Toothpocalypse Now
Saturday, September 16, 2017
Justinian in Barely Legal, Law students, Mental health, Physical health

Stress ... Decay ... Dental grinding ...Pain ... Raging flu ... Workaholism ... Burrito crisis ... Jeremy Bentham and A.V Dicey make an appearance ... Law student misery ... Barely Legal takes a day off 

'TIS the season of the dreaded lurgy, that time of year when you can't go more than a few feet through the law school without someone coughing their gizzards into your face. People stumble into class half an hour late, glassy-eyed under layers of medicinal fortification. Backpacks are brimful of No-Doz and wadded up tissues. Not even the teachers - their complimentary 'flu shots notwithstanding - are immune.

"Imagine that there is a seven metre barrier around me," implored my Corporations Law teacher at the beginning of the week. As if bracing for a luxury sandstorm, she peered blearily at us from beneath three layers of cashmere scarves. "Don't cross through the barrier. You don't wanna end up like me."

Too bad contagion is an inevitability in a school where self-care is an alien, mistrusted conceit. Picture this: an environment where the majority demographic is the Type A workaholic. Where it's law school policy not to record lectures. Where the competition is so fierce and the workload is so difficult that you feel like you're on the back foot even if you've written case notes for every single required reading and highlighted the bejesus out of the optional ones to boot.

Before law school, Barely Legal was blessedly unaware of so many of the human body's frailties. For instance, did you know that the blood vessels in one's eye can burst from stress alone? Or that it's possible to have cold symptoms on just one side of the face, so that one nostril is bone-dry while the other gushes snot like a burst water main?

I know students who haven't missed a single class in eighteen months, and it's not because they have a champion immune system. Once, in Legal Theory, I watched as a friend facilitated a class discussion while simultaneously proving that "sickly green" isn't just a figure of speech. (And this was even before the lecturer projected an image of Jeremy Bentham's preserved corpse onto the whiteboard.)

Barely Legal used to take all this in stride. Chronic iron deficiency, chronic insomnia, the occasional bouts of uncontrollable crying? No, mate, everything's fine, and I promise my eye will stop twitching in a minute.

A.V. Dicey forbid I miss a single second of a single class and in so doing slip a single grade point. And yes, there were scars. But they were only psychological. Soon I'd be rich enough to afford all the cognitive therapy I needed to pretend I was a normal member of society again.

Then came the burrito.

It was last Wednesday during lunch. I'd sucker punched my weekly food budget and broken it over my knee in the name of Tex Mex. One of my molars had been intermittently bothering me lately, but who had time to go to the dentist? Who the hell could afford to? I'd been dodging calls from my dentist like she was a bad ex.

Then I chomped into my burrito and almost whited out from the pain.

The hours dragged on, and my fantasies grew desperate. I imagined tying one end of my shoelace around the throbbing tooth and the other end around a doorknob. Sometimes the old ways really were the best, weren't they? No one needed all their teeth to chew!

Barely Legal is humiliated to admit that it was only through parental intervention that she found herself flat on her back in a dentist's chair that afternoon. The doctor peered into my mouth and clicked her tongue.

"Ulcerated tooth. And the molar next to that has a crack running through it. Have you been under stress lately?"

Mouth full of pointy instruments, my laugh came out more as a bawl. I asked what could be done.

"Nothing. Wouldn't it be nice if you could just slap some spack filler in there, though?" 

I agreed it would. Alas, the only measure was preventative rather than remedial - a seven hundred dollar dental splint to stop my teeth from stress-grinding each other into dust while I slept. 

"Stop being so stressed, okay?" This was the dentist's parting advice. "Those teeth don't have many clenches left in them. See you next week for the splint moulding!"

Staring forlornly at the smoking ruins of my savings account over the last few days, I've have plenty of time to reflect on how this could have happened. It seemed that all this time, while I'd been busy congratulating myself on my iron woman streak of class attendance, met deadlines and a paucity of public meltdowns, my body had been waging a nocturnal war with itself.

I needed to respond appropriately. And so that weekend, I did the unthinkable. I took the Saturday off. One day of doing absolutely nothing. One missed day of readings, of work. It would be fine. I could make it up later.

No stress.

 

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (http://justinian.com.au/).
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