My partner, Sue, she loves museums. She says it’s educational. So we often walk around the exhibits at weekends, or when we are on holiday. There was one exhibition that she took us all to a few weeks ago, it was a history of dentistry. It was more like a horror show that an informative journey into the past. I only managed to stay in there for about ten minutes. Then I felt sick and had to leave. Sue found me sitting on the wall outside an hour later when they had finished walking around the entire exhibition. The boys were laughing at me again. They know that the strangest things make me feel odd.
It was after that visit that my toothache started. A coincidence? I don’t think so.
Sue says it’s the sweets that I eat everyday but I don’t agree. Yes, I do have a sweet tooth, but if the dentists’ have their way I won’t have any teeth at all!
The pain all kicked off a few days ago. A little at first, then it got worse, quickly.
I felt an ache in my jaw. Let me just tell you that I hate the dentist. Absolutely hate them. And I’ve been to enough of them to make that statement. Maybe that’s why I hate them, because none of them make me feel any better and the pain is always there.
This new pain, the one that started a few days ago, is in my lower right jaw. Where my molars are. I think they’re called molars. I wish I paid more attention when I was at school. Those biology lessons were boring. Maybe because the teachers were as bored as us. The only lesson that had people pretending to pay even a little bit of attention was the one about sex education. And they didn’t really tell you anything you didn’t already know.
The worse thing was that they separated the boys and the girls for these lessons. But we meet in the playgrounds afterward to swap notes, as well as saliva. That’s our practical lessons.
The teachers talked about pollination and plant reproduction and we could never figure why that was in a human biology lesson and how that helped us to understand our own bodies. That’s why we experimented for ourselves behind the bike sheds. Knowing what trees and rabbit do to reproduce was not interesting. Feeling the girls up was much more fun. I wanted them to feel me, too. What 15 year old boy doesn’t. But that’s another story. I digress.
My point is that I can’t remember anything much about teeth and looking after them. I ate what I liked, drank what I like and only really started brushing my teeth once girls started responding to my advances. I know my mum had told me for years to brush my teeth properly, and I suppose I did when I was in primary school when she had more control over me, but when I was a teenager I didn’t have time to spend in the bathroom brushing my teeth. Bed was my favourite thing – especially in the school week. I hated school and so I left everything to the last minute – eating, dressing, and getting to school. Most mornings I washed my mouth out with orange juice before I dragged myself to school. I would grab a piece of toast and jump on my blue and red chopper bike and get there just as the bell rang, or just after. Chewing gum was my tooth care and breath freshener all in one. Wrigley juicy fruit five stick packs were essential, especially because we liked to smoke at break times as well. I seem to remember one of their adverts said something about being able to ‘kiss a little longer’ – in those days all I wanted was at least one decent snog, and a french kiss would have been good, too.
So, although I did eventually have my fair share of snogs and feels before I left school I have been a bit remiss with my dental hygiene, so I wasn’t surprised that my teeth were aching again. In fact, I could be one of those under cover mystery shoppers who do surveys on dental practices because I visit so many with my problems. I don’t trust them. None of them. They seem to get off on causing me pain. It’s not that I haven’t had a fair share of pain in my time because I’ve been big on rugby and martial arts for years, but this pain, the throbbing ache in my mouth, it’s like having a nail in my shoe while going for a run. If there was a secret dental society, like the Freemasons, they would probably have my name on a list of people to avoid. All I want is someone to fix the pain, it’s not too much to ask, is it?
“Do you want me to call them for you?” Sue is exasperated with me, but tries not to show it. I’ve been rolling around in bed all night and even the pain killers she got for me around three in the morning didn’t help. I didn’t sleep much. I guess she didn’t either.
She has the list of new surgeries up on the computer screen.
“How about this one?” she asks pointing at a photo she has enlarged.
“They look OK.” I admit.
“How long have they been open?”
“How come I’ve never heard of them before?”
“Well, you’ve never needed them before now.” I married her because she loves me – despite myself – she is also gorgeous, kind and has the patience of a saint with both me and our boys; she is showing that now, even through her tiredness. I’m glad it’s the weekend, at least she can rest for a little today while I sort out the dentist. We don’t have anything special planned for the weekend, apart from my final fitting for a suit that afternoon.
“OK. I’ll give them a call. What’s the number?”
