if I should tip. She said it would be nice to give him a buck or two. I had three singles, so I gave him two.
I walked into the endodontist office and said to the receptionist, “Hi, I’m the root canal in progress.” I had to fill out a stack of new patient forms, then was ushered into my room. This chair faced a window that looked north, along the Rampart Range to Mt. Herman.
The specialist came in— Dr. Mckissock. He was a friendly guy and got right to work by filling me with even more novacaine. I think I had about three gallons in me by this time. I was good and numb.
It took him about two hours. He was pretty good about explaining what he was doing as he went along. He hooked a thin wire over my cheek and said it registered electrical currents and beeped when his instruments got to the bottom of the root canal. I have no idea how that works, but he pointed it out to me every time it beeped. After he had me all rigged up and before he began working, I pulled out my phone to take a selfie. He thought that was pretty funny and gave me a thumbs-up in the picture.
Two hours later, he said that everything went well, although he admitted that he’d been sweating it out during the procedure because of that hook in my one root and because of all the calcification. The receptionist called Dr. Morgan’s office and they called Uber. I stood outside for about five minutes until the guy showed up. He was an older gent in an SUV that smelled of smoke. He had me get in the front seat. He drove exactly the speed limit, which was weird, In Colorado, everyone always goes way over or way under. I only had one single left in my wallet, so that was his tip.
I was very numb as I walked into work, but felt tine. Cynthia asked if I was trying to be a hero. I wasn’t. I just felt bad because I’d recently missed three days with the flu. Besides, with all the novacaine I’d had, I felt fine. I mentioned that I hadn’t had any caffeine yet. She asked if I had a headache and I said yes, but only on the un-numbed side of my face. I poured a Diet Pepsi, but let me tell you—it’s hard to drink when you don’t know where your lips are
A young woman named Megan started working in my department this week. Cynthia had the two of us come into her office to talk about lessons that a free lancer had written. For a while I was fine, but then the novacaine wore off and I was in intense pain. It was horrible. I’d already arranged for Sally to pick me up after she got off work, so I was there until 5. I did my best to remain in the conversation, but it was tough. Cynthia brought me a bag of ice. I don’t know if it helped, but it felt good to be doing something.
When I got home, I just went to bed. I didn’t have the energy to deal with anything other than the pain. After a half hour or so, I fell asleep for an hour. When I woke, I was still in pain, but functional. I had some soup and made sure I was hydrated, then sat in my chair as motionless as possible and watched Ghostbusters II. By morning, I was feeling much better. Most of the remaining pain was from having my jaw pried open for five hours and from being shot up with novacaine needles. It certainly wasn’t the day I was expecting, but all’s swell that ends swell.
It had taken us an hour and 50 minutes to get to Dillon from our house. We figured it would take a little longer to get home. For the entire 40 miles from Idaho Springs to Dillon, eastbound traffic had been stop and go (or as they say in Colorado—slow and go).
We left at 7:00. I had to use the bathroom, but I didn’t. I don’t have a good explanation for why I didn’t. Perhaps it was because I had a toothache and a headache that were battling for supremacy in my skull, and I just wanted to be home. Besides, Sally had applied for a job at Focus on the Family and had to take a test on Excel as part of the process. She’d been studying diligently all weekend—another reason we wouldn’t have gone to Dillon if we hadn’t already bought tickets—and still needed to take the actual test when we got home.
As I was pulling onto I-70, I saw a mobile sign that said, “Slow traffic. Expect delays, 90 minutes to Idaho Springs.” I sincerely hoped that was left over from earlier in the day. For the first three or four miles, traffic was moving pretty well. But then we stopped. For the next two hours, we stopped and crawled and stopped and crawled.
It was cold at 9,000 feet, and we needed to thaw out after walking through the Ice Castles for an hour. We had the heat on full blast. A lot of exhaust was coming in with the heat, and my headache was getting worse. I turned the fan to recirculation. Minutes later, it began smelling like something was burning. I turned off the heat. The smell stopped.
I waited a few minutes and turned it back on. The smell started again. I turned it off. We tried not to think about it. I-70 along that stretch is narrow and winding with very little shoulder and high cement walls. It would be a terrible place to break down, especially in the midst of miles of bumper-to-bumper skiers in a hurry to get home.
When we were getting decidedly cold, I tried the heat one more time. Instant burning smell. I turned it off. We sat in silence. My tooth and head were throbbing. I was deeply regretting my decision not to stop in Dillon at a bathroom. We crawled along.
For the past hour, we’d been in the center lane behind a pickup with New Hampshire plates. He decided he wanted to be in the left lane. As he pulled over, we could see smoke coming from under his engine. He was overheating.
