It is now after, and amazingly, after doesn’t hurt any more than before! And no, I’m not writing this through the haze of an alcoholic stupor – they just didn’t do anything yet apart from have a look. You may be aware that in my first post, written just minutes before I left the house, I made a few predictions about how the experience was going to transpire, and more or less let slip my howling fear of dentists and all things dentists are into (something I prefer not to ponder very often, but if forced to guess what music most dentists are into I’d hazard a guess and say either Elton John or, just maybe, Meatloaf. And who knows, perhaps a bit of Prince?).
Well, the thing is, that makes me feel a bit stupid, because now I sit here and tell you that all my predictions were wrong. In a bizarre twist of logic, not only were they all wrong, but none were even remotely close. There was no awkward long walk up some very narrow stairs – it was on the ground floor of a bungalow located in a car-park where you’d expect to see a vets, perhaps – and there weren’t even any other people in the Waiting Room to annoy me. Not one person. This fact was made stranger still – disturbing, even – by the receptionist lady insisting to me that they were fully booked up and “really very busy”; even adding to the gravity of the illusion by having a simultaneous slightly hot flush. Inexplicably, she was also wearing one of those black V-neck shirts like the bad Karate guys wore in Karate Kid (the chief sensei, or leader of which, was an ex-Special Forces Vietnam veteran, no less!). I resisted the urge to make a passing comment about this, one of my favourite films growing up – I had in mind something along the lines of “me and Mr Miagi will fight you all the way! Nothing will break us!” an invented quote which would have addedyet more drama to the film I feel – and went along with her highly developed fantasy; I even looked around the room as she had, pretending to glance at my fellow waiters, and even standing back a bit to let an imaginary person pass. I’m sure that it must get boring being a receptionist in an empty dentist’s practice, so inventing a virtual reality has got to help. I know it helped me when I worked as a picture framer a few years ago in a remote location in the fields of Cambridgeshire. I often imagined that hoards of zombies roamed the countryside and the place where I worked was a fortress where no zombie could penetrate, thus I had no choice but to stay inside and work for what I now know to be a pittance. It really makes it easier to enjoy your job when, at the same time, you feel genuinely lucky to be alive and not one of them.
Then came the form – a flaccid good-for-nothing series of black lines on poor quality paper. I was a new patient and so, predictably, protocol designated that I must fill out a pointless low-quality form which nobody would ever bother to read (of course, in the true spirit of pointless things, I only found out it was truly pointless well after I’d filled it out and I was in the dentist’s chair where she told me this very thing. This meant that I filled it out in good-boy style, like my first day of school – even going as far as to cross out a couple of words and rewrite them above in very neat capital letters, so as to avoid a detention. A tragic sign of what I prefer to call maturity rather than age). It pleased me that although I had suffered from a serious illness just a few years before, not one of the questions invited me to discuss this further. I enjoyed saying how I wasn’t on any medication and was petrified of going to the dentist’s (Are you scared of going to the dentist’s? Yes I am petrified). Actually I didn’t enjoy it, not once I had written it. Seeing the word petrified on paper really rammed the point home.
I haven’t done a very good job of setting the scene, have I? How selfish. So far I have given the impression that I had entered a building which may have been a vets, only to enter into discourse with a delusional receptionist who doesn’t know the difference between high and low quality paper. Well, allow me to try again: you are standing in a room which is very sparse – a large white room divided by a flimsy MDF wall (covered in a cheap veneer that makes it look like mahogany, sadly; it would seem like the man or woman who designed the forms was let loose on the interior decorating as well…). On the left wall there’s a door which is open invitingly. Straight ahead, but also in the corner of the room, is a closed door with no sign on it, but the voices coming from it tell me that this is where it all happens. As you relax, seated on an actually quite comfy red padded chair — it reminded me of Antiques Roadshow actually, and I didn’t thank it for that because then I was thinking of Bargain Hunt and I have always hated that show — you begin to get more at ease. The lack of signage on the doors is a welcome treat in this hellish place, you now realise; it screams “we’re casual!” and although it’s probably a lie, you embrace it. Then the door opens suddenly and a woman walks out. You immediately think she’s a secretary or a patient – she couldn’t be a dentist. She doesn’t have that grim look on her face that you remember from the braces of your childhood, and besides that she is smiling and having fun with the delusional receptionist.
It happens quickly: by the time the short-but-sweet exchange between the two has ended – the woman walking back to the open door-way – you realise that actually, this is the dentist. It must be. She’s turning her head to you and saying “would you like to come in, Mr…(insert your name here)”.
I was going to continue with that style of writing: let you go and sit in her chair and live it out yourself, suffer the hideousness of it all – I’d have got mean with you, I can tell you – but then I changed my mind. How could I do put you in that situation? If you’re anything like me, sooner or later you’d have started to laugh and be amused at being involuntarily thrust into this scenario, and then you’d maybe have started imagining a different scenario than the one I had put you in (and I know that some of you readers have a very vivid imagination…it would have lost all seriousness if you’d have done something naughty with it, and besides that, this is the dentist’s – no naughty scenario’s allowed. Seriously, this isn’t the time or the place).