“The name sounds dodgy. Are you sure they’re proper?”
“Seems OK from these top reviews under here.” Sue points out some five star reviews and scrolls through them. Although they are dated are few months ago I’m impressed, I relax and start to dial the number.
“Good morning, Bright Smile Dental Hub, how can I help you?”
“Oh, hello. I was wondering if you had any appointments?”
“Are you registered with us already?”
“No, not yet. I just wanted a check up. I’ve got a really bad toothache. It’s been hurting for a few days now.”
“Well, we could fit you in later today if you can make it to the surgery between three and four this afternoon or …”
“Oh, that’s quick. I was expecting something later in the week. I’ve got an appointment this afternoon that I can’t cancel, can you do anything another day?”
“We have appointments tomorrow morning …”
“Oh, OK. That’s great. What time?”
“Anytime from 10.30.”
“”Great, thanks. Can I just check the address?”
“Yes, we’re on the corner of Abbey Street and Long Lane. If you give me your number I’ll text the address to you for your SatNav.”
“Thank you. What’s your name?”
“Thank you, Stacey.”
“Can I take your name as well, please? For our appointment records.”
“Dennis, with two n’s, Dennis Young.”
“OK then Dennis, we’ll see you tomorrow at 10.30. Just come into the reception area and let the receptionist on duty know you’ve arrived and the dentist will see you as soon as possible. Thank you for calling Bright Smile. Bye now.”
“Thank you. See you tomorrow.”
“I don’t believe that,” I turn to Sue who has heard my half of the conversation, “They’re open on a Sunday! I can get this pain sorted out quicker than expected.”
Sue smiled at me with a look of relief on her face. She did look a bit tired, but then it was the weekend and she didn’t have her full face of warpaint on, so she looked different anyway. I preferred the natural look on her, but she insisted on ‘putting her face on’ when she went to work. Not that I objected to her glam look – it was a bit of a turn on, especially when she had the ‘face’ on and hardly anything else except for that red and black basque with black fishnet stockings and high heels. That only comes out when the boys are staying over with one of the sets of grandparents. But, I digress. Again.
So, here I am at the dentist. Sunday morning. 10.30 on the dot – I like being punctual now. It’s probably because my dad beat it into me after I missed so much of school and then one of my final exams. I mean, he literally beat it into me, but that’s another story.
I eventually get to see the dentist at 11.45. He is a tall man, probably about three or four inches taller than me, and I’m nearly six foot. But he’s not the only one in this tiny room that I enter. It’s a bit like a reverse Tardis. The building is big, but this surgery is like a cupboard, and there are already four people in there when I go in.
I’m frustrated at the long wait, but I also may be a bit nervous because I quip, “Oh, is there a party that I didn’t know about?”
Nobody smiles. I couldn’t see the dentist’s mouth anyway as he already had his mask on.
“Hello,” he turns to look at the notes, “Dennis. Hello. Take a seat here, please.”
“First time here?”
The chair goes back without warning.
“I understand you are emergency,” he says from behind the mask.
I always forget how disconcerting it is to talk to people face to face when I can’t see their mouths. They remind me of bank robbers, or some other unsavoury characters. But I’m sure you know what I mean when I say they look like they are up to no good, because they usually are when they are looking into my mouth.
“No.” I respond with a confused look. “I’m just here for a check up because I have a toothache.”
“It say here,” English is obviously not his first language. The fact that he speaks more than one language and is trained as a dentist should make me feel comfortable. It doesn’t.
“No, it say emergency appointment on notes.”
The four people look at me. I feel small, the same way I did when I had to have braces fitted when I was at junior school and ended up kicking the dentist, wrestling with the nurse and running out of the surgery hotly pursued by my mum.
One of them, who is not wearing a mask, is sat on a stool right by the door – everything is right by the door in here – and she is making notes. I wonder what she is writing because nothing has happened as far as I can see.
“Where is your pain?” the dentist asks.
“Put your head back and open, please.”
I point to my jaw and start to speak when he prods around with the sharp silver instrument he has inserted into my mouth.
“Ow!” I exclaim as he jabs at the area that is causing me the most pain. I just miss clamping his gloved hand in between my front teeth.
“We need X-ray. OK?”
“Yes, OK.” I agree.
