Tomorrow I'm off to the dentist for the second time within six days. I'm not worried about it - really not - because of my experience last time. I've waxed lyrical before about the virtues of this NHS provision of 'special needs' dentistry. There's a local one-woman clinic attached to our GP Health Centre, but for more difficult procedures (such as the awkward tooth extraction I needed) they play safe by referring you to the hospital or to a larger clinic.
So last Friday Jane took me over to the Didcot Special Access clinic to be seen by another dentist there. I presume that this has the benefit of having other dentists and nurses at hand - as well as the adjacent cottage hospital - should complications arise. They didn't of course. In fact, Sarah, my dentist, was brilliant. Jane and she got me into the chair. She administered some tingly sort of cream and then injected. I don't enjoy injections, but it was fine, first on the inside and then on the outside of the gum. A few minutes of conversation and then it was cooked. Out came the pliers. A firm manipulating of the tooth back and forth, and then she asked the nurse to hold my head, since my muscle control is somewhat deficient. Firmer wiggling of the tooth and it was out, all in one piece. I inspected it, and I have to confess it was a mouldy specimen. "Better out than in," was Sarah's verdict.
I was anticipating trouble when the anaesthetic wore off, but I needn't have taken even the one ibrupofen I did. I was sent home with instructions and a gauze pad in case it began to bleed. But in fact the oozing was minimal. The whole operation was a success. And so tomorrow I'm off to have a filling sorted. There's of course no way a private company would provide this sort of service - for children and adults with all sorts of disabilities, for people with Down's Syndrome, for autistic children, and for people like me. We can't 'nip on to the chair', swallowing is a problem and breathing when you're tipped back can be too. It takes time to deal with patients with special needs. Health insurance wouldn't take them on. And private companies want profits. So the National Health Service is a necessary blessing.
What struck me about the whole experience were two things. One was what a difference trust in your medical practitioner makes. From our first consultation I felt Sarah knew her business and I could trust her. Although she didn't insist, her advice to have the tooth out was sound and proved correct. That trust leads to the second thing which is the difference that fear, or the lack of it, makes. I wasn't worried then, and I'm even less worried now, about opening my mouth and being entirely vulnerable to someone else poking sharp instruments and woodworking tools into my maw right under my very awake eyes.
When I put on facebook that I was going to have a tooth out, the sympathetic messages came pouring in: "Ouch!' "Good luck!" etc, all implying that I was to undergo an ordeal, all reinforcing the fear-full myth. Someone told me yesterday that over 95% of what we fear never happens, so that we waste an enormous amount of nervous energy in pointless worry. Fear is a great paralyser. What's disturbing is that much of our culture breeds fear. The insurance industry is fuelled by fear. What if your house fell down? What if you couldn't pay your mortgage? (Wasn't that what the banks said when they sold useless protection plans?) The media are full of scare stories (remember avian flu?). We're frightened to let children play in the streets. And of course some campaigns fuel our fear of pain and dying. It doesn't need to be so.