What? It’s World Leprosy Day as well? Good. Lord. The perfect trifecta. (Unlike most of you, or at least so I suspect) I had quite a bit of truck with what used to be called “lepers” in my youth, as the condition, which is now known less opprobiously as “Hansen’s Disease” was quite common in Nigeria at the time (not quite the Dark Ages, but almost). It’s an ugly, very painful, and very sad condition which is not nearly as contagious as once thought, and which can be completely cured if caught early and treated aggressively, so please consider a charity supporting research for a cure, if you’re in a giving mood sometime.
But, I digress.
My first dentist was a man called Mr. Hollick, because dentists in the UK are called “Mister.” Just like veterinarians. (Alumni of All Creatures Great and Small will know this, already.)
He had been Dad’s family dentist for years, and he practiced out of his “surgery,” which had formerly been his living room, in a large house in Edgbaston, just outside Birmingham, and not far from the mothership of the Newman Oratory. I remember him as a large man, dark-haired, and always in a spotless white uniform. His surgery smelled unmistakably of cloves, and his chair had a hitch in it when he tilted it back. If you weren’t hanging on, you almost got flung out backwards. That was relaxing (not really).
But the gas was, quite. I remember the rubber gas mask, over my face, and the smell of the rubber, which eventually got overtaken by the smell of the gas, just before I went off to LaLa Land and he pulled out one or another of my baby teeth. For some reason, just before I went under, I always saw flashing lights. I don’t know why.
I didn’t have much truck with the drill, at that stage in my life, but I remember it. It had a foot crank. Yes, I’m that old. (People will delight in telling you how old I am. Believe them.) And there wasn’t any Novocaine. Just clove oil. Whatever it was good for, other than making me smell like a Christmas pomander, I don’t know.
Mr. Hollick was a very good dentist, and I have nice memories (relatively speaking and all things considered) of him.
But the best memory of my visits to see him had nothing to do with the gas, or the cloves, or even of the very appreciatable drill. It happened at the end of every visit, when Mr. Hollick would pull out an empty little matchbox, in the days when almost everyone had a bagful of empty little matchboxes somewhere in the house–they were very useful when you needed a place to put something small and keep it safe–and into it he’d deposit two or three drops of . . .
. . . mercury.
And I’d giggle and I’d laugh, and I’d take it home with me and play with it for days, splitting it apart and watching it slurp itself back together until, inevitably I spilled it or lost it somewhere and it was gone, until the next time.
I loved it.
It’s a wonder I survived to adulthood. And that I’m not wracked by guilt over the damage I caused to the environment in my youth.
Do you have a favorite, or even a horrific “dentist” story you’d care to share?