The dental practice has been rebranded, so it's now called the Smile Centre, with smiling designer-clad young women and a new waiting room with plasma TV. Somewhat nervously, I asked to see the price list. I had about £100 in my pocket, having just picked up my reirement pension at the Post Office. I suspected the bill might be more than I was carrying, and my bank account is bare. Some of the treatments on the "Smile" part of the menu were startling, running into four figures...
Emergency treatment £85, planned extraction £50. These items seemed like the clinical equivalent of starters on a restaurant menu, prawn cocktail or something spread on tiny squares of toast. I feared treating my septic upper jaw would cost the equivalent of lobster thermidor or something stuffed with truffles, but the dentist took pity on me when I asked him to tell me if I could afford treatment, and I got away with paying him £65.
I had to have two goes at getting numbed-up, because infection interferes with the take-up of local anaesthetic (he said), and his first attempt at removing my miserable molar stump was pretty painful. At the second attempt, and after drilling, pulling and pushing, the bad tooth yielded in three sulky pieces.
I identified quite strongly with that tooth. It had inhabited the cavern of my mouth for, I estimate, about 68 years, and had crunched through a mountain of comestibles over nearly seven decades. I can understand its reluctance to give way to sudden tugs and hostile wrenches from a stranger, and I wonder if I shall show as much reluctance and obstinacy when the time comes for me to give up my hold on life? Shall I, like the molar, cling hopelessly on? Well, I admit, until now, I've preferred to think of myself as - if not a shining example of good grace at the end - at least not as a frightful, fearful, curmudgeon, snarling and/or pleading for a bit longer.
This rather new owning up to not being ready for death is welcome and timely. I have built up an enormous repertoire of vain opinions and over-valued ideas over the years, including well-aired ideas on death, and only very rarely have I been challenged about them by people who know me. There have been a few honourable exceptions, people who have called a spade a bloody hypocrite. You know who you are and I salute you with belated thanks. First for having the guts to tell me what I needed to hear, and second for not writing me off as a totally lost cause.
Don't misunderstand me, I'm not about to throw all my opinions overboard, not quite, and not just yet. But something has dawned on me, a new state of mind provisionally labelled "maybe you don't know as much as you thought you did"; I feel a bit lighter and free-er, less tethered to certainty, and in the end it didn't hurt much, and it didn't cost more than I could afford.