With one fell swoop, a quick stroke on a keyboard and I was rejuvenated at the tune of a quarter of a century. No costly face lifts, nor expensive age defying creams needed. No Ayurvedic massages or time travel involved. All it took was a trip to the nearest hospital on a quest to find the one and only X-ray machine in town.
The troubles of teeth followed me to India and came to a head about three weeks ago. It is not that I neglect visits to the dentist in the UK, I am one of their regulars; but perhaps I focus more on the outer issues and ignore what may be brewing underneath and is only revealed on expensive X-rays. So, I paid the price and my little sojourn to Varkala a few weeks ago was only made enjoyable in the company of painkillers. On my return the next day I asked around and was given insider information on a reputable dentist in town. Sorting out priorities, I cancelled my after school lesson with the teachers and headed off to the dentist.
First in line that afternoon, I was whisked in as soon as the dentist returned from lunch. A quick cursory look in the mouth and minimal enquiries about any discomfort resulted in the conclusion that some bridging work would resolve the matter… No X-ray needed… When in pain, it is not always possible to make sensible decisions and whereas I should have insisted on an X-ray there and then, the dentist seemed perfectly reasonable in his justification. Also, when weighing up the financial impact on my purse of having major dental work done in India, compared with the UK, I decided if all failed, I would only have lost a little amount of money and I could have things sorted out properly in the UK. So I agreed, and instead of being given some time to consider my options, the dentist wasted no time and set to work. In case I changed my mind and he would lose out on a fat cheque?? After three months in Kerala, I was becoming cynical. Whilst the drill was grinding away, I tried to suppress the niggling doubt and thought that maybe a consultation with a trusted dentist in Cape Town before embarking on the Indian dental experiment might have been a good idea … Ah, but what pleasure in living a little dangerously and recklessly… Keeping further pain at bay with painkillers and antibiotics, the bridge arrived in a matter of days and within a week I had a new set of teeth permanently fixed and I was expecting this to be the end of it….
It was not to be, and once the effects of the antibiotics had worn off, it was clear that not all was well in the paradise of my mouth. So, this Thursday another visit to the dentist was in order and this time I insisted that any further intervention would have to be considered in the light of an X-ray. Although the dentist has two consultation rooms, his equipment does not stretch to having an X-ray machine. But no worries as opposite the hospital at the other side of the town, there are some laboratories where X-rays are taken. With a note from the dentist and just the vaguest notion of where the hospital was – I had come across it once on my way to the train station – I set off on my walk. I duly reached the hospital – a sort of purplish building with lots of notice boards giving information in Malayalam and no English. However, the number of people milling around and the multitude of auto rickshaws at the front were a promising sign and it was the correct junction; and indeed, on entering the reception area I found a long list of names of doctors. Surely, someone there would be able to tell me where to go for an X-ray…
I approached the auto rickshaw drivers first, with no success, as one of them answered in perfect English that ‘he did not speak English’ and that maybe ‘the security guard would be able to help.’ Now, that was a lot of English for someone who does not understand or speak the language. But I was not in any mood to argue and appealed to the security guard, who clearly spoke no English at all but was very keen to help. He promptly took me to the reception desk in the hospital where my details were logged – I tried to explain that I needed an X-ray in a place across the road, but this all fell on deaf ears, and I had no option but to go with the flow. In the absence of any English my name got altered, I became a spring chicken again after wiping a full 25 years of my time on this planet (I obviously still look like a 30 year old, or do Indian people age much quicker???) and my worth was reduced to 600 rupees (not sure if this was meant to be my income per day, week, month???), and as for an address, I seem to be residing on the streets of N. But the computer print-out granted me access to a doctor in the hospital!
Whereas I was fully expecting to join the back of the queue – or the queue for the women as there were two neatly formed queues: one for the men and one for women – and wait my turn, I was immediately manhandled and pushed to the front of the line by all and sundry with beaming smiles and very encouraging Malayalam words from all, but a little unsettling for me as I had no idea where I was going to end up. I was thrust through a closed door and ended up queue-jumping into the office of a doctor who spoke English. After some discussion, she explained that I was in the wrong place for an X-ray (as if I did not know this already….), but she duly clarified the matter to the security guard who was monitoring proceedings through the open window. Privacy takes on a whole different meaning here…
So, I made my way out of the hospital and the security guard took me to the gate where he motioned into the direction of the other side of the road. Whilst crossing the road I studied the myriad signs above the shops for one that would suggest some medical connection and as I spotted the one that sported a promising red cross, a very enthusiastic looking, grinning woman was beckoning me to follow her. Clearly the news of my impending visit to the X-ray machine had travelled very quickly indeed and the novelty of having a white person at their premises was greeted with great gusto by the staff. To overcome the language barrier, she took me by the hand and as a child I was led along narrow corridors into the bowels of the building where I joined a crowd of other people waiting for X-rays. And I did not have to wait long; being the white face in the room, no one seemed to object when I was immediately shown into the X-ray room. A mere 15 minutes later, my mission was complete and I left, X-ray in hand at the cost of a mere £1 (100 rupees).
Unfortunately, my visits to the dentist have not yet reached a conclusion Whereas yesterday I was prepared for the inevitable loss of my wisdom tooth, the dentist had other plans. In a last ditch attempt to salvage a tooth with limited future, he is giving root canal treatment a go free of charge with only a 50% chance of success and nothing to lose…. Am I being used as a guinea pig??? Maybe I was a bit hasty with my earlier cynical comment about the Indian attitude of taking advantage of a white face. But at the same time, I have now opened channels of communication via Facebook with the dental expert in the family in Cape Town, and hope that after the agony I was in last night, this treatment was not a gamble too far… Maybe the quicker one-off pain of having the tooth extracted would have been the more sensible one!! Time will tell….