Girl, Interrupted


Susanna Kaysen

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Girl, Interrupted: Chapter 24 Summary & Analysis

Susanna is eating when something happens in her jaw, and her cheek begins to swell. By the time she gets back to the ward from her meal, there is a swelling the size of a Ping-Pong ball on the side of her face. Valerie takes one look at Susanna, knows that she is having trouble with a wisdom tooth, and takes her over to see the dentist in a separate building. The dentist tells Susanna that she has an abscess and offers to take the tooth out. Susanna tells the doctor that she will not let him. Valerie suggests the dentist control the infection with antibiotics, and he agrees.
When Susanna’s face swells up and requires her to visit the dentist, it becomes evident that since her hospitalization she has developed a wariness around medical professionals. Valerie accompanies and supports her, and does not say anything negative about Susanna’s skepticism and desire to avoid an extraction.
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After several days of taking penicillin, Susanna’s swelling has gone down, but she has broken out in a rash. Valerie tells her that there can be no more postponing the tooth extraction, and warns her never to take penicillin again, as she is clearly allergic. When Susanna refuses to go back to the dentist at the hospital, Valerie offers to take Susanna to her own dentist in Boston.
When Susanna develops a reaction to the penicillin, Valerie—knowing about Susanna’s fear of doctors—offers to bring Susanna to her own dentist in an unprecedented act of kindness and empathy.
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At the dentist’s office, the dentist tells Susanna to lean back in the examination chair and count to ten. Before Susanna can get to four, she is sitting up with a hole in her mouth. She wants to know where “it” went, and the dentist holds up her bloody tooth. Susanna, though, was not asking about her tooth—she was asking about the time. She has been dropped into the future, and is deeply unsettled. Susanna begs to know how long the procedure took and how much time was taken from her, but neither Valerie nor the dentist will answer her directly. In the cab, Valerie holds up Susanna’s tooth. Susanna thanks Valerie for stealing the tooth for her, but explains that she still really needs to know how much time she lost during the procedure. Then she breaks down in tears.
Susanna becomes upset and agitated when she realizes that she has “lost time” during her extraction. Susanna’s fear of losing time mirrors her fear of losing the time she is spending in McLean. Susanna is afraid that when she finally leaves the hospital, there will be an unfillable chasm between her old life and her new one, and no way to account for what has happened in between. This experience at the dentist brings those fears to the forefront, and Valerie responds, again, with empathy and understanding.
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