There will always be a part of me in Berlin

No matter what your topic is, there will always be a wall in Neukoelln to match.

A few weeks ago, the excrement began to hit the air conditioning to a whole new level in the Anonymous Tourism Company for which I work. People went on extended sick leave, customers started flaming us online, hostels caught fire; I was working weekends, late shifts, answering the phone at all hours, putting up shower curtains and buying zany sunglasses and falling off my bike (but that’s another story) all over the city. My to-do list had turned into a to-do möbius strip. And then I started to feel a twinge and a slight hot pressure underneath one of my lower wisdom teeth.

The voices of Facebook recommended a dentist and I pelted over there one lunchtime shortly after. Behind an unmarked apartment-block door and up a disturbingly seedy-looking staircase I found the surgery, a strange little den with a waiting room full of brown velour furniture like at your great-aunt’s house. And I was nervous; as someone who cleans their teeth with religious, panicked fervour, never missing a single night of brushing with my expensive sonic brush, flossing with my fancy floss-thing, scrubbin’ away with a little interdental brush and then gulping up the Listerine, having a problem with my teeth is like spending your life as a devout nun and then going to Hell anyway.

The dentist was a lovely grey-haired man who began with the usual ‘Deutsch oder Englisch?’ and then, when I answered ‘Deutsch’, looked disappointed and said that he usually liked to practise on his patients (I presumed he was talking about his English and not his molar-extraction skills). After a long chat about my patient information form and the meaning inherent in the German term for the word ‘ambitious’, finally he stuck a mirror in my mouth and had a gander at the danger-tooth. And then he leaned back in his chair. It was time to practise English.

‘Frau [GMBerlin], you heff a super mouth hygiene,’ he said (and yes, this is verbatim), ‘aber da haben Sie eine Ticking Time Bomb.’

He offered to arrange an appointment for me to have the tooth, and the one on the other side, removed at 8am the following morning but when I turned pale green he consented to postpone the op to the Friday. And there it was; I was about to experience (minor) surgery in Germany for the first time. *gulp*

The surgery I was referred to is just off Friedrichstraße, the fanciest and most unpleasant stretch of posho Berlin. It is a dental surgery from the future; every single item in the entire place is white, the air sings with the gentle hiss of sterile equipment quietly running in a back room, and the reception desk is a long curved white altar, like a glacier in the middle of the floor. My nervousness drives me into the bathroom and I notice when I am washing my hands that there is a white dispenser full of hygiene-packed toothbrushes. This is clearly place that values teeth like the regency of an alien super-race. My colleagues have all prepared me for this experience by explaining in detail how agonisingly painful it is going to be. I am not calm. Finally I am called in and the surgeon is a man with a head shaped like a thumb and a dinky little white polo-shirt buttoned all the way up to his chin, making him look like Tweedle-dee.

I am immediately sent back out of the room to get an X-ray; they drape a heavy lead apron over my shoulders and place my chin on a little shelf in the middle of another white room, and I then bite down onto a little white stick while two white robotic cushions suddenly clamp my cheeks into place on either side of my head. ‘Nicht erschrecken!! (Don’t panic!!)’ says the nurse, before she leaves the room, and then a robot arm swirls around my head making futuristic noises and I wonder if they will be able to tell on the X-ray that I was trying dead hard not to laugh. ‘Holy cow, German healthcare is awesome!!’ I think.

I am brought back into the room and the surgeon is already regarding my X-ray with a black expression. There they are, my wisdom teeth, rakishly jutting sideways into my other teeth like they just don’t give a damn. 

‘Yes, as you can see, your wisdom teeth are growing perpendicular to your other teeth,’ says the surgeon. ‘It isn’t good, Frau [GMBerlin]. This wisdom tooth here already has a cavity and there is an infection in the jawbone beneath it. This one on the other side is about to do the same. This one on the top is growing into the roots of your other teeth which will be a disaster in the future, and this other top one…well, I can’t even tell which direction that one is going in so it may well be extending into the fourth dimension.’ My face matches the white walls by now. ‘This is going to be a very serious procedure; your wisdom teeth are all very close to your major oral nerves, and there is a risk of permanent nerve damage, and also a chance that your jaw might break. I will need to remove some bone from the jaw anyway to properly remove the teeth in question. I am legally obliged to make you take at least 24 hours to come to terms with the risks of the procedure. Also, here is a form for you to sign acknowledging that you have understood the risks and will not sue me. Good! Now let’s arrange for you to come back next week for the procedure!’ He squinted his eyes and stretched his lips across – I think it was supposed to be a reassuring smile.

I staggered out of the surgery and sat in the stairwell for a while, hugging my knees.

Tune in tomorrow to read part 2 – the gory part…

Rose T