Three months had passed. It was time for Tony to visit his dental hygienist again. The visit usually lasted two to three hours. The hygienist always went through a list of questions about his health. Then she took his pulse and blood pressure. Last, she ran her gloved finger all around the inside of his mouth, looking for and feeling for abnormalities.
On this visit, she found one. It was a white spot on the side of his tongue. "We often see this in smokers' mouths," she told him. She called the dentist over.
"How long has that been there?" he asked Tony.
"I have no idea," said Tony.
"We're going to have to do a biopsy," the dentist said. "It won't require more than two or three stitches. We have to make sure this spot is benign. We'll do it right after your teeth are cleaned."
Tony couldn't eat anything except soup for a couple of days after the surgery, nor could he pronounce words clearly. If the white spot were malignant, how much more surgery would be required? How much of his tongue would be removed? He regretted all those years of smoking.
A week later, the dentist removed the stitches and told Tony that the white spot was benign. Tony was relieved.
A few days afterward, Tony was talking to a friend of his who was a long-time smoker. "You really ought to quit," he suggested. "That was a good scare I just got from my dentist. Getting part of your tongue cut out is not a pleasant thought."
"I'm not worried. You've got to die of something. I've got a greater chance of getting killed by a drunk driving a white SUV than by some white spot on my tongue. Besides, this is my only vice. I need to be able to enjoy something in life, don't I?"