Things came to a head this morning; early this morning at about 4 a.m. in the small hours. Since the end of last week I have been having problems with toothache. At first it was an episodic pang when I bit down on something, followed by a dull ache which last up to an hour or so. On Friday I tried to see my dentist before the weekend started but discovered that he was not at work due to ill-health on his own part. I took the receptionist’s advice on how to contact the emergency NHS dental services, should I need to, and got ready to cope over the weekend.
Friday night was bearable. I slept fitfully and the pain only required me to rise once to take painkillers. Through Saturday there were few gaps in the pain other than those obtained by generous doses of paracetamol and ibuprofen. These two in combination seemed to work for about 4 hours and although this was adequate through the day it meant I was not prepared for the night.
Saturday night/ Sunday morning was dreadful. I woke in the early hours and took my meds (a dose over the maximum for paracetamol) to discover now that they only afforded 3 hours relief at maximum. The hour after they have stopped working when you have to wait to take the next dose is one of the longest hours I have known. Time passes even more slowly in the dark of night with no distractions. By 6 a.m. I was on the phone to the emergency NHS line and discovered where the three emergency clinics were in my area. I was told they opened at 9a.m. but to get there as early as possible as treatment was on a first come first served basis and there was a limit to the number of slots available.
Now the three clinics were hardly convenient, this is one of the penalties of rural life, and all required a 1 1/2 to 2 hour drive to reach. We chose the nearest and after a quick milking of the goats we were off (The goats were quite surprised to be milked in the dark but took this in their stride. The roads were empty on an early Sunday morning and we made good time. We arrived at 8:15, well in time for a clinic opening at 9a.m., or so we thought. As we left the car, a lady walked up to the car parked next ours. “There’s no chance of an appointment” she said “I’m just back from the other clinics and they are all fully booked too“. Ever optimistic we went into the clinic anyway.
In the waiting area were at least 20 people all clutching their head or face, some showing signs of having been crying and other with facial swellings suggesting dental abscesses. Then we realised we had seen a similar number of people outside. Car were parked and couples inside sat with their heads in their hands either through pain or despair.
This is where I met the lady with the worst job in the world. The receptionist behind the desk listened politely and kindly to my tale of toothache and early morning long-distance drives to get help and then, very nicely, told me that there was nothing she could do. 20 patients had arrived earlier than me and that was their limit, perhaps I’d like to try again tomorrow ? As she told me this, she took two phone calls during which she informed the caller that they were too late (08:30 for a clinic that started at 09:00) and there was no point in coming in. As we were finishing up an elderly lady, with a swollen cheek, and in clear pain arrived at the desk and started to go through her story. I didn’t want to watch but as we left I heard the words “sorry” and “too late” and I could guess the rest. Walking back to the car we saw two more cars arrive the occupants looking optimistic when they saw the sign for ‘Dental Clinic’ and realised the lights were on (as it was till dark). I could not dash their hopes and left them to walk down to reception.
I can not imagine a worse job that that receptionist’s. She had to sit and meet people suffering pain, and seeking aid, and let them know there was nothing for them. She had no sops she could offer and no excuses. The service just isn’t there. She was excellent at her job. She was kindly and I fear anyone less skilled, or perhaps curt, would have run the risk of provoking violence form their distressed clientele. The idea of starting a shift knowing that the morning will comprise of telling people in pain that they must go away, as there is no help available for them, would fill me with dread. It needs somebody kind and compassionate to do this job but I fear the job will harden the heart of the worker and make them unsuitable for the post. Hopefully the lady today will be moved to another post where her excellent people skills will be able to be used in an more positive manner and she might get some of the feedback she deserves.
Anyway the hunt for a dentist restarts tomorrow and tonight I have a cunning plan which involves quite a bit of whisky – wish me luck !