Bits and Pieces

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Damned Teeth

I have wisdom teeth coming through. In fact, I've had them coming through in what seem to be fortnight long, excrutiatingly painful stages for many years now, and every time they make a dash to escape from my gums I load myself full of painkillers until I become immune from their analgesic wonders and sleep a fitful three hours a night.

Why do I put myself through this? I hear you ask. OK, I don't actually hear you, because you're probably several thousand miles away from me, and even if we were in the same room you'd probably only think it in your head. Shut up, I'm getting off track.

Anyway, here in the UK we have a national health service. Essentially we get free medical treatment for all, and we pay for this (OK, so it's not entirely free) with income tax, national insurance and all the other little ways the government bend us over and ass-fuck us until small change pours out of our mouths (by the by, petrol prices here just reached the wrong side of £1/litre (that's about $7/gallon), a lot of which consists of fuel tax). Theoretically, we can come down with any ailment, wander in to the local hospital and they'll fix us up for free - without having to worry about our insurance carrier rejecting our claim or, worse, not having insurance at all.

Of course, it doesn't quite work like that. When, earlier this year, my brother developed a series of medical problems as a result of contracting malaria while teaching in India, he was kept in hospital for over three weeks doing nothing much apart from vomiting and steadily turning skeletal with only the occasional visit from anyone with medical qualifications, and he was eventually discharged without diagnosis.

Another example. A good friend of mine, we'll call him J. to protect his pride, has for years had two small cysts - one on each side of his face - just below the jawline. They didn't look bad and never hurt, so he figured they were nothing to worry about - until this week. One of them became infected and, in the space of four days, swelled to the size of half a golf ball and filled with pus. On the second day, while it was still only tender and a little inflamed, J. visited his GP (general practitioner) who prescribed a short course of antibiotics to treat it and sent him on his way. They did nothing, and yesterday evening I got a call at work from J. asking for a ride to the hospital. When I picked him up a few hours later he was clearly shaken and proceeded to describe what he called 'the most horrific experience of my life'. I won't go into detail, but it involves an ineffective anaesthetic, a scalpel, about half a pint of blood and pus and an iodine wrap inserted into the cheek. I felt sickened just listening to it.

The problem is that when he asked if the doctor could book him in to have the other cyst removed - lest he have to go through the same disgusting and extremely painful draining process again - he was met with the reply "Not until it gets infected". The NHS is so painfully understaffed that my brother lies in hospital for three weeks and sees a doctor a grand total of twice, while my best friend can't have a routing preventative procedure unless the thing he's trying to prevent actually comes about.

All this, of course, as is routine in everything I write, has very little to do with my original point. What I was trying to say is that, even despite these painfully obvious flaws in our health service, we have it pretty good. J. was treated within 90 minutes of walking into an emergency room on a Friday night, and that's not bad in any country. So, all in all we can be fairly proud of our health service.

With one exception. Dental treatment is not covered by the NHS. Even though I contributed several thousand pounds to the government last year, without requiring any medical treatment whatsoever, if I was to present myself in an emergency room in unbearable pain from 4 wisdom teeth that are actually forcing all my teeth out of place as I write this (to the point at which I can see the dentine - the inner substance of your teeth - at the base of one of my incisors) I would be either sent home or to the emergency dentist for treatment that I would have to fork out even more money for.

Why is this? Why, in a health service in which some people manage to get free breast enlargements, surgery for impotence and even treatments for baldness (all to assist those who suffer from low self esteem and clinical depression, I am assured) I can't have my damned wisdom teeth removed?

Why is the alligator ornery? Cause he got too many teeth in his mouth. That's all I'm sayin'.
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