Since December, it has seemed as if our lives are dominated by doctors and hospitals. Neither of us have anything seriously wrong, nothing more than minor ailments, but thanks to the thoroughness of the French health system we’ve had numerous appointments with specialists, X-rays, scans and blood tests.
A recent head and chest X-ray showed that I had FIVE dental cavities! FIVE! How absolutely horrid is that? Strangely enough, until then I hadn’t had toothache for years, but once I knew about all those caves of decay, no day passed when I didn’t have agonising pain in one tooth or another.
I have never recovered from the trauma of my early visits as a child to the dentist. The surgery smelt menacing, the high-pitched whine of the drills terrified me, the man was unsmiling and rough and I hated him. The only part I enjoyed was when he pushed the thick rubbery mask over my face and nitrous oxide plunged me into a deep sleep. But sometimes there was no rubbery mask, just a slow, noisy drill that hit the nerves and made me leap from the chair.
After that, only excruciating toothache could drive me to a dentist.
When I first came to France, a friend introduced me to a dentist, reputed to be the best in the whole region. He was extremely handsome, with great, limpid brown eyes, designer stubble, a husky voice and limitless patience, and this somewhat offset the horror of having anything done to my teeth. I don’t know what happened, but stories began to circulate about him failing to keep appointments, marital difficulties, unpaid bills. One morning I set off for an appointment, only to pass him careering past me in the opposite direction and almost running me into a ditch. He was plainly in a great hurry, so I assumed that he would be back at the surgery in time for my appointment. But this was not the case. The receptionist said that I would have to see his new partner instead.
The new partner did not have nice eyes, designer stubble, a husky voice or any patience at all. I tried to explain that I was extremely nervous. He told me to sit down and open my mouth, and jabbed around inside it with that nasty metal hook thing, making me jump and gasp. Then he shoved a couple of wads of cotton wool into my mouth, a thing that blew air and another thing that sucked out saliva, and dived into the remaining space with a drill, hitting a nerve with uncanny accuracy. I yelped and jerked my head away.
“If you do that again,” he snapped, “I will put the drill straight through your mouth.”
Whether this was a warning or a threat was not clear. But I was quite certain that when he drilled into a nerve again, as he surely would, I would react, and end up with a perforated mouth. So I ejected the cotton wool, the air-blowing thing and the saliva-sucking thing, climbed out of the chair and walked out.
Happily a friend introduced me to another dentist, a lady who looks about 14, speaks perfect English and has every quality a dentist should have, patience, charm, a sense of humour and a large syringe of anaesthetic. I’ve been going to her for years, have had root canal treatment that was completely painless, and have no fear of her at all. I drive nearly 40 miles to see her.
Still, the prospect of FIVE fillings was rather overwhelming. When I told her about the Xrays, she looked astonished.
“FIVE cavities? That is very surprising. I can’t believe it. We’ll do some more Xrays now.”
After she’d looked at the results, she smiled. “They’re not cavities. They are old fillings that can look like cavities.”
I felt like breaking into song and dance with relief.
“Except for this one,” she pointed at a shadow on the screen. “This is a cavity. It’s in a bad place, very close to the gum.”
Cut the music.
She’s cleaned it out and put in a temporary filling. I’m proud to say that I was able to endure this procedure without anaesthetic and without yelping, although once my arm did involuntarily fly into the air, causing her to remark: “It’s lucky I don’t have a weak heart.”
Back in a couple of weeks for the next stage.