The traffic in our lane was moving faster for a moment and we pulled ahead of him. I turned on the heat. No smell. At least we could be warm in our misery. The left lane sped up, but we never saw that truck again.
Headache. Toothache. Stop. Go. Stop. Go. I desperately needed a bathroom. Sally was stressed about the test she had to take. It truly felt like a night that would never end. We were only 20 or 30 miles from Dillon and the trip had already taken longer than our entire ride out.
We eventually got to Idaho Springs. Traffic thinned out for some reason, but the road was still busy. Every couple of miles or so, things would jam up for a couple hundred yards and then open up again. It was very dark and the road was windy with some steep slopes. I guess this explains why so many of the drivers were riding their brakes constantly. This just caused more backups because it was impossible to tell, when their brake lights went on, if they were braking to stop or just using their brake to control their speed. The speed limit was 65, but some of these people were going closer to 40.
Finally things opened up and I was making good time. I didn’t see any bathrooms, but I figured we’d be near Denver soon and I’d be saved.
That’s when I saw another mobile sign that said, “Accident 20 miles ahead. Expect delays.” Great. Still, we kept moving. I even began thinking it might not be that bad.
Wrong. After we’d gone 15 of those 20 miles, we stopped. For the next hour we averaged precisely 5 MPH. We saw one guy who must have been facing a crisis similar to mine. He pulled across two lanes of traffic onto the shoulder (there was one by this time), got out, walked around to the other side of the car, and just went. I was tempted. Oh, was I tempted.
We explored every possibility. Water bottle? Canister of moist towelettes? Park on the shoulder and hike up into the dark. It had gotten to the point where the pain in my bladder was worse that the pain in my tooth.
The three lanes of traffic merged into one. When we—finally—got to the accident site, we saw a red sports car upside down on the road and considerably smashed up. There were four or five emergency vehicles around, but nobody was anywhere near the car. It seems to me that, especially when traffic is that bad, that there would be a process in place to get the people out and get the wreck off the road. Apparently not.
We were almost to Denver by this time. We headed south on 470 for about 10 miles until I saw a sign for a gas station. Blessed relief. The rest of the trip was uneventful, except for my headache and toothache and Sally’s concern for her test. We finally got home at 11:15, four-and-a-half hours after we’d left Dillon.
Update: Sally stayed up and took her test. She must have done fine because, a week later, she was offered the job at Focus. I went to a dentist on Tuesday and got two root canals on the same tooth. It was another miserable day, but by Wednesday, I was feeling much better.
Somebody has figured out how to make icicles and fuse them together to make walls and towers and other formations. The company looks for places— Minnesota, Utah, Alberta—where it stays cold long enough to build a castle. This year, the baseball field in Dillon, Colorado, was chosen. That castle opened in late December. When I saw that tickets were only on sale until Valentines Day, we jumped and bought two for 6:00 pm on the Sunday before.
It turned out to be a really lousy day for us to go. I had a toothache that radiated into and intense headache, and Sally was busy studying for a test connected to a job application. We left home at 2:00 because I know traffic can be horrific on I-70. It was—but not on the westbound lanes. We got to Dillon by 4:00. We drove around town for a bit looking for restaurants and settled on Pug Ryan’s. We both got the shepherds pie, which was tasty, but neither of us were really in the mood for a relaxing dinner.
I stalked the parking spots by the Ice Castles until I found a space right by the entrance to the castles. The sun was still out, and we still had an hour to wait. I walked around the outside and took photos.
We sat in our car until 5:45, watching the line of people waiting to get in. It seemed like a lot more people than could comfortably fit. When we got in the line, however, it moved faster than we expected. When we got inside shortly after 6:00, it was dark and the lights built into the walls were casting a colorful glow.
I’ll let the pictures tell most of the story. It was near impossible to take photos without people in them, so I didn’t try. I had my point-and-shoot camera and held it as steady as I could. The photos came out better than I expected.
Sally waving through an ice window.
The fountain, such as it was.
The colors in this section of wall were more varied and changed more frequently than those other places. We were in line behind a young couple who were discussing how they didn’t want to give their expensive camera to just anyone. I volunteered to take their photo in exchange for them taking ours. They jumped on the offer. I felt foolish because, when they posed, I noticed that the photo didn’t come up on the screen on the back of her camera. I didn’t think to look through the viewfinder for some reason. Instead, I just pointed the camera in what I thought was the right direction. Fortunately, the photos came out fine.
I decided I wanted the whole experience, so I got in line for the ice slide. It took about 15 minutes to get to the top. I was given a small sheet of plastic to sit on, but quickly found out that positioning my body in the entrance to the slide, arranging to sit on the plastic, and holding my phone so that I could take a video was beyond me. I started down the slide only half on the piece and came to a halt. I managed to reposition myself and restart my camera before things got too embarrassing. It was a fun few seconds.