I’m already uncomfortable with this Bright Smile Dental Hub, but I’m in the chair, surrounded on all sides and I seem to have lost my voice.
I have the x-ray. In fact I have two because they say they need them.
“What are you looking for?” I query.
“Standard emergency appointment procedure,” that’s all he says to me. I’m not satisfied. I try to get an answer again. “Excuse me,” I attempt to inject the usual British politeness into the proceedings, I am hoping that it will get me some answers from one of the four people who are now back to their standing positions around me. “Excuse me,” I say again looking up into his dark beady eyes. He glances down at me and then resumes his conversation over my head with a dismissive, “Have to check X-rays. Nurse will explain later.”
I’m not use to this, I don’t like it at all. I force the upper part of my body upwards, it’s awkward because the leg section of the chair is still raised and my knees are now at the same height as my chest. I feel like I’m in the middle section of an accordion.
I pull the torn blue paper towel from my neck and swing my legs to the side.
“No,” I insist.”I need someone to explain this to me now. What’s going on? You’ve been prodding around in my mouth for ages mumbling about gum disease and abscesses but I still haven’t had any clear indication about what you’ve found. About what’s causing this pain. Can you even do anything to help me? Can anyone please,” I look at each of them in turn, “please tell me what’s going on!”
I am firmer than I anticipated, it sounds like I’m shouting. Maybe I am. So I continue. My voice is naturally deep – it would make a good singing bass I’ve been told – and now it is extremely loud. It sounds like a rumble of thunder.
“Look,” I’m on a roll now, so I go for it, “I want to talk to the practice manager. This is ridiculous. There are four of you in here and I can’t get one clear answer. All you do is push these pieces of card in front of me, they don’t explain anything. I just want an answer – preferable in plain English (I immediately regret that part of my rant in case I’m viewed as racist but that doesn’t stop me) – just tell me what the f… Sorry. I mean, what the hell is going on!”
“Hold on, sir. Sorry. We are just discussing your treatment plan,” this is the dental nurse speaking directly to me. The only other things she has done since I’ve been in this box-like room is to tie what looks like blue kitchen towel around my neck and push laminated information cards in front of my previously reclined head.
The person with the notebook suddenly leaves the room and within a few minutes – that consists only of strained silence and unnecessary rearrangement of dental tools – she returns behind another man in a mask. I feel like I’m beginning to develop claustrophobia as they all stand around me. The notebook girl stands with her hand on the handle of the open door. That’s some relief.
The person who is now in front of me and extends his hand. His glove looks like it’s been submerged in water, it is stuck to his thick hairy hands.
“Mr Young?” he asks after looking at the notes.
“Yes, that’s me. Who are you?”
“I’m Arthur Franklin, the Practice Manager. Now, what’s happened here is …”
“I have questions,” I interject.
“Please let me explain our emergency appointment procedure to you.”
“You know what?” I interrupt again.
I’m annoyed now and I’m no longer hiding it, “I’m just here for a check up, NOT an emergency appointment.”
“We only do emergency appointments on Sunday’s,” Arthur Franklin states. “That would have been fully explained to you before you came here today – that’s our normal procedure.”
“No, nobody told me that. I asked for a check up. I am not an emergency. I have pain, yes, but it’s not an emergency it’s just painful. I spoke with Tracy, no Stacey, yesterday. I told her what I wanted. Check. Go on, check your records. She took my number and sent me a confirmation message of my check up appointment with your post code for directions.”
“Let me see,” Arthur Franklin squeezes himself to stand between the chair and the computer screen again. “Ah yes,” he says, “there’s been a mistake.”
He moves away a few steps and stands in front of the window which has Bright Smile Dental Hub etched across it. Of course, I’m looking at it backwards now but I’m trying to calm myself down so that’s what I focus on, something that’s not staring at me.
Eventually, although it’s only a mere 30 seconds later, I look him up and down. I say up and down, but there isn’t much of him. He’s a small man, in height at least. He may be 5ft 1” or 5ft 2” at the most, and nearly the same in width. Well, maybe not quite that wide but he has unusual proportions and a terrible dress sense.
