The Curse of the Numskulls

I like my dentist. He’s a friendly man who seems to take very little delight in exerting the sort of pain that only dentists can deliver. He’s kind of the opposite to the Steve Martin character in Little Shop of Horrors. And if you’re not familiar with this, or just need a reminder, here you go….

If you watch the clip, take note at c1:30. We’ll be coming back to that later.

Despite his friendly persona, my dentist does have alarmingly strong forearms, which hove into view just after one of his glamorous assistants puts on the strange safety sun-goggles that are all the rage in dentists these days. On me, not him or her, you understand. In the good old days, I don’t think we had these glasses, and ostensibly they’re to stop odd bits of drilling debris flying into your eyes, and also to protect you from the full size  5000 watt follow-spot that is pointed towards you. I think in years gone by I must have kept my eyes closed. Or maybe previous dentists just used a bit of natural light and the odd Ever Ready torch. Who knows. Anyway, I always find the sight of these forearms slightly concerning, particularly if they’re holding a needle, a drill, or one of those spikes that dentists use to punish you for not flossing. They’re the sort of arms that, if they were attached to a fist in a busy pub and travelling in your general direction, you’d not fancy your chances of slowing them down by, say, offering a replacement pint.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I pitched up for an appointment and after a certain amount of probing about from said forearms, was told that I needed some root canal work. I’d had this sort of work done in the past, and had spent a lot of time worrying about it. ‘Don’t worry’, said people who were in the know, or not really interested, like Mrs E. ‘You’ll be fine, ‘cos you’ll have loads of anaesthetic’. And come the day, I did have loads of anaesthetic, but possibly in the wrong part of my mouth, because I can remember a jaw-jangling pain part way through the procedure which neither me nor my dentist were expecting.

So I can be forgiven, I hope, for feeling a bit nervous when I pitched up for the next appointment.

‘How are you?’, said the owner of the big forearms.

‘A bit nervous’, I said, staying true to the narrative of this blog.

‘It’ll be fine’, he reassured me, ‘we’ll get you nice and numb before we go right into the tooth’. Words which managed to jar with his calming intentions.

He introduced me not only to his assistant, but the assistant’s assistant, who’d come to see the procedure for herself. Maybe they were selling tickets, I don’t know. I was surprised to see that by the time I sat back in the chair, all four of us were wearing safety goggles. A large needle came into view, attached to a long syringe, held by that trusty right arm. Conservatively speaking, I think there was about two pints of anaesthetic in the tube; it took at least a couple of minutes to get rid of it into my mouth, so he’d obviously taken the nice and numb bit to heart.  After poking about a bit with a bit more metal, and being assured that I couldn’t feel a thing, he fired up the drill, and started work. The first couple of minutes sailed by. Radio 2 was playing some saccharine country and we were all (at least mentally) whistling along. And then it happened.

Before I describe what ‘it’ was, I need to to cast your mind back to days when you read the Topper, the Beezer and the Beano. In the unlikely event that you didn’t read them (what on earth were you doing in your youth?), then you should know that you missed one of the great cartoons ever – the Numskulls. The Numskulls story revolved around a boy, and the five Numskulls inside his head that controlled him.  As you can see from the picture, Brainy took care of the brain, and was chief Numskull. Blinky controlled the eyes, Radar was in charge of hearing, Snitch controlled the nose, and Cruncher was in charge of the mouth department.

I’ve been surrounded by medical professionals all of my life, but despite their patient efforts to explain to me how the human body actually works, I still think this is almost exactly what goes on inside my head.

Where me and the medical profession do join up, however, is on the points of communication between the different departments. I think it’s something to do with nerve synapses, and they happen very very quickly. And for the purpose of this blog, it’s necessary to expand something that happened into a very short space of time into the rapid inter-departmental messages that went on after my couple of minutes of pain free dentistry.

Brainy: How are things in the mouth, Cruncher?’

Cruncher: ‘A bit awkward, but nothing too bad to report’

Brainy: ‘Roger that’

Cruncher: ‘Oh, hang on, that’s….ow ow ow’

Brainy: ‘Sorry, lost you there for a moment, are you in some kind of trouble?’

Cruncher: ‘This Is The Worst Pain I Have Ever Experienced. I Am Capitalising My Comments Accordingly. It Feels Like Several Thousand Volts Are Going Through Lower Left Seven. Repeat, Lower Left Seven.’

Brainy: “Do You Have a preferred response?’

Cruncher: ‘Well, what options have I got on the blasphemy front?’

Brainy: ‘It all depends. On a scale of 1-10, how serious is your pain?’

Cruncher: ‘It’s off the bloody scale’

Brainy: ‘Hmmm, let’s have a look. If it was 9, I’d suggest the F word, which you used when you put your back out, and when Norwich missed a penalty against Preston last week. If it was 10, then you could go to the C word. You last used that in November 2005, during the Orleans marathon.’

Cruncher: ‘I’m sorry, Brainy, it’s worse than that. Do you have anything for 11?’

Brainy: ‘I’ll have to look it up. We’ve not really been here before, we’ve spent the last 56 years trying to create an aura of pleasant calm and common decency. Ah, here we are. It starts with the word Mother. Ready to go?’

And so it was, that the Radio 2 infused calm of the dentist’s room, and that of the waiting room next door, and the delicate ears of the dentist, the dentists assistant, and the dentist’s assistant’s assistant was disturbed. I’m not especially proud of the expletive that came out, but came out it did, together with an instruction from Brainy to my right arm knock Mr Muscle and his drill out of my mouth and some way towards reception.

A still calm came over the room. I was embarrassed, and possibly not the most embarrassed one there.

‘That didn’t go as planned’, said the dentist, recovering his composure, together with his balance. ‘I think we need to take a different approach’

The different approach was to send me to another dentist on the other side of town, who specialised in difficult root fillings. Also, putting a good three miles between us might mean that he’d not hear me next time the drill went in. All was fairly well in the end, and years of working as a business consultant meant that I could fairly easily read my own patient notes at the new dentist, upside down on a screen across the room.

‘Mr Revell is a lovely man’, the notes said, ‘but rather apprehensive of dentistry’.

As Cruncher might say: ‘No Shit, Sherlock’…

 

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