And here’s a mashup of clips I took during our visit.
A Western Screech-Owl, a would-be lifer, was discovered hanging out in a cottonwood tree in southern El Paso County, at a regional park called Clear Springs Ranch. It was first seen on the last Sunday in January, but by the time I’d heard about it, the work week had begun. I had to wait patiently for five agonizing days as reports and photos kept showing up on my computer.
Finally, Saturday came along. I knew screech-owls like to perch in the sun on winter days, so I decided to go to Fountain Creek first—until the sun got warm. I spent about two hours there, seeing all the usual suspects. The highlight was a Sharp-shinned Hawk that scattered all the little birds by the feeders in front of the visitor center. It landed in a small evergreen and scanned for prey, paying no attention to me taking photos 20 feet away.
Around 10:00, I left Fountain Creek. As I was pulling out of the drive, I noticed that the sky to the south and west was dark gray. I grabbed some food at Culver’s, then headed for Clear Springs Ranch. I’d never been there before and didn’t know what to expect. It’s located at exit 123 along with almost nothing else. The exit sign is empty except for the numbers. At the bottom of the ramp, I had two options—continue straight to get back on the interstate or turn left and pass under the highway through a one-way tunnel. (“Honk your horn before entering.”) The rutted dirt road skirted a horse farm and headed east. I had no idea what I would find, but at the end of the drive there was a large parking lot, a picnic shelter, and an outhouse. Two other cars were parked in the lot.
As I got out of my car, I noticed that the blue skies and warm weather had entirely disappeared. I knew this considerably lessened my chances of seeing the owl, but since I was there … I had a close-up photo of the owl in the hole where it was being seen.
Further directions weren’t given because the birding community doesn’t like to give out the location of owls because then too many people go to see them and they, supposedly, get stressed. My strategy was to walk slowly and look at every cottonwood until I found that hole. I quickly realized this was a poor strategy. There were a lot of cottonwoods. A very lot of cottonwoods. Another car pulled into the lot and two birders got out. They were walking the path behind me so I slowed my pace and allowed them to catch up.
I asked if they knew where the owl was being seen. They did. The husband had seen it the day before and was bringing his wife to show her. I fell into step alongside them, and we discussed our chances. They weren’t good. The weather had turned decidedly murky. Miserable even. With the overcast skies and the wind and the dropping temperatures and a higher-than-usual humidity, it felt like a Chicago winter. After a walk of about half a miles, the guy showed us the tree. That was the spot, but no owl.
The introduced themselves and wished me luck and left. I walked the trails for another hour, just to see what the place was like. It was like cold and windy.
Monday was a sunny, warm day and the owl was back on its perch. I could see on eBird that the couple I’d met on Saturday had seen it. I was happy for them. Kinda.
I have days off to use, and at this point a good chance at a lifer is a worthwhile expenditure. The forecast for Tuesday was partly cloudy and warm. I drove Sally to work and headed south. It looked and felt like Saturday—gray and windy with some snow in the air. I seriously considered turning around and going to work. But way in the south I could see a belt of clear sky, and weather systems move fast out here. The forecast was still calling for sun by mid-morning.
I had Clear Springs to myself. It’s a typical western river, with cottonwoods lining the banks and the hills of the eastern Colorado prairies visible just beyond.
There was quite a bit of frost on everything. Except for the section between the parking lot and where the owl had been seen, the paths were covered snow with no human footprints.
I say human, because there were lots of other footprints. I had a good time observing them and trying to figure out what had happened. For example, at this point, a deer had decided to change directions, perhaps because of the mouse that ran across the path in front of it, or maybe even because of me, although I hadn’t seen it.
This spot, however, had me stumped. I should have figured it out, but I didn’t.
At least I didn’t until I’d walked on a little further and saw this.
Two Wild Turkeys high up in a tree.
The tracks, I’m sure, had been made by them, and if the tom was displaying like he was in the tree, that explains the streaks made by a wing. I tried to move around to get better light without flushing them, but it didn’t work.
I could see that the sun was trying to poke through, but it wasn’t in a hurry. I walked back toward the owl tree. Along the way I saw a small flock of Eastern Bluebirds, my first for Colorado, and a smattering of other things. But there was still no owl. I hung out in the immediate area for another hour. The sun did break through and it got much warmer, but I decided it wasn’t worth an entire day off, so I left and went to work.
Update: The owl wasn’t reported by anyone else on Tuesday, or, in fact, on any day until the 13th—the following Tuesday. But it’s almost certainly still in the area. One of these sunny days, I hope.