If you’re squeamish, skip this post and spend the next five minutes thinking about kittens

Buddy, you look how I feel.

I spend the days leading up to my surgery trying frantically to reduce the amount of sweet-mother-of-Lucifer stress that this impending sick leave is going to cause for my work. I also make sure to eat as much crunchy stuff as I possibly can before I would be reduced to a purée-only diet. When I tell our company chairman that I will be taking medical leave for the surgery he replies, ‘Well, that’s your fault for having such a small head.’ I try to get as much as I can done and then it’s time; my boss gives me a sad-eyed smile as I leave, the kind of facial expression people give their dogs before they are put to sleep. Ohgodohgodohgod; here we go.

The surgeon greets me in mugh higher spirits than the last time we met and he leads me into the operation suite, where I lie down on the scary dentists’ recliner and have my hair put into a special surgical showercap. The nurse puts a bib on me, and the surgeon puts on his sterile cap: it is printed with a design of cavemen using computers and calculators, which distresses me almost as much as the thought of the surgery.  The surgeon nods at the nurse and she turns on the stereo: “I TRY TO DISCOVERRRRR…A LITTLE SOMETHIN TO MAKE ME SWEETURRRR…” Oh god, I am about to have my face cut open to the tune of Erasure.


Out comes the syringe, and the surgeon fills my whole jaw with anaesthetic. The nurse is sweet, and kind, and squeezes my shoulder as I wince with every injection. The surgeon takes a hook implement and pulls my cheek open and sideways, then takes a scalpel and slices the gum around the tooth. He twinks and twonks with some kind of pointy implement for a while, then gets out a large burr and starts to grind away the tooth and the bone surrounding it; I glare at the IT-cavemen trying not to cry. The nurse strokes my cheek, and then the surgeon gets a pair of wire-cutters and says, ‘You will now feel a crack – nicht erschrecken!’ He begins to snap my tooth into small pieces using the pliers, but it’s a tough tooth and takes a long time, while the stereo is now playing 1980’s synth covers of ABBA classics. I don’t think I can explain the sensation of having your tooth cracked into pieces inside your head.

Finally it is over and he tries to pull out the pieces of tooth, but they won’t come, so it’s time to grind and crack some more, while the nurse keeps touching my cheek and saying ‘Nicht erschrecken!’. Finally and with a sweaty grunt from the surgeon the roots of the tooth come out and the wound is sutured shut. At least I get stitches; that’s pretty kickass, I think. The surgeon looks up at the nurse and says, ‘You can change over now, Heike,’ and the kindly nurse leaves, and a different nurse takes over. I want to ask the nice one to please stay, but my entire face has turned into plumber’s putty from the nose down. The top tooth comes out quickly and without much ado, but the new nurse keeps scraping the suction tube across my palate which makes me choke a little each time.

Then we move on to the lower left tooth; when he cuts my gum open it is immediately clear that the injections haven’t worked and I squeal for more anaesthetic. It’s time for more grinding and snapping, grinding and snapping, and this time the tooth is presenting solid resistance to our best efforts to evict it. There’s a big snap and little particles of gory bits fly up onto the surgeon’s safety glasses. This is one of the most surreal, horrifying experiences I’ve ever gone through, and I can’t stop looking at the cavemen working away on their computers wondering what the message is behind this inexplicable fabric design. How do these cavemen have access to computers? And why are they wearing tigerskin tunics if they feel the need to smarten things up with a tie? What is their job in this prehistoric office? And why did someone feel this would be a great design for a surgical cap? And why did a surgeon agree, and purchase it, thinking ‘Ohoho, this is hilarious, this is SO me!’

After about ten attempts to pull out the bits of tooth, finally and with great effort they come out, and the surgeon shows them to the nurse behind my head – she simply goes ‘Oha!!’, which is German for ‘Whoa!!’ My cheeks are packed with cotton balls, I am given a face wash and the chair whirrs back to an upright position – the room spins briefly. ‘If you see here, the roots of your teeth made them very hard to remove.’ The surgeon holds up one of the roots, which is curved in an almost semicircular hook with a little kink at the end, the rat-bastard. The surgeon gives me a taut smile, nods, and then leaves the room. ‘Now, your face is already pretty swollen, but the swelling will continue to grow for the next three days – nicht erschrecken!’ says the nurse. ‘Put these ice packs on there, we will prescribe you some pain medication. Don’t get too much direct sunlight on your face.’ She leads me into the lobby and then wanders off. I stand in the middle of the lobby, blinking, wobbling slightly like a toddler lost in a supermarket. Clearly, that’s the end.

After I’ve had a few deep breaths, I suddenly feel invincible. I am unbreakable!! I can survive anything!! I will take over the world! I tie a scarf around my face, which is now nice and puffy, and – yes – cycle home, feeling like dynamite. I come home, sit down, and gradually things stop being quite so dynamite. The first night I curl into a ball in my bed and count down every single one of the seven hours to go until I can take my next pain pill.
What’s the point of this post? What’s the message? I don’t think there is one; it was a traumatic thing to go through and I’m still in a lot of pain. But I hope that anyone who reads this can at least derive a positive conclusion from the whole thing. There is a reason why my thighs are so big and muscly: it’s because I just keep on marching on. I have to. We all have to. Sometimes there isn’t anyone there to hold your hand or drive you home. You always have to be ready to grit your teeth (oosh, bad choice of phrase), clench your fists and bash through a rough time. You can’t give up and go home; you have to keep going, get your groceries even though people are staring at your enormous throbbing cheeks, get into bed even if a sleepless night seems likely. How do you get strong enough to push through hard times? By pushing through hard times. 
After all, if cavemen can learn Microsoft Excel, anything is possible.

Rose T