I needed to travel into the city to go to the dental hospital, so my husband kindly decided to take the day off and accompany me, for moral support. Appointments were few and far between, meaning that I would need to get up at 6am, on the day of the appointment and we would both be forced to travel during the 'peak' period. We each sold a kidney, on a dodgy website, to pay for the return train fare and, on Thursday of last week, we found ourselves boarding a fairly crowded train, heading for the city.
It appeared, from a distance of a few feet away, that there were 3 single seats available, in the compartment we had chosen. On closer examination, however, it seemed possible that one male commuter might have paid for a double seat, in order to avoid having his own coffee cup, on a pull-down tray, in front of him. It appeared that one lady passenger might have paid for a second seat, out of concern for her coat's comfort. Another male passenger appeared to have splashed out on a double seat, for his empty packet of Hula Hoops, but, on reflection, we didn't feel that any of those scenarios were likely.
I challenged Coffeecupman, who admitted that the seat next to him was available, even though he had attempted to make it appear otherwise. He moved his coffee cup after I flicked him lightly, on both facial cheeks, with my leather gloves. My husband tackled Coatwoman, who obviously felt that my husband should stand, rather than disturb her precious companion. He capitulated and, fortunately, Hulahoopman remembered his manners in the nick of time. He coerced his empty Hula Hoop packet into, reluctantly, surrendering its seat and it stood, somewhat gracelessly, in the aisle, for the remainder of the long journey into the city. Coatwoman smiled at this result and patted her coat indulgently, as it lay, smugly, on the seat beside her.
We crossed the city, after getting off the train, arriving at the hospital in plenty of time for my appointment. We wandered about for a while, in the hospital, before discovering the lift and travelling up to the floor specified in my letter. I approached one of the receptionists, and handed her my letter, explaining that I was a new patient. She returned my polite smile with all the charm of Medusa, spent a couple of minutes entering my details on the computer and then drew a little diagram to show me where I had to go next. Undaunted, I smiled again and thanked her. I imagined the comment she was adding to my patient notes, as I walked away.(Note 1)
We headed back towards the entrance hall, down 5 miles of endless corridors, past someone up a ladder, painting the walls, through some double doors and into another reception area. There were no other patients waiting. Several members of staff stood by, and behind, the reception desk, but only the receptionist knew how to use the computer, apparently, and she became rather tense, as she coped with patients, coming in and out, and the telephones. I slowly came to realise that there was more than one 'Prof' on duty and, the one I was supposed to see, was running late.
When I was eventually led into the consulting room, I gasped at the size of it. There were at least 20 treatment areas, with different staff assigned to each. There were partitions, but they didn't reach the ceiling, so the atmosphere was bustling and noisy. A charming, female, student dentist examined me, in the presence of a dental nurse. She kept smiling, sweeping her palm under my chin and reminding me to relax! I was reminded of numerous, internal examinations, when the focus was on a totally different part of my body. I pictured the doctor at the end of the bed, as he pulled on his latex gloves and gazed determinedly towards his intended destination, demanding that I should relax, in a similar tone to the student dentist. I wanted to shout 'RELAX? ARE YOU JOKING?', but instead, I cried, 'Violation! Remove your probing fingers from my inner recesses!' Fortunately, I didn't say anything out loud.
'Clench your teeth, firmly and move the bottom ones to the left' said the student dentist. I tried, but nothing happened. She repeated the instruction and I tried again, with the same result. She had her fingers clamped firmly in, and around, my mouth. 'Grind your teeth' she said persistently, glancing meaningfully at the nurse, who repeated the instruction. Finally, I managed to move my lower teeth a little to the left. I imagined a further comment being added to my patient notes. (Note 2)
Prof eventually arrived and carried out his own examination. He gazed at me intently and explained that they were going to try and save my tooth, but that they might not succeed. My weakest eye chose that moment to sting and water, due to the bright light shining straight into my face, and a 'tear' ran down my cheek. 'Mrs Mean Mom' said Prof, gently. 'Do you understand? You may still lose the tooth.'
