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A Gentle Dental Tale

There are some people in the world who just make you feel like a human being – simply by being themselves. My wonderful Iraqi NHS dentist is one of them. I guess Dr T is in her early 50s. She has wispy hair, a dimple and a bustling mother-hen air. She is reliable and thoroughly professional. I have settled in to trust her.


As the pandemic set in, her practice boss retired and the dental surgery was taken over by a chain of cosmetic dentists who promise to give you the (fake?) smile you’ve always wanted! When I went back in August to get Dr T’s opinion on the development of the mysterious sequence of symptoms which she had begun to treat before the pandemic, I got the shock news. ‘Dr T’s leaving. We’re transferring all her patients to Mr S who has just joined the practice. He will be your dentist now.’ No questions asked. Not even a murmur of ‘is that ok with you?’ – probably because they guessed that most of Dr T’s patients would say, ‘of course not!”. But Mr S is our dentist now. The practice website says that Mr S loves spending time with his family etc. but that he likes ‘shooting rifles’ in his leisure time. Somehow that didn’t reassure me!


But I was in pain so I went to see Mr S. in his small room behind the reception desk. He greeted me, asked why I’d come and went on quickly to do the things that one expects dentists to do. He looked at my teeth, went through a series of questions, took an x-ray and told me clearly that he didn’t quite know what was causing my pain. He recounted the details of the operation it was just possible I would need. That was a great comfort! The receptionist summed up the experience for me, ‘He’s very experienced,’ she said. ‘But he just ‘gets on with it!’


Mr S sent me to the hospital for a better X-ray and then for a 2nd opinion. I did my relaxing exercises and arrived at the labyrinthine Royal Berkshire Hospital yesterday morning. I don’t like it there but I have been grateful for it for myself and my family and friends many times. Despite my best efforts, I was quite anxious. Would I be seeing another perfunctory Mr S? Was there an operation in the offing?


Eventually a smiling nurse ushered me in to see the doctor. Young Dr A.M told me his first name – a name of Hindu origin - and apologised for the wait. He invited me to sit in the big chair. He asked his nurse apologetically for something he had mislaid. He sat at my level, spoke gently, laughed a little, encouraged me to tell my story. Once again, there were the questions, the prodding and biting on instruments, more questions.


He too ‘got on with it’. But this was more than that – this was a person to person contact. Most of the time Dr A sat on a chair next to me, gave me eye contact, listened carefully, encouraged me to talk, didn’t look impatient when I couldn’t explain or didn’t know or couldn’t remember things. He showed me the hospital x-ray he had, answered my questions, explained my symptoms and why there was uncertainty. Of course, it helped that he wasn’t going to recommend an operation and suggested a different way forward! Not only was he a consultant with great authority, he was a teacher, a friend – a fellow human being. I walked out into a world where it’s everyman for himself in the panicking queues at the petrol pumps feeling grateful, slightly tearful and more like a human being myself!

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