Brian's Blogs

Overcoming the Pain Barrier

A hospital's consulting dietician was giving a lecture to several community nurses. “The rubbish we put into our stomachs and consume should have killed most of us sitting here, years ago,” she said. “Red meat is terrible. Fizzy drinks attack your stomach lining. Chinese food is loaded with msg. Vegetables can be disastrous because of fertilisers and pesticides and none of us realises the long-term damage being done by the rotten bacteria in our drinking water. However, there is one food that is incredibly dangerous and we all have, or will, eat it at some time in our lives.
“Now, is anyone here able to tell me what food it is that causes the most grief and suffering for years after eating it?”
A 65-year-old nursing sister sitting in the front row stood up and said, “Wedding cake.”

When I was very young and living in the UK, we were often warned that whatever we did we should NEVER try eating the wild mushrooms found in many of Britain’s woodland areas. To the uninitiated, there are very many more varieties of highly poisonous toadstools than there are edible mushrooms, and the logic was quite clear: you have a much higher probability of being poisoned than not!

A few years later, I would like to add my own caution to this list of foods to be wary of. I am talking of nothing less than that infamous breakfast dish invented just over a century ago by Swiss physician Maximilian Bircher-Benner. Translated into English as “mush”, his Muesli would remind many of rabbit food, with lots of sawdusty oats, a few shrivelled raisins and, if you’re lucky, an odd shaving or two of hazelnut.

I am wandering aimlessly (as one does) down the aisle of my local supermarket here in Beijing wondering what on earth to get for the next few days’ food intake, when my eyes hit upon some packets of muesli imported from Germany. Never having been much of a muesli fan in the past, I am tempted (yes, I’m afraid I have to admit it) and buy a 500gm packet filled with all kinds of nuts, dried fruit and oats and proudly bear it home along with the other plastic bags of rice, dried fish and chicken’s innards that is fast becoming my staple diet here..

The next morning I am watching a particularly thrilling edition of 6+1 on CCTV3 as I pour my new cereal into a bowl, smother it with gloopy Chinese ‘castor’ sugar, drown it in milk and set to with a large spoon.

I never do find out who wins 6+1 that day. Instead intense pain sets in simultaneously as tears well up in my eyes after biting into what feels like a sugar encrusted pebble. I curse Dr Bircher-Benner and swear to return to boring old cornflakes or cholesterol-laden omelettes in the future.

By night time the pain is intense - severe toothache in the lower jaw, which I attempt to shoo away with an industrial strength ibuprofen. By the next day the pain is also to be felt in the upper jaw and I am soon destined to become an industrial-strength-ibuprofen junkie.

I ask around at work if anyone can recommend a dentist in the vicinity. As it happens, Renee says she has been to a wonderful dentist at the China Japan Friendship Hospital, not a spitting distance from the office. “Give Dr Qi a ring and tell her that Sharon recommended her,” says Renee. (I find out later her real name is Sharon. Surely the Sharon-Tracy syndrome* can’t have travelled to far-flung San Diego can it? [*: For those not in-the-know, try Googling ‘Sharon Tracy Essex’.])

I try ringing Dr Qi. I try eMailing Dr Qi. But Dr Qi is either not around or is overrun by recommendees of Renee/Sharon.

The next morning, I set off to walk the spitting distance to the China Japan Friendship Hospital. As I enter the grounds, there are row upon row of mugshot boards with mini-biographies of each of the ‘mugs’ being featured. Dr Qi may well be there, but as I don’t know what she looks like, nor know how to spell Qi in Chinese, I don’t bother to search for very long.

Instead I stride over manfully to the Outpatient Treatment entrance … and am immediately shooed away again.

How can I have been so cavalier? I haven’t even visited the Outpatient Registration Centre first…

But Outpatient Registration aren’t interested either. “You American?” I am asked by a kindly looking nurse. “No, I’m Blitish…. er British” I reply, before being shown out the door and told to find International Outpatients. “Look for the backside,” I am told. But she is gone before I can ask her whose backside I should be searching for.