'Yes, yes. I understand' I said quickly, hoping he hadn't noticed my watery eye. He swept out of the cubicle. 'Pass the patient a tissue!' he called over his shoulder to the dental nurse. I imagined another comment being added to my notes.(Note 3)
The nurse accompanied me to x-ray and we picked up my husband on the way. We walked through the double doors, past the painter, along 5 miles of endless corridors, back to the entrance hall, and down a flight of stairs into the gloomy basement. The technician took my x-rays, but we waited 20 minutes for the results. He said that there had been a processing problem. We made our way back, up the flight of stairs, through the entrance hall, down the 5 miles of endless corridors, past the painter, through the double doors and back to clinic reception. It was empty, except for a few members of staff. One of the dental nurses took my x-rays and accompanied me to the consulting room. 'You've been a long time' she remarked. 'There was a processing problem' I explained.
I was the only patient in the consulting room. Some of the staff were already eating their sandwiches and breaking open bottles of mineral water. 'Yay! All the patients have gone!' cried one young dental nurse, her voice tailing off, as she noticed me. I watched as some of the staff wiped down the dental apparatus and I imagined another comment being added to my patient notes.(Note 4)
The student dentist informed me that I would have to return to the hospital on 4 or 5 occasions, for treatment. I gaped in horror. 'Is the travelling a problem?' she asked. 'I don't have any more body parts to sell for my train fare' I explained and it takes hours to get here.' She pointed out that the treatment was free and that I could consider buying a railcard. I finally agreed, feeling that I had no alternative. I imagined yet another comment being added to my patient notes.(Note 5)
The dental nurse walked back with me to reception, where the receptionist was catching up with her work. 'Can we make an appointment?' she asked. 'No' replied the receptionist, not until I have finished this.' We stood rooted to the spot, for a moment, shocked by her abrupt manner. She relented to a certain extent and passed over a folder to the nurse, so that she could enter the appointment herself. I provided my hospital number from my own documents and the receptionist suddenly appeared to see the funny side of things and relaxed. She began laughing and joking, exclaiming that I wouldn't be looking forward to returning to their clinic.
I'd been up since 6am, suffered a long and difficult journey to the hospital, been pushed from pillar to post, my body had been violated, it was well past my lunch time and I'd been waiting in the hospital for hours. I tried to smile, as we headed for the door, but somehow I remained stony faced. I imagined the final comment being added to my patient notes.(Note 6)
We walked in the direction of the hospital entrance hall, through the double doors, walking 5 miles down the wrong corridor, before realising that we had missed the correct corridor, as the painter had gone to lunch. We eventually found our way out of the hospital and headed for the nearest cafe, which was situated just over the road, and named after a vegetable. I was surprised to see that they were selling danish pastries and we decided to treat ourselves to the same, after we had both eaten a sandwich. I had my toothbrush and toothpaste in my handbag, so I didn't feel too guilty.
I bit into the danish pastry, glancing over towards the hospital entrance. I half expected the dental police to come bursting out of the hospital doors and bound down the hospital steps, armed with drills, floss, interdental brushes and bottles of mouthwash, but the building remained surprisingly quiet. We each drank a welcome mug of caffeine, as I shared with my husband, the comments I had imagined the hospital staff adding to my patient notes.
- Smiles inanely, for no apparent reason. Obviously one tooth short of a full set.
- Dim. Unable to follow simple instructions.
- Over-emotional, possibly due to middle-age and menopause.
- Loiters in x-ray and hospital corridors to ensure that staff suffer a diminished lunch break after morning clinic.
- Ungracious and undeserving of free NHS dental treatment.
- Suffers a sense of humour failure if she happens to be the first patient in the clinic and the last one out.
We decided that I should try to make a better impression on my next visit. Can't wait!