Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Under normal circumstances, a clear line can be drawn between the two. The rule of thumb is whether you consider your glass to be half full or half empty. There is also a third category of person, the realist, who reminds both the optimist and the pessimist that if they choose to drink the water from the glass, then they have to be ready for the inevitable outcome.

All my life, I have been a card-carrying optimist married to a dyed-in-the-wool realist, but lately I’ve been having problems finding a silver lining in the overcast sky that is my life. As if the economy weren’t bad enough, I recently had to go to the dentist. Later, I thought back on the whole episode and tried to find something, anything, good to take from the experience.

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It all started when I went to the store and found some baklava on sale. That was good. Unfortunately, while eating it, one of the nuts got lodged in a gap in one of my molars.

Fortunately, I was able to pry it loose. Unfortunately, it broke off a piece of my tooth in the process, exposing a nerve. Fortunately, it was in an already existing cavity. Unfortunately, it meant a trip to the dentist that I’d managed to put off successfully for years.

Fortunately, I got a quick appointment with the dentist. Unfortunately, he said I had to have two root canals.

Fortunately, they were on adjacent teeth. Unfortunately, both were in my mouth. Fortunately, I had dental insurance. Unfortunately, it would cover only part of the damage.

I was lucky to get in for my root canals after work. It was unlucky for me that the doctor was performing long procedures on four other patients at the same time. That meant that he wasn’t in my face all the time. It also meant that I spent quite a few minutes alone, staring up at the ceiling with my mouth propped wide open.

Fortunately, the dentist gave me Novocaine, and it worked. Unfortunately, he had to give me so much of the stuff that you could have knocked out a baby hippo with it.

It felt good when he said “Wow!” Problem was, he wasn’t looking at my figure, but at the Grand Canyon in my jaw.

Fortunately, when he began drilling in my teeth, I couldn’t feel anything. Unfortunately, the rest of me was feeling weird enough to make up for it.

Talking to him, I was glad to find out that he had voted. Then I was sorry to hear that he had voted Republican, with his view on achieving energy independence being “Drill, baby, drill!”

It was nice that, after some time, I discovered a rhythm to the high-pitched buzz of the dentist’s drill. It was a problem, though, that some parts of me began to vibrate to that rhythm.

It was great that the dentist didn’t hit any blood vessels and send blood gushing into my mouth. However, after all that time and pain I went through, it was a pity he didn’t hit any oil gushers, either. We could have used some money to pay his bills.

Fortunately, after one and a half hours, my dentist said, “We’re done!” Unfortunately, he followed up with, “Now we’re starting on the second one.”

I thought I had gotten more bang for my buck when I finally got out of that chair, because I felt like I was stepping off a roller-coaster at Six Flags. Pity was, I then had to drive myself home.

Fortunately, I rested comfortably that night. Unfortunately, the next day, the Novocaine wore off.

Good news: my daughters laughed merrily when they saw me. Bad news: with one cheek swollen twice as much as the other, I looked lopsided and couldn’t respond.

Luckily, my husband found a package of bendy-straws for me to use to drink my coffee, and my girls selected a purple colored one especially for me. It was just my luck that I discovered that I didn’t like drinking lukewarm coffee from my favorite cup with a bendy straw.

I love tomato soup, and that was lucky for me because I couldn’t eat solids. Unfortunately, I began to hate the stuff when it became my entire diet.

I was cheered by the idea that this enforced liquid diet might help me lose a few pounds. That theory developed holes when the weighing machine barely showed a blip.

I was happy that I got to stay home from work, because it meant that I could finally catch up on my reading. But I found that, with my cheek throbbing in pain, I couldn’t care less if the mafia got its man or if the feisty young thing got hers.

The idiot box will help distract me, I thought; there are always reruns to watch. However, the boob tube was showing reruns of reruns, and I found it hard to go, “You stupid … owww …” every time I changed the channels.

The pain meds helped, and normally I like taking hydrocodone—it gives me a pleasant buzz. But now that I really needed them to work, they just reduced the acute pain to a dull throb.

I used the experience to issue statutory warnings to my kids about not having proper dental hygiene. Being forced to talk softly through clenched teeth in a Godfather-esque manner robbed my speech of any forcefulness, though.

I nurtured some graphic fantasies of murdering my dentist, for surely I would find a jury of similarly brutalized peers who would acquit me in a heartbeat. The thing was, the crowns put on my teeth were temporary, and I needed him to fix the permanent ones. The known devil—sorry, dentist—being better than the unknown one.

It took me a week to recover, and then life resumed. Unfortunately, I came out of the experience battered and scarred, prone to bawling like a baby every time I heard a power tool.

When the bill came, we were able to pay it off instantly. Of course, it was so big and fat that it maxed out a credit card.

Now I can stand up tall and say that I literally put our money where my mouth is. Unfortunately, the only dividend on this investment is added girth around my equator.

So, having tried to find a glimmer of goodness in this morass of misfortune, I have come to the conclusion that some situations have no upside. Dental surgeries, for one, don’t have any fantastic outcomes other than getting back to your old cranky, overweight self. Our current economic situation, that has us rolling down a slope with no end in sight, seems like another such. Economists may say that, with all the reforms, we will come out better than before, but right now it hurts like hell when your 401K looks like the past 10 years never happened, and 60-something men and women have to think about re-entering the work place. The worst part is the uncertainty of it all, when you don’t know which part of the heap you’ll find yourself in when it all shakes down.

These are trying times for all of us, and I think it’s okay to call a spade a bloody shovel sometimes. And if anyone has the gall to ask you, “Is your glass half full or half empty,” feel empowered to respond:

“What glass?”

This article first appeared in the April 2009 issue of the magazine.

Lakshmi Palecanda is a biology research technician turned freelance writer in Bozeman, Montana. Email: palecanda [at] msn [dot] com

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