I recently returned from a whitewater rafting trip and read an AGD blog about getting away from it all. Seven days in the Grand Canyon is definitely getting away: no cellphone, Internet, or any connection to the outside world beyond an emergency satellite phone. Although very rugged, our trek down the Colorado River was magnificent, with scenery not to be experienced elsewhere. The starry nights, along with the backdrop of rushing water, were incredibly peaceful.
On the third night, the head honcho announced that he didn’t know if it was supposed to rain, and asked that everyone stop asking him. That night, my wife—who hates to camp—and I failed to pitch a tent, sleeping under the stars in the cool evening air, snug in sleeping bags like everyone else. Around 1 a.m., it started to rain. As directed by the guides, each of us pulled a tarp over our cots. Then the storm winds kicked up, turning the tarps into sails that we could barely hang on to. Soaked to the bone, we heard someone yell, “Rattlesnake! Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse.” That’s when the sleet started.
The inclement weather continued the following day while we ran several Class V rapids. Our guide tried to be upbeat. “Look up at the canyon rim; that’s the only time I’ve ever seen snow in April.” My wife attempted to stare a hole through me (it was all my fault), but she was shivering too hard to focus the beam. We eventually dried out after the noon sun appeared at lunch time.
The next day, while we enjoyed drifting through a calm section of the river, one of our guides, who we’ll call Chuck, asked a question. “You’re a dentist, right?” It seems that wherever I go, someone always has a dental story. I looked up at the mile-high granite walls; there was no escape.
Chuck is as lean and tough as anyone I’ve ever met, with wiry muscle and not an ounce of fat. In his spare time, he climbs mountains like El Capitan in Yosemite, using only chalk for his hands. He’s broken all the ribs on his left side and numerous other bones in various falls. Very knowledgeable in geology and local fauna, he guides eleven, ten-day trips through the Canyon every year. He is a good man to have around in the wilderness and he also has a great wit.
He pulled his right cheek back. “See the space? This jaw tooth is the only one I’ve lost.” I was a bit curious and took a quick glance. The rest of his teeth looked good and his bright smile was still infectious.
“A few years back, I woke up with a raging toothache.” In his garage, found a small pair of vise grip pliers; he clamped them onto the crown and tugged. The molar broke off as he crumpled to the floor in pain, writhing and screaming. As tears streamed down his cheeks, his wife came out and saw him wrestling with the vise grips, and said she’d call someone in the morning, as Chuck didn’t have a regular dentist. She went back to bed while he struggled to free the tool from his mandible, finally finding the little lever that released it.
That morning, an emergency dentist looked in his mouth and quickly stepped back. “Did you try to pull this yourself?” Chuck nodded. “I can still see the little grooves outlined in grease on your jaw.”
Chuck has regular checkups now, and brushes and flosses consistently.
The Grand Canyon is one of the few places in the world where you can get away and not even be tempted by Wi-Fi. Alas, I quickly reconnected after returning home. But if a patient asks if something is going to hurt, I reply, “Let’s ask Chuck.”
When I close my eyes at night, I can still see the Canyon walls reaching majestically toward the high firmament, ablaze with stars. However, my wife breaks out in a cold sweat whenever a driving rain passes over our house.
Jim Rhea, DMD