Night of the long knives

I’ve had a dodgy tooth for a while now but my dentist assured me there was nothing wrong that a bout of using mouthwash and diligent flossing wouldn’t cure.  So I embarked on a course of oral hygiene and thought things were moving along swimmingly when, the day before yesterday, I made the mistake of masticating a bowl of chilled yogurt using both sides of my mouth and a sudden jolt of pain hit me in the temples.

Since then, life has been lived on the precipice. The rest of that day wasn’t too bad. The pain came and went, but I found I could hold it at bay with judicious applications of toothpaste, a couple of turns of dental floss, and a warm water jet played onto the twitching nerve. Yesterday, though, the men’s group was convening at the homestead, and as host,  I was under considerable mental strain, so it was hardly surprising that my tooth should flare up just before the arrival of my fellow conversationalists. Clutching my head in my hands, actively tearing at my hair as if the pain of pulling it out by its roots might somehow deflect my mind from the hot racking sensation in my jawbone, I rummaged in drawers and cupboards for my stash of old painkillers.

I found aspirin, paracetamol and co-codomol. I dimly remembered having been in this situation before, and in desperation gone to Accident and Emergency, where I was a told to pop into Sainsbury’s and buy two different painkillers, and take both. What I couldn’t remember was which ones they were. I hot footed it down to the chemist, where I asked for the best option for toothache. I was sold Panadol, which proclaimed on its cover, “Nobody hits pain with such force“. The girl at the counter assured me the effect would ‘kick in’ within fifteen minutes. I swallowed two tabs before I had reached the pavement.

The Panadol proved useless, as did tooth brushing, toothpaste smearing, warm water jetting, and anything else I could think of. Remembering that other trick from Accident and Emergency, I quaffed a mouthful of ice cold water, titled my head back, so the dodgy tooth was immersed, recoiled from the stunning shock of my pain threshold being momentarily overwhelmed, and then basked in astonished relief as all discomfort ebbed away.

I couldn’t understand why this worked; or why its effect should only last ten to fifteen minutes; but for the rest of the day I wandered around with a beaker of cold water in my hand, quaffing regularly. After the elapse of a decent interval since trying Panadol, I swallowed some Aspirin, which was equally useless. The men’s group came and went; and I even managed to watch a film – Breaking Glass – afterwards, about a celebrated journalist who it turned out had made the majority of his stories up.

Going to bed was the start of a much sterner test of character than I was ready for. I followed all the time honoured rituals. Foaming tooth brushing, repeated flossing, gargling with Hydrogen Peroxide, warm water jets, but to no avail. Then, I ate some Co Codomol. The pain seemed to have reached a plateau from which it was difficult to shift. Driven to distraction, I returned to the cold water treatment. Immediate, blessed relief!

I slid into bed. I was drifting off to sleep, marvelling that something so simple as icy water – all the more astonishing, since it was cold that had set my tooth off in the first place – should do the trick, when I sensed the first tendrils of returning unease. I laughed it away. Surely, the Aspirin would see off any return of  …  suddenly, pain engulfed me, as if I had stepped under a deluge. I yanked myself upright, took a mouthful of cold water from the glass by the bed, tilted my head, immersed my tooth, grimaced in shock, sighed with relief, and then sank back down into the pillows.

Ten minutes later, again on the edge of sleep, a shaft of pain caused me to repeat my actions. This recurred several times, until my water supply ran out. I sipped in desperation at my dry glass, the pain yowling in my head like the noise of a demented dog, before running to the kitchen and sucking some fresh, numbing elixir straight from the tap. Tilting my head and shuddering, I noticed the time. Half past midnight. Wonderful.

Returning to bed, I realised I should have had a piss. All this water drinking was affecting my bladder. The next hour passed in a twitching manoeuvre of sitting up, slurping water, tilting my head, grimacing with pain, sighing with relief, folding myself back into a horizontal position, to hover on the edge of sleep, before being summoned back to wakefulness by another round of pain.

Once again, the glass ran dry. For some reason, I never thought to fill two glasses as once. Four or five times during the night, I got up, ran the tap, slurped a mouthful, tilted my head while refilling my glass, and yelped with pain. Then, I would slaver with relief, go and have a piss, and clamber back into bed. On each occasion, I checked the clock, and seemed dumbfounded by the fact I should be enduring such torments at such ungodly hours. At various times, I swallowed some more Co Codimol, rubbed garlic on the tooth – a major error, setting off a long period of deterioration – found and took some homeopathic remedy, brushed my teeth, stared at myself in the mirror, considered praying, all to no avail.

By the morning, I was shuddering with disquiet, wearing a palsied demeanour that only a long, hot shower could efface. Happily, I had noticed during the night that lying flat seemed to accentuate the pain, which made getting up for the final time less bitter than might otherwise have been the case.

I clearly needed a new dentist! I shot off to town, signed on as an NHS patient, and then had to undergo the tricky business of explaining why I needed an immediate appointment as opposed to the four week wait everyone else was being fobbed off with. I got a slot for Monday; so that left three more nights of torture to endure, unless I could equip myself with something more powerful in the way of pain relief.

I took a tour of the Chemists, where there was much debate, after I told them none of the readily available painkillers worked. The conclusion was, I would do best by gargling and then swallowing whisky.

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