Did you think You were the normal One? - Think Again
I’ve long held a firm belief that anyone who chooses to work in dentistry, is more than a bit odd.
Let’s face it, anyone who decides that they want to spend their working lives staring into an endless abyss of spit and munge, has GOT to have a kangaroo loose in the paddock.
This thought came to me at the weekend when I met up for a meal with some old nursing and reception colleagues who worked with me at the practice I used to own until I went to the corporate in 2013. To be honest, they were a bit odd – they MUST have been in order to tolerate working with me for nigh on twenty years.
We went through some times, me and my staff. I joined the practice in 1994 and these people saw me through dark times, sticking with me through my awful moods as I coped with the death of my wife only a year or so after I took the practice over. I must have been intolerable to work with around that period, yet they saw it through to the bitter end (some 20 years), when I inadvertently sold my practice to a psycho. Most of them left the practice within a few months of the sale, only the most stoic member of the team staying on with her for more than a year.
But the DARKEST times they went through were annually, around the Christmas period. I can’t remember when it was exactly, but sometime in the late 90’s, I decided that I couldn’t face the Christmas ‘do’ any more, and I’d prefer to go to Europe. So we did. Thanks to our colleagues in the practice up the road, we were able to shut the practice up for a long weekend and we all trundled off with our partners to the EU for our Christmas break. We went to atmospheric places like Krakow, Paris and Prague. It certainly helped bond the team and it meant I didn’t ever have to dance in front of them, to Slade, George Michael, or Wizard.
One of our first trips was to Amsterdam. My practice manager arranged it and it was decided that we’d go by coach via the Channel Tunnel. There were ten of us and we all met up late in the evening at my practice manager’s house. There were a couple of hours to kill while we waited to join the coach and so a few bottles of wine were downed before we all staggered off to the coach pick-up point. I am a rare drinker, but unfettered by the fact that I wasn’t going to have to drive for 72 hours, I joined in with the joyous glugging and was well away by the time we boarded the coach.
Within about ten minutes of stepping on board, not being used to drinking, I felt enormously nauseous. There then followed a horrendous couple of hours careering around the Cotswolds while we picked up fellow travellers – me managing to postpone the inevitable projectile vomiting that was to ensue, by sheer willpower and deep and aggressive breathing.
When we finally pulled into a service station somewhere on the M4, I elbowed fellow passengers out the way and ran into the ‘facilities.’ I found an empty cubicle and assumed the position and indulged in, what Jack Dee would say was “my show off way method of being sick” with my head all but wedged in the toilet bowl. I can’t help it. I’m just noisy. I’ve never had the presence of mind to measure the actual decibels I produce, but it’d probably eclipse the sound levels experienced by households directly under the flight path to Heathrow’s runway two.
I was oblivious to everything and hadn’t been aware that my legs were sticking out under the cubicle door. After ten minutes or so of producing noises that the Devil probably makes when condemning tortured souls for all eternity, I emerged to find all my members of staff and their partners standing in a line, giving me a round of applause, in spite of their hysterical laughter. They were apparently applauding my gargantuan and successful effort in keeping it all bottled up till the appropriate facility was available. As I say, dark dark times.
Fortunately, most of the other members of our party were also drunk, though not so drunk that they didn’t remember the incident vividly, and they remind me of it every time we meet up socially.
To many, getting drunk may not be that odd, but it was certainly peculiar to me and I haven’t repeated it since. Most of my peculiarities I feel sure I manage to keep to myself. If I don’t, it’s obviously just because people are too shy to bring them to my attention.
Quirky behaviour is something I noticed was peculiar to dental folk and to a certain extent, medics, from first entering dental school.
From the Australian chemist with a moustache the size of a golf umbrella who wore his overcoat draped from his shoulders, like a Bat Cape, to the anatomy lecturer with the spotted dickie bows who normally wouldn’t say boo to a goose and yet told the filthiest joke I had ever witnessed to mixed company at a dental school presentation evening, dental folk are a little ‘out there.’
One of the zaniest and most eccentric lecturers at my dental school was a lady called Dr Brown. We called her Ma Brown. She was a well-known anatomist and ex-surgeon, with a voracious appetite for ensuring her students saw all the human insides she could possibly lay her hands on. Anyone who has carried out dissection on cadavers knows that feeling of uneasy anticipation you get in the first few days of practical anatomy demonstrations. It’s all a bit icky and queasy-making. What you weren’t quite expecting was a tap on the shoulder from a diminutive septuagenarian Aberdonian, who when you turned around to face her, had someone’s head in her hands because she wanted to show you the facial nerve. She was always doing it. Eventually you got sort of used to it, though occasionally when you had for example, a head with the eyeball hanging on its cheek, it still managed to be a bit queasy-making, though it never rose quite to Amsterdam-like proportions.
While we’re on the subject of dissection, it brings me to a fellow student. Pete was a lovely lad, but he did have questionable hygiene habits. When we were dissecting, we were partnered and there were two students each side of the head and neck. You may recall, if you were privileged to be able to take part in dissection directly, that the smell of formaldehyde was overpowering and stayed with you most of the day after a session. Pete added to the miasma tenfold, mainly from his habit of wearing the same shirt every day until his armpits screamed to be set free, but also because of his penchant for garlic and anchovy sandwiches. Yup, garlic and anchovy sandwiches. A potential dental surgeon. Pete left the BDS course to study archaeology and become a niffy Indiana Jones.
