Last weekend was a weekend of agony. I went to bed Friday night with a slight ache in my bottom right back tooth. Saturday morning it was a throbbing pain which subsided when I took painkillers. By the afternoon it was not so easily pacified. I rang the emergency dental number where they asked a few questions about the toothache.'On a scale of 1 to 5 where would you place your pain' etc. In the end .even if I'd wanted to the only available dentists were in Wisbech or Huntingdon. By this time the combination of toothache and painkillers were making me feel decidedly heady and nauseous. So driving anywhere was out of the question. They did suggest a particular regime of painkillers that might ease the pain,but they added, ' what you really need is a course of anti-biotics'. So I struggled on until Monday morning when I walked down first thing to my own Dentist. He took an X Ray of the area and gave me a prescription for anti- biotics. 'I will call you once the X Rays are done, I may want to put you on a double dose of the anti-biotics' By the time I had slowly ambled home and sat down the phone rang 'could you come in at ten to three this afternoon, the tooth has an abscess and needs to be removed'
Back into town, this time hoping for the blessed release from pain. I wasn't waiting long before I was called through. He started injecting local anesthetic into the gum all around the tooth. It was only a slim needle, but it felt like he was putting a six inch nail in there. For the first time in my life at a Dentist I let out an agonised cry. You know the cries in movies where a hero is being slowly strangled by 'the mummy' or some such other fiend, well it was those sort I let out. As he pulled the tooth with his silver pliers it was relatively painless. Afterwards I felt in shock, I hardly dared stand up. 'If you feel you're going to faint sit down, don't do anything too active as that will only increase the blood flow, take it steady and slow' With those few words I left the Dentist and went to pay at reception. You really should have seen the looks on the patients faces waiting in reception. A mixture of horror, compassion and anxiety flashed across their faces. If I hadn't been struggling to keep upright at the time I would have laughed out loud.
I took the walk home at an even slower pace. I'd thought about getting some Pro-Biotic Yogurt to help my stomach cope with the effects of the anti-biotic but actually just getting home was all I could manage. Most of that Monday I spent asleep, I went to bed at 8.30pm and didn't awake until 5.30 Tuesday morning. Once the anti-biotics kicked in I was fine. I had to watch not to rushing around too much or else I got dizzy. At the end of a day at work I was pretty pooped. Today nearly a week later the swelling has gone down and I can feel the cavity quite clearly. The gum is still a bit sore when I eat, but essentially its back to business as usual.
Even though I was in such pain I still managed to meet up with my friend Eugen for breakfast on Sunday morning and went out for a meal with David Welsh in the evening. I apologise to both of them if I wasn't quite my usual self or attentive. In a way it was a miracle I could still do any of what I'd planned. Though my David said I'd looked distinctly grey and unwell all weekend.
Physical pain is something we rarely feel these days outside of toothaches or breakages of limbs. Painkillers are so readily available. How they coped barely a century ago I dread to think. An abscess under a tooth might have been a life threatening if it poisoned the blood system before the tooth was removed. Such extreme pain was I suppose a more every day occurrence. Whilst I'm not some New Age nut who thinks our sense of alienation would be overcome by experiencing more pain. I do think it has weakened our robustness in coping with life's travails when pain is so readily masked or got rid of. What we complain about, what we litigate over, would ,in previous generations have been brushed off as how life was. Well, it's still how life is, but it's hidden behind a chemical screen, occassionally it steps out and shows us its hideous potential to wreck our hopes and dreams.