The drive from home to my dentist's office in Baton Rouge used to take 30-35 minutes. Today it took an hour and 25 minutes. The rain may have caused part of the problem, but the larger issue was traffic generated by the post-Katrina population explosion. The increased traffic is still depressing, but it's no longer unexpected. Because I'd started out 50 minutes earlier than normal, I was only five minutes late for my appointment. Fortunately, everybody else was late, too, so I didn't keep my dentist waiting.
When I finally got in the chair, the dental assistant commented on the changes in the office since I'd been there last summer. She said they have almost twice the number of appointments now as they did a year ago. As a result, the sole practitioner I've been seeing for the past 24 years has had to add another dentist to the staff.
I asked the assistant if most of the extra appointments are people who moved here because of Hurricane Katrina, and she said almost none of the increase is due to new patients. Instead, she told me, what they're seeing is an alarming number of stress injuries in their old patients. She said they've never before seen so many broken teeth, cracked teeth, and crowns dislodged--almost entirely due to tension and stress.
The dental assistant also told me about driving with her husband this weekend out to the area where I live. She said that in that short trip on the interstate they were astonished at the chances other drivers were taking, the speed and recklessness they saw over and over. My daughter and I have spoken frequently about that same phenomenon. It's scary out there these days.
I feel so sorry for the people whose homes and families were devastated, and I'll be eternally grateful that my loved ones weren't counted in that number. But the wind and water damage was only the beginning. Even we fortunate ones have lost our community as we knew it.
It's a good thing our homes are intact, because we don't go out nearly as often as we used to. It's just too much of a hassle. There aren't enough restaurants, supermarkets, drugstores, to accommodate all the extra people. There aren't enough roads, schools, teachers, doctors, dentists. Everybody is under stress.
But just in case you wondered, my teeth are in no worse shape than they were last time they were checked; no stress injuries to be found. You want to know my secret? Instead of gritting my teeth and holding all that tension in my mouth, I keep my jaws loose and limber. My method for doing that is to mutter "asshole" under my breath at least every three minutes while I'm driving.