Then there was the final year medical student who had somehow inveigled himself on to the dental student’s floor at the medical school’s residential block. He had somehow smuggled a six-foot long python into his room. He was the sort of person you were best to avoid making eye-contact with. One day he abseiled down the side of the building from the tenth floor, by tying a rope to the leg of his bed. He treats medical patients now.
When we were on the medicine and surgery (3rd BDS) part of our course, there was a heart specialist who taught us about subacute bacterial endocarditis as it was called then. He had a beard that he could have smuggled a small squirrel in, and one day I witnessed him haul a catering manager over the counter of one of the medical school’s restaurants because he’d taken chips off the menu as part of a ‘healthy eating’ day. A cardiac specialist. Looking back, I suspect he was either a closet cannibal, or mainly sourced his protein from small squirrels.
While on the subject of deranged medics, there was also a medical student who was well-known for erratic behaviour. One day he was arrested by the police for suspected driving under the influence of alcohol. He was taken to the city’s central police station after refusing to provide a breath specimen. He was in the station for twenty minutes or so while the police awaited the arrival of the police surgeon to take a blood sample. As the police surgeon walked in, the student medic slumped to the ground and feigned an epileptic fit. The medic watched him perform for a couple of minutes. Legend has it, that the police surgeon kicked him in the nadgers in irritation. The student never actually specifically confirmed where he was kicked apart from it was “somewhere near Southwest Cornwall.” In my book, that IS the nadgers.
When we were promoted to the clinical part of the dental course, we started to meet the best of the dental aberrant.
The kings of the fruitcakes were situated in the periodontology department, as you’d expect. One well-known senior lecturer, a thoroughly nice man, seemed to be trying and succeeding in emulating the physical appearance of Harpo Marx, while the head of the department was once caught, by me, stripped to the waist in a seminar room, while supposedly supervising a student periodontology clinic. I tried to track him down to sign me up after a root-planing and was directed by the head nurse to the seminar room. As I walked in, he was dressed in tight leather trousers and what I remember as riding boots, French polishing the seminar room table. He signed me up, without checking the patient and gave me a look which indicated that I must never utter a word of this event to anyone else on the planet, or else I would die in mysterious circumstances.
Sometime in the fourth year, we were due to have a mid-term periodontology examination. A rumour went around that someone in the year had been given a glimpse of the exam paper and had passed it around a select number of students. Another faction within my year caught wind of this and went to the head of the perio department to complain. When the exam came, they had set it at a postgraduate doctoral level and there was nothing on the paper that anyone could answer. We all failed. As I say, kings of the fruitcakes.
Then there was a junior restorative dentistry lecturer, again, a perfectly pleasant man (a rarity in my dental school), who happened to be collecting his Fellowship in Dental Surgery from the Royal College of Surgeons on the same day I was collecting my LDS badge. This lecturer fancied himself as a bit of a lady’s man and was visually, like a bouffant Barry Gibb. On this particular day, and no one had told us, the late Princess Diana (who was imposingly tall) was to receive an honorary fellowship. After the ceremony, she walked into a room we were having tea and coffee in. I witnessed close up, the pathetic sight of him on his tippy-toes trying to woo the wife of the heir to the throne, with a bit of jammy dodger in the corner of his beard.
And dental personnel who had been let out into the community were no saner.
I once worked in a practice where the principal had to be taken into hospital by ambulance one day with central chest pain. His wife, who was practice manager, reluctantly cancelled his morning and not the afternoon, just in case the rest in A&E did him some good and he could work the afternoon. That was the practice where the PM had been opening my child GA extraction referrals before they were posted, so he could do them himself in practice with his dodgy anaesthetic equipment. I left not long after discovering that. He DID work the afternoon, by the way.
There was a principal I once worked with, in the days before computers, who insisted on sending off claims forms himself and wouldn’t trust anyone else to do it. We used to watch him go to the post-box across the street. He’d put his hand right in up to the elbow to make sure the envelope was in. He’d start to walk back to the practice, stop, turn around and then go back and put his arm back in, just to check the forms weren’t going to fall out. He’d do this a couple of times before he was satisfied. He repeated this performance all the time I worked with him.
Another quirk of his, was that no matter how late he arrived in the morning (he was one of those dentists for whom running late didn’t stress him), he would mousse his hair before he started work, even in front of the patients in the waiting room. I have to say, I did thank him for this quirk. He encouraged me to use it, and for that, I’m eternally grateful. Up until that point, I always had the hairstyle of Blackadder The First.
I could go on about the crown technician whose hobby and side line was making beautifully crafted dildos, the vile idiot dentist who invited a technician to his practice on the pretence of offering him work, only to, in front of his staff, say “Here’s a sponge and bucket. Wash my car.”
I could tell you about the principal I worked for who was (without foundation) convinced a gypsy was out to kill him and used to hide every time he saw the man’s name on his colleague’s list, or the pillock who bought my practice, who tried to take the cost of a packet of interdental brushes off the purchase price on the day the sale went through, when she witnessed my receptionist sell a packet of TePe’s
I will tell you about my nurse, who used to be a fire-eater. She used to do ‘gigs’ at festivals. More often than not, she’d have an escape of paraffin oil at the corners of her mouth with a little bit of consequent scorching. Most Mondays she used to come in looking like an anaemic, half-hearted Dracula.
As I say, more than a bit odd.
Come to think of it, I think I started the serial killer gypsy rumour.