Upon entering the room, I found myself bewildered. As bewildered – if not more – as the time, in the last year of Primary School, when I walked into the assembly hall for the yearly School Disco and discovered that the girls and the boys were no longer on opposing sides of the hall but actually all eerily together. The dentist lady, a tall Indian woman who looked way too young to be a dentist – I’d temporarily completely forgotten I was 31 during my short walk to the room – asked me to take a seat and didn’t even look at me menacingly. In the corner of the room sat the up-until-now mystery assistant nurse girl, looking like she didn’t hate her job in that compulsory manner I pointed out in the first blog post, and before me sat a small arm-chair. This was perhaps the most surprising / shocking / unconvincing thing about the room. I’d been expecting this monstrous chair with all kinds of unwelcoming apparatus jutting from it, but this chair lacked all of that. It was small and grey and benevolent, and behind it was a stool for the dentist to perch on. Above it all was one of those special round light’s which didn’t even hurt my eyes as I sat in the chair and commented on how this was all very different to when I grew up as a boy. The nerves talking. And that wasn’t even a pun, I promise.
As the chair made its electronic groan and eased me back into a disarmed lying position, I was alarmed that I was not alarmed. This alarmed me just a bit, but not enough to make me concerned or think about stripping all my clothes off and storming out the room while throwing a £60 note over my shoulder (see previous blog post. For efficiency’s sake, a £60 note worked best in this imaginary invention. It was only afterwards that I realised they didn’t actually exist).
“So, is there anything you’re worried about?” said the dentist. She even smiled and I even found myself believing it to be real. “You’d better tell me, we don’t ever have time to look at the forms!”
Told you they were pointless.
“There is actually…there very much is…” I said, and laughed. It was a full and real laugh, much like the one I’d made months before when disaster struck and landed in the sink, causing instant panic. I quickly concocted an elaborate lie about how none of what I was about to say was really my fault, then remembered I was a grown man and there was nowhere to hide and who was I kidding? “…I’m a bit worried about the half a tooth that fell out a while ago.”
“Oh.” It looks like a serious Oh but it wasn’t. Not compared to when they fitted head-gear on me when I was fourteen and I told my then-dentist that everyone in the school had mocked me one by one. “So how long ago was that? Three months ago, would you say, or more?”
I sighed. “Um…I’d say more…something like eight months.” It was a lie of course, it was more like a year.
She said “let’s have a look and see what we find then.”
I said I knew what she’d find and it’d be awful and both the nurse and the dentist agreed that was likely the case – there was no getting away from the truth. I quite liked their honesty and braced myself for when it wore off and they realised I was ONE OF THOSE PATIENTS. Actually I wished I hadn’t thought of bracing myself at the time. It brought back some crude and callous memories from way down deep…
And it was awful, what she found — I’m not making that up. In my hope and optimism, every time I’d looked at my reflection in the months previous I’d convinced myself that some of the tooth was still there and so really it wasn’t that bad. At least half, so I was safe. I’d even managed to forget that just the week previous to my appointment a rather large chunk of tooth had fallen out. I have the best excuse ever for being terrible at Maths – I’ve got Dyscalculia, woo! – but even I knew that if one half fell out, then followed by another quarter falling out, what was left was no longer a half in any way. Don’t think about that sentence too much, it might well remind you of those horrible GCSE questions which were devised only to damage people who are sympathetic with my inability to do numbers.
Did I say I can be a bit of a chocolate and cake fiend? Well, I certainly can. It’s something I have under control, honest, but also something that is inevitable when you’re put on a very restricted diet by your doctor. For a whole year I wasn’t allowed to eat anything with refined sugar in – including some fruits and natural products – and so when I started eating chocolate again I really enjoyed it and really took advantage. The enjoyment came back to me in one big haunting wave, now, as the dentist said: “it’ll need to be removed of course, but you knew that I’m sure.”
I nodded. “It had crossed my mind. So what’s next?”
“Next we yank your tooth out, right here right now.”
My face did a spasm. “…Yank?”
She laughed, and it was no wonder she got on so well with the delusional receptionist. “That was an attempt at humour, sorry.”
“Awesome. Well done.”
This seemed to please her.
“No, next we do X-rays,” she said, and in a flash she was shoving strange square metal things in my mouth and pointing a big white gun thing at me, before leaving the room in a hurry. Too much of a hurry.
It was over soon after that. First I got to look at the X-rays on the screen and learn a little bit about black shadows – the only kind of proper shadows, and ones that mark the presence of plaque if you’re at all interested – and second I got to choose either to wait for months for an appointment to have the remains of my tooth out and have my teeth professionally cleaned, or to pay £15 more and have it done before pain exploded and ripped through my body. I chose the latter — to pay more, I mean — I left, and I felt like a new man. A seasoned dentist-visiting-pro who could hopefully help to put others at ease in the future. Next time I knew I’d be able to wait with the best of them, whether they were invisible waiters or terrified real waiters like the man I had once been.