I wander down a long road in the direction in which she has pointed. The road seems to be a favourite for graffiti artists. Tableau after tableau of some quite stunning works,

followed by a few words on a white background.

“Plain wails for all”, it reads. I wonder if what is actually meant is “Plain walls for all”… or perhaps “Pain Wails for all” (given that it is in hospital grounds) … or maybe someone is making a political statement: “Palin wails for all”? I guess I will never know.

But a bit further on is a rather quaint ‘make love not war’ rendition as I turn the corner into the International entrance.

Yes, this has to be the right place, I think, as I pass a couple of fully veiled women clutching carrier bags with Saudi Arabian flags gracing their sides (the bags, not the women! Or maybe they are ‘old bags’?), whilst to the right are a couple of Germans talking in animated voices.

To the left of the main entrance is a rather nice sculpture of two horses (or are they giraffes?), even if they are somewhat anatomically suspect. But I remind myself that this is a hospital, not a vet’s clinic; though I do wonder why a foal would have its head sticking out of its bottom?

I walk in and follow the signs to International Outpatients…..

… where I easily find the registration desk and ask if it would be possible to see a dentist. No problem, I am told. Go down the corridor, turn left, then right and you will find the dentist there. I do as I am told but have to return a few minutes later to admit that I can’t find the dentistry department at all. One of the reception nurses stops short of rolling her eyes heavenwards and leads me down the corridor.

We turn left; we turn right; and there in front of us is a large sign which reads Stomatology.

Ah, maybe you not speak English either? says nurse helpfully, trying to ease my “embarrassment” at not understanding a simple word like Stomatology (BTW, if you use an MS Word spell checker it offers to retype it as Teratology – not that it would make me any the wiser!) . Where you from, she asks? Errr, England, I say, as nurse this time does raise her eyes and wanders back along the corridor.

I am reminded of the famous 1980s advertisement for British Telecom in which a doting grandmother receives news of her grandson’s poor exam results. On finding that he passed Pottery she observes that “people will always need plates”; and then on finding that the other subject he passed was sociology she declares “an ology! He gets an ology and he says he failed. You get an ology and you’re a scientist!”

I put my head around the door and speak to one of the resident ologists, explaining my predicament. It is clear that she hardly understands a word I am saying, but she nods kindly and points to a diary with a clear space in two days time, giving me a pen and signing that she wants me to write my name. I take this as a good omen and scribble in the book forthwith.

How I am going to get through the next two days is, of course a worry; but this renowned blogger isn’t known as Brian the Bold for nothing!

The Big Day arrives. The sun is shining through the haze; the birds are coughing through the smog; and B-the-B sets forth once more to the CJFH.

I take a different route this time into the hospital grounds and discover a pleasant sitting area with a statue of a famous blind Buddhist monk who travelled to Japan in the 8th century dominating the area.

Somewhat further on I pass another ‘ology’ unit – presumably this is where I take my Samsung Galaxy if its operating system gets corrupted?

There’s even a Nuclear medicine department, and this being the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, I can’t help ruminating on whether they helped the Fukushima victims?

I return to the Registration desk once more. I am asked to fill in a form with my details which are then transcribed by a pretty young thing to the computer. I apologise for my poor handwriting (in CAPITAL LETTERS) when she asks me if my name really is BPIAH SAITEB; so I lean over the desk and press the requisite keys for her to save her any more embarrassment.

Soon I am the proud owner of a CJFH ID card complete with barcode that is now swiped by everybody I pass, not least the cash office who charge me a ¥100 consultation fee.

I head on down to the Stomatology department (no, Mr Gates, not Teratology) and sit down in a well worn chair outside the door, picking up where I had last left off playing Angry Birds. The door opens and a kindly old woman, who I later find out is the famous Dr Qi, calls me in. She takes one look at a pig being smattered to smithereens by a triangular yellow bird and you can tell she is already thinking “we have a right one here”!

Poor old Dr Qi is not a patch on my blue eyed UK dentist who can look down into my mouth anytime as I lie back admiring the view. But she has kind eyes and her English is at least comprehensible – in parts.

