You know life is poking fun at you when you expect the worst scenario, it turns out to be a non event. But when you least expect things to happen, it pours buckets. Take for instance my secondary schooldays. Mr. Gopinath aka “Kopi”, our Indian Math teacher, whose diminutive size was made up by his legendary temper and discipline. On hindsight, We should have nickname him as “The Hair Dryer”. What happened was when “Kopi” wanted to pulverize a student (with a good reason of course), he would stride up to the victim until their bellies touched, then with his nose just 0.1 cm from the boy’s, (or his chin, if he’s taller) hollered till the poor boy’s hair straightened like he’d ridden a motorbike at 150 mph without a helmet.
So imagine my trepidation one day, when I forgot to finish my math homework. To say I was a bundle of jellyfish is a total understatement. I was a total wreck, and even considered truanting. But when his class came, he continued until the bell rang forgetting to get us to pass up our work! Talk about being saved by the bell. My body went limp with relief until the duty-bound monitor stood up to remind him of the homework! My body stiffen again. Die! If there’s one thing Suffer-no-fool “Kopi” detested was students not completing their homework and he could check that out easily just by counting the number of our exercise books. Just when I was hoping that my guardian angel would wave a magic wand and finish my homework, “Kopi” said benevolently “Pass up tomorrow”! I tell you I could have hug my next table classmate with a “whoopee!!!”
Somehow, sometimes, one day, most man would have to face the prospect of having to make a decision to visit the dentist or not. What I am saying is that there are many options when it comes to visiting the dentist:-
One. You succumb to your wife’s taunting (that you are a wimp), swallow hard and go just to prove her wrong.
Two. You can feint “too busy” and let your teeth rot and stink to high heavens then when the pain gets so unbearable, you swallow hard again and succumb to your wife’s second taunting and go.
Three. You can mint-spray your mouth when you need to speak, and let the teeth rot and stink to high heaven….
Four. You can use it to fend off kid encyclopedia salesmen who pop up so often nowadays….
Five. You can shop for shampoo in peace at the local supermarket….
Heck, I can easily go up to ten, but then David Lettermen may plagiarize them for his Top Ten without giving me credit. Besides, there is the question of the welfare of the teeming millions of bacteria living in my tooth at my generosity. Never mind, she wouldn’t understand.
Actually, whatever taunting my wife threw at me, I can toss them aside nonchalantly and magnanimously in the spirit of marital harmony. But what touched my raw nerve (how apt), was the fact that she had a set of perfect teeth, which she flaunted so mercilessly at me, knowing that all my upper front teeth and molars are gone except for a half rotten canine tooth, or what was left of it.
Coupled that with the unfortunate fact that God had bestowed on my wife a sense of smell keener than a pack of bloodhounds combined, you can imagine the family discord generated by my putrid mouth as a result of my going for the second and subsequent options. It would come a day when I ran out of options and that day was last week. For my final defense, I wanted to plead insanity, but knowing she could definitely smell something fishy, so I use the timeless “financial” reason. Alas, that was my undoing.
“Go to the government clinic!” she said, “It costs only two ringgit”.
Two miserable ringgit to extract a tooth! No wonder the Minister of Finance always reported a deficit on Budget Day and Barisan National always won elections. In fact, truth be told, Malaysian enjoy an incredible high standard when it comes to medical care of its people and I (me and my big mouth) am a testimony to that.
In fact I was quite skeptical of the level of service by government doctors/dentists. I mean if it costs only RM2 to extract a tooth, or getting an injection for common cold, and a lot more, why do people still queue up and cough up easily RM50 for a treatment at the private clinics? Or when it cost only in the hundreds for surgery, private hospitals still charge in the thousands, and want you to pay upfront before they even want to take a peek into your anatomy. Watch out for my verdict at the end about their professionalism (or the lack of it)in my adventure into the government dental clinic at Jalan Masjid, Kuching.
So the die was cast, as my wife triumphantly flipped the calendar and jabbed at a date - 4th November, 2008, the day Americans went to vote for a new president. Talk about making history. Or a milestone in one’s life. For in the next few days, I was to face the date like the three Bali bombers faced their execution, not so much with relish or eagerness that Amrozi felt welling in his gut being a martyr for his religion, but being martyr for my wife’s supposed sanity and sanitary disposition, my oral health not withstanding.
November is usually a rainy month and that gloomy morning when we (yes she came too, quietly gleeful, I suspect) stepped into the waiting room with scores of youngsters, oldsters, uncles, aunties and all who had regretted giving in to their sweet tooth or for one reason or another, forgot to brush their teeth, sat glumly like waiting for their turn at the guillotine.
As for me, I was more fidgety than a chain-smoking first time father-to-be outside the maternity ward, in fact if they allow smoking while I wait, I think I would, for that would make me cough so bad the dentist might postpone the extraction.
At last my name was shrilly called and I trudged to the dental room. The moment of tooth! I mean truth! I mean if women giving birth can have their husbands by their bedside, holding hands and encouraging “breathe in... breathe out… push!” How come they don’t allow dental patient like me to have my spouse besides me holding my jaw down saying “Relax! This is not an electric chair!” Whatever. I climbed into the Electric Chair and sat down, I mean inclined down, with four round powerful industrial strength light bulbs shining into my face. I grimaced at the light and shut my eye tight.
Enter the nurses.
“Say ahh” A voice spoke.
“mmmm?” I hmmmed
“Aaarr……..” I heard a sweet lady’s voice and a very patient one at that.
I slowly opened my tightly shut eyes.