I only notice this because I’m a tailor, and clothes are my business. He is the only one, apart from the note-taker, who doesn’t have green or blue scrubs on, his mask is around his neck. His brown leather shoes are scuffed and worn down on the outsides and he has bright red socks on under his baggy blue serge trousers which have at least a two inch gap between the top of his shoes and his trouser hem. I can also see the hair on his sweaty chest because his shirt is a few sizes too small and missing an essential closure where his belly button should be.
“Come with me,” he says, “to reception. We’ll sort this out there.”
“When the x-rays are back,” he says talking to the beady-eyed dentist, “we’ll revisit this, Jakub. In the meantime maybe you can see the next patient while I talk with Mr Young …”
“Yes, good idea Artur.” He says. His eyes seem to have hardened and he looks glad to see the back of me.
“While we are waiting for the X-rays,” Arthur Franklin says to me, he is propped up against the receptionists’ desk just looking over the top at the seated heads of the two women there, “I’d suggest you make the payment for the complete treatment. The initial examination that Jakub undertook suggests that you have progressive gum disease, and you also need a replacement filling and treatment for that abscess. So that will be, let me see … Janice, can you do a bill for Mr Young? And can you make an appointment for … sorry, can you turn the screen around, thank you. Yes, this afternoon at three. Everything will be clear and ready to proceed by then.”
I am towering above him but I still feel small. I don’t like talking to the top of his head, so I take a step backwards.
“Yes, that’s fine. How much is it? I’ll pay now and you’ll finish the treatment this afternoon? Is that right?”
“Yes, yes. That’s right.”
“Thank you, Janice.”
“There you go, Mr Young, your bill.” He hands me the information.
I look at the piece of paper and reach for my wallet. It seems a bit steep but I’m afraid to talk anymore.
“Do you take cards?” I say this to the woman with the name tag ‘Janice’.
“Yes, of course.”
She charges my card after I punch my number in, reminds me of my later appointment and then says brightly, “See you this afternoon at three.” I take my receipt and leave.
I have just over two hours to calm down.
I call Sue as soon as I’m outside.
She listens without comment, then says, “Denny, it sounds rough, but looks like you’re going to get it sorted. I’m sorry that they didn’t make the whole process clear at first.” She pauses for me to respond, I grunt.
“I’m going to the shop to get a drink.”
“Do you think having a Coke is the best thing between dental appointments?”
“But you’re going to do it anyway?”
“OK. Will you be home for lunch or shall we start without you?”
“Aw, Sue. Can you leave mine in the oven? I’m just going to go to the shop and come back here to get this over and done with. I’ll eat later. Can you tell the boys I’ll be back soon? Please don’t tell them that I’m behaving like a wuss. This pain is no joke! I’l take them out for football in the park later. Promise.”
“OK, love.” She hesitated, I knew she hadn’t finished speaking.
“Yeah?” I said.
“I was just wondering if it didn’t make sense to come back and eat now because you might be in pain later if you have a filling and an injection. Just a thought …”
“You’re right. It does make sense, but when did I ever make sense about seemingly logical things? You married the wrong man if you’re looking for sense!” I laughed even though I didn’t feel like it.
“No, Sue. Thanks for the thought, love. I’ll be back as soon as they’ve finished. If I left now by the time I get home and quickly throw some food down my throat, I’ll have to be back across here and the traffic is heavy today because of the match.”
“Oh, yeah. I forgot. OK darling, see you later. Keep me updated. Love you.”
“Love you back,” I smiled. Sue had the ability to find some joy in me even when I was at my grumpiest. And the dentist made me feel like all the photos of Grumpy Cat that have ever been seen.
I was back at the dentist at 2.45 because I ran out of things to do around that area, and I didn’t want to do any impulse shopping because I’m always telling Sue not to do that, and I would have to think of a good excuse for whatever I bought. I sat with my phone and watched the match. I had my headphones in so I didn’t hear them when they called me at first. They called me in exactly at three o’clock.
Once I was back in the chair I noticed that the room was strangely empty. There was only me and the dental nurse. She was in the same green scrubs that she had on earlier in the day. Her hair was now tied up in a neat knot behind her head.
“The dentist will be a few more minutes, Mr Young. Sorry he’s been delayed.”
“I noticed there were a lot more people in reception,” I tried to make conversation but I felt the sarcasm was starting to build already. “Did you have a lot of emergencies come in today?” There was no way I could make it sound neutral. I’m sure that she remembered the earlier conversation.