She leads me into the dental room and bids me climb over a box to get to the chair. The walls are in desperate need of a coat of paint – a bit like my apartment, I think; but I forbear to offer to inform her where there is a good paint souq nearby.

For the next 10 minutes my mouth is prodded and poked from all sides and in all directions, before I am told that I have good fillings and strong teeth. But I have the pain here, I point to my upper right side jaw, just moments after she has been prodding down in the bottom left hand side.

I am informed that I have a chronic inflammation of the gum. “Let’s see what causing it,” she says.

Dr Qi walks over to the refrigerator and takes out a tray of ice cubes. I wonder to myself if this is where the staff come in the evening to drown their sorrows in a Mao Tai on the rocks.

But before I can continue with these thoughts, one of the ice cubes is placed into a pair of tongs and is then pressed against each of my teeth in turn.

“Say if this hurts,” says Qi.
“So you have a nerve,” Dr Qi exclaims.
I would like to tell her she has a nerve too, but that’s not so easy with a mouth full of someone else’s fingers, quite irrespective of the fact that she probably wouldn’t appreciate British humour anyway.

Next it is decided that I should have an X-Ray to see if it can shed any light on my discomfort. I climb over the box and make my way into the X-Ray room. This is not like anything I have experienced in the UK. No piece of X-Ray film stuffed into a holder on which I have to bite as the rays blast into my molars. Instead I am asked to put my finger in my mouth to hold in place a piece of cloth covered lead in which is contained a pick-up capsule.

Stay still, says the retiring radiologist as the door closes behind her, and then immediately walks back in again as an X-Ray image pops up on the computer screen. Dr Qi is delighted. “Here you nerve,” she says pointing to a dark grey line; “here you tooth”; “here you filling”; and she points with obvious enthusiasm at every little blob or shadow in the screen, adjusting the gamma factor up and down as she does so while giving a running commentary of everything she sees.

“So what exactly is the problem,” I ask.
“Ah, we find out. You be patient,” says the trusty doctor. “Next we use electric probe. You no worry. It low voltage. You no danger,” and Qi grins at her little joke that she obviously has trotted out a thousand times before.

I climb back to the safety of the dentist chair and open my mouth. “Say if you feel anything,” she says as I find myself jumping five inches out of the chair. “Ah, you feel yes?”
“Yes,” I agree, as indeed I do on another five occasions.

Her diagnosis finally comes. I have three dead nerves, probably killed by shock from the bullet on which I chewed. The pain I felt was the nerves actually going off to meet their maker. I am told that we need to open the wound, remove the dead nerves and drain the blood away.

OMG. Visions of leeches being applied come to mind; but the good doctor has other tortures in mind. “You can have injection if you like. I drill holes. But you big man. I sure you no need injection. Just raise you left hand if it hurt yes?”

But Dr Qi is as gentle as a lamb and I never need to raise my hand at all.

Next she is fishing inside the cavity with a wire rod. Eventually she withdraws it showing a little black thread-like object that I am told is the dead nerve. “Necrosis” she mutters and I try to work out if there are any parallels with necrophilia for the next 20 seconds before I tune into her wavelength and understand what she is on about. Two more such objects are produced magician-like before Dr Qi sits back contentedly.

“I think you have enough today. You come back again Monday yes?” It appears that I must let the root canal “breathe” over the weekend before returning to have it all sealed up again.

I look at my watch. I have been here for an hour and a half. Dr Qi is obviously pleased with her work. I am pleased with her work. I like Dr Qi.

We agree to meet once again on Monday and with a wave of her hand I am shown back into the corridor and pointed towards the cash office where I am relieved of the princely sum of ¥390 (AED190/£32).

I have to say that in retrospect I would willingly swap my UK blue-eyed babe with Dr Qi any day. Pain? Hey. I may be a heroic he-man who fears no pain, but in reality I hardly felt a thing. If only all dentists could be like this.

But I do wish she would paint those walls of hers.

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