This novel has been stirring a lot of interest in review pages, but I may have to wait a while before I can read it. My tooth is out, I lived to tell the tale, and here it is.
Well, if it hadn’t been for your lovely encouraging comments and my family support team, I’m not sure I would have got over the threshold of the dentists’ on Thursday. Words cannot describe how much I dislike, and fear, invasive medical procedures. But the day before I went, my sister-in-law offered me a great strategy. ‘What’s the best possible outcome?’ she asked. And I had been so busy preparing for all potential calamities that this really struck me afresh. I don’t often anticipate good happening in the medical arena. So I did think about how nice it would be if this infected tooth turned out to be responsible for a lot of the issues this year has brought, and that its removal might be a boost to my overall health.
I was still somewhat shaky when I got to the dentist’s however. Here’s another trick I learned: sixty deep breaths, with all the focus on the out breath, really does take your anxiety down. Well, for about five minutes, anyway. ‘How are you today?’ asked Rachel, the dental nurse, brightly. ‘Terrified,’ I replied. And she laughed and steered me up the stairs to my doom. I do like my dentist, who can be rather funny and amusing. Though she was in grave mode, explaining to me all the things she is, I imagine legally, obliged to explain in terms of risks, while the anesthetic kicked in. Pity it couldn’t numb my brain, though I had actually lost the power of speech at that point, I was so frightened. Eventually I said, ‘I may have to hold Rachel’s hand,’ to which the dentist said, ‘Oh yes, give it a really good squeeze. Rachel’s got good strong hands.’ This was my mother’s advice: ‘Grab a hold of someone’s hand,’ she told me, and it does really work. The experience moved from intolerable to tolerable, and I just hope that poor woman has some feeling back in her fingers now.
It’s a strange sensation, having the tooth prised out. My dentist was slow and careful, which on the whole I was grateful for, as she’d warned me she might get the drill out if it looked like the tooth would split and she could preempt that. Now I had signed up for a twist and a yank, and the thought of the drill was on a whole other level. I was waiting for the noise like an ancient fence post being ripped from the ground, which was all I could remember from having teeth out aged ten, but this never happened, so the dentist did indeed say ‘It’s out!’ before I was expecting it. ‘You’re not a bleeder, that’s good,’ she then said, which I thought was possibly the most beautiful sentence in the English language at that point. Though she topped it with, ‘Oh you’re an excellent clotter,’ a few minutes later. While we sat, and I clotted, and waited for the tide of fear to recede, the dentist told me the tooth had come out with the abscess intact and it was huge. Subsequently I have felt sort of perversely proud of this, as if it’s an achievement to have anything, even a bad thing, on a magnificent scale. ‘So it’s probably just as well we didn’t try to save it,’ she said. ‘Would you like to see the naughty tooth?’ I shook my head most emphatically ‘no’. I was hanging on by a few threads here, and eyeballing a gruesome exhibit might have tipped me over. ‘You were very good in the chair,’ said my dentist, with immense kindness. ‘So calm. Made my job as easy as it could be.’
When I told Mr Litlove what she had said, much later that day, he said, ‘In other words, you froze.’ ‘Yup,’ I replied. And that was about it. I staggered downstairs to pay at the reception where Mr Litlove had come to walk me home in case I needed support (I was happy to have support). The receptionist was in fine form, too. ‘Now, no hoovering for her for at least six months,’ she told my husband. ‘In fact, better say no housework for a year.’ If I could have done, I would have laughed a lot.
It wasn’t a terribly nice day, it must be said. The removed tooth turned out to be an enormous one, and I couldn’t quite believe the size of the gap it left. Several days later I showed the gap to Mr Litlove. ‘See that tooth,’ I said, pointing to the one on the end of the front row, ‘that’s like the end of the pier. And those teeth right up in the back? That’s America.’ My mouth looks like a provincial theatre on a Monday night, with half the upper stalls empty. It turned out that my tongue rested against that tooth, which meant I tasted blood sickeningly for the rest of the day. And now I have a lisp, which Mr Litlove tells me is cute, but it is NOT CUTE at all. The annoying thing is that my bite is all wrong and two teeth that probably never met with the big old tooth in place, now clash together. By now, I am resigned to all these changes, and just waiting to adapt to the new situation. But on Thursday evening, all the locked down emotions of the day had risen up, dosed with useless adrenaline and curdled into a bizarre mix. I wanted my tooth back! I felt I would never get used to this vast gap, never adjust. In one of the many, rather lovely conversations I’ve had about teeth over the past week, my adorable editor at Numero Cinq called them ‘little gravestones of mortality’ and boy was he right. I was mourning that tooth, and all the useful tasks it had undertaken so modestly, so silently, and I hadn’t appreciated them at the time. It’s an interesting thing, every time I am forced to observe it, how crazy emotions make us. How entirely dismissive of fact, and reason and reality. Do we understand that enough, I wonder?
Anyhoo. As I read somewhere (I forget) just recently, time heals everything, until it kills us. My life now consists in a long series of hot saltwater washes, six or seven a day for a week, thanks to the severity of the infection. I’ll do anything to keep the gap clean and healthy, though I may end the week also pickled in brine. And of course I do wonder just how long I was incubating that infection for, and it does seem likely that at least some of the illnesses of the year were due to fighting it off. Maybe my sister-in-law’s best possible outcome may yet be a possible outcome. Cross your fingers for me.
And thank you again for all the wonderful comments, and stories and advice that you’ve left on this site and added to my life management manual. They were all extremely helpful!