A waif-like fragile lady with face half-hidden by a surgical mask, a pair of beautiful eyes underneath a tudong*, appeared out of nowhere. (*tudong = Malaysian version of the Muslim hijab)
Wait a second, SHE’S a dentist?
Too late to protest I suppose, as I thought all dentists were bespectacled middle aged men
with massive strong hands from years of yanking stubborn teeth.
As my both hands gripped the chair’s handle. I could swear sweats of fear dripped from my brow, as my body tightened.
“Uncle, badan lembut, okay?” She sang cheerily.
“Soften your body”? I am the one who’s getting my tooth plucked with a stainless steel plier and by a lady, and you are telling me to “soften your body”? It’s a cruel world!
So I said “Ahhh” with a not-so-subtle gusto, emitting whatever toxic I could summon out from my mouth directly at her, hoping that she’d faint or at least back off and abort the operation.
“Uncle! Take off your denture!”
Damn! Now this sweet young thing can see me toothless!
If there is one thing most deliriously hilarious (or disgusting, depending on who sees it) about my look, it’s my smile without the denture: the lone upper canine tooth jutting out from my totally toothless upper gum, a look I only reserve for babies and toddlers when I want to pacify them, you know, making faces at them. I swear they’d stop whatever they do and gawk with glorious wonder at my glistering gum with a single fang and a snapping denture moving up and down. It’s a spectacular sight all babies and toddlers never get tired of. Of course I make sure their mothers don’t see me from the front lest I get a frying pan crashing down on my head. But I don’t expose this act to teenagers, it is most likely they’d puke. It’s worse than flashing.
Where was I? Ah yes, this sweet young thing then poked a cold stainless steel rod with a small round mirror at one end into my mouth and lifted my upper lip with her gloved fingers and looked disgustingly ( I think) at my glistering gum and tapping at my rotting canine, asked if this was the tooth to pluck.
I nearly choked.
No no no, pluck my nostril hair!
I puckered and stifled my chortling, causing my head to nod which she took to be “yes” to her question.
She then swung into action and I heard some heavy metal clanging on a ceramic plate, like she put the stainless steel mirror down and picking something that looked like a cylinder with a pump at one end and a needle at the other end.
She turned back at me again, and Horror of Horrors! This female Darth Vader in white frock had a syringe the size of a bicycle pump in her right hand, and she had a wicked glint in her evil eyes and she was heading towards my open mouth! I froze.
She’s going to poke, no JAB, that needle into my poor soft gum!!! What wrong had I done to deserve this? I am innocent!
For a moment, I saw a white blinding light and my whole life flashed across me and I experienced an out-of-the-body feeling…….okay, I lied. But was I terrified. Who said the Iraqi suicide bombers are terrorists? Its sweet young thing like this dentist that make life a living hell for innocent people like us.
Finally the needle zeroed in and penetrated my gum….I tightened again gripping the nearest hard object to my both hands which happened to be a pair of chair handles solidly constructed for the purpose…..and hold my breath…. muscles taut….but surprisingly it felt just like an slight insect bite, uncomfortable but bearable. Then a second jab, this time slightly more painful, but still bearable….and….
“Okay, uncle wait outside” Angel of Death chirped merrily.
I sheepishly got down and walked out of the room, muttering “you’ll pay for this....”
As I sat down in the waiting room again, the numbness in my gum started to take effect, I felt my cheek puffed up. I pinched my lip. No feeling. Hey, cool! I even gave my wife across the room a pained grin, to which she responded by rolling her eyes towards the ceiling.
Five minutes later, my name was called again. This time for the extraction.
As I settled into the Electric Chair again, with the light shining at my face. This time Sweet Young Thing had a chainsaw in her hand ready, I mean a plier in her hand ready.
I opened my mouth again and wanted to tell her my favourite joke in a trembling voice:-
Will you promise to pluck the tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth?
But she would not listen, instead she charged at my remaining enamel, gripping it with such vicious force like she’s going to yank it out in one huge tug.
She tugged and she puffed, tugged and puffed. My head followed her movement up and down, up and down like a puppet’s head manipulated by its master. But nothing happened.
She failed. Me – One, Sweet Young Thing – zero.
She turned to change her weapon, a sadistic-looking plier with its pincers bend at an awkward angle (through its years of constant usage, needless to say). A few clanging sounds and she was charging back.
“Hold his head” I heard the sadistic dentist cried to her assistant.
Playing rough, are we? Well two can play the game!
Actually by now I was not scared already as my gum was all numb and I wasn’t feeling the any pain, heck, I was enjoying it!
The second wave of assault on my tooth began. There was a titanic struggle and tugging and yanking.
“Relax your body, uncle don’t stiffen! Relax!”
The tugging continued and my head was bobbing up and down again like the said puppet. Dont quote me, I thought I heard some cursings from the two struggling ladies. But give them the benefit of doubt, shall we?
Suddenly I heard a crunching sound like a wall crashing down... and whoosh! It was out! That little piece of s—t that had been a pain in my ass and a bone of discontent between me and my wife was now lying spread eagle, helpless, on the ceramic plate beside me, bloodied and lifeless.
Phew! Over at last. The nightmare that I had prepared myself to face, that I dreaded so morbidly for the past few month was finally over. And it wasn’t even very painful. That’s the irony of life I was yakking about in the beginning. You expect all hell to break loose, it shine beautiful sunshine, blue sky and everything nice. Its one hell of an exhilarating anti-climax!
Inside the car, my wife looked intriquely at me:-
“Was it painful?”
“Nah! It was nothing……….’
“Oh yeah? I bet you almost wet your pant!” she sniggered
“No really, it was not painful at all…….”
“Give me a break, just admit it”
We