“We’re usually busy on Sunday’s,” was her diplomatic answer.
Three quiet minutes passed and we both shifted uncomfortably because there was nothing to look at, apart from the ceiling tiles and the radio was playing too low to hear either music or conversation.
I felt I should ask her her name but she spoke before I could, “It say’s here you’re a tailor.” She was obviously looking at my records on the computer. I had filled the new patient form in when I was waiting the first time I was in reception.
“Yes,” I responded.
“That must be interesting.”
“It is. I love it. It was an unexpected career choice – it even surprised me! But, I really love what I get to do every day. I make people look their best. I mean, just the other day I got to measure up a suit for …”
The door flew open and Jakob burst in, I stopped mid sentence.
He looked like he had been swimming or had just got out of the shower. His blue scrubs were two different shades: dark and wet and light and dry. The wet sections were winning. There were droplets of water all over his face and his forearms. The blond hairs on his arms glistened with sweat. It reminded me of being in a scrum – the only thing missing was the mud.
“Sorry to keep you,” he panted. “Hard case – emergency. Now, let me see.”
He paused as he looked at the screen.
“Oh yes. Mr Young.” He sat down on the stool beside me and reached for his tools. Then he used his forearm to wipe away some of the sweat from his head. His success rate at removing the moisture was poor. I saw more drops forming on his brow above the plastic glasses that he had now placed there.
I sat up.
“Sit back, please.”
“What? What do you think you’re doing?” My voice returned to the volume it was before I left the box room surgery earlier.
“We are late, we need to do injection for filling.” He said. “It will hurt without …”
Turning to the dental assistant, he said something technical and she started preparing the treatment somewhere behind my head.
“No! No!” I repeated.
“You’re not working on me. Look at the state of you! My God … you’ve got to be joking, right? Is this one of those candid camera shows? The next thing would be you drip your dirty sweat into my mouth!”
I was standing up by now.
The thoughts running through my head were a mixture of both horror and fear. The sight of him as he’d entered made me wonder if I was in the right place. I instinctively knew I wasn’t. My adrenalin kicked in. The fight or flight response that I experienced told me to question what sort of dental procedure he could have just undertaken in another, possibly also tiny, room that necessitated the physical exertion obviously required to create that much sweat. I was worried for the person he had just seen, but most of all I was worried for me – his next potential victim.
The images from the recent museum visit started to crowd my mind. I felt nausea rising up in me again.
“I can’t believe this. I’m leaving. There is no way you are working on me looking like that. This is so unprofessional.”
Jakob used his arm to wipe his head again and removed his plastic glasses to stare at me.
“Please,” he said, “please sit and we continue.”
“Can’t you hear me? Can you understand me?” I was still shouting.
“Get me that bloke from this morning. The Practice Manager. Whatshisname Franklin. I want my money back. I’m not paying for this mis-treatment. You’re ridiculous. The whole lot of you. This is stupid. I really can’t believe you plan to work on me looking … and smelling like that!”
Arthur Franklin returns to the reception area. He looks at me with tired eyes. He has the same crumpled and soiled mask around his neck, and the gloves he is wearing have puffed up with the increased amount of moisture between him and the plastic material. That should have been a sign to me earlier. The pain that I’ve been feeling has obviously stopped my perception skills.
“I want my money back.” I demand. “I’m not paying for this – did you see that man? He was sweating … I mean, literally sweating on to me as I sat in the chair!”
This bit is not strictly true, but it would have been if I had stayed in the chair for even a minute longer. I had a lucky escape. So did he. I didn’t get my black belt in Taekwondo without knowing how to use my feet and fists.
There is silence in the packed waiting room. I’ve had my say, and all the other people have heard me. I could say more, but I won’t, not today. It’s time for me to go before I do something I regret.
Before I left they insisted that I pay for the X-rays, but they gave me back the rest of the nearly £200 I had signed over a few hours earlier. So I was £25 lighter, I had lost half of my Sunday and I still had a horrible toothache.
Sue laughed when I told her. She said I was exaggerating, but I’m not. I tell you, I would have hurt him if he dropped his smelly sweat into my mouth. It really would have hurt. I don’t know how they get away with it.
I’m going to write a review about them now. Where do I start …
© Marjorie H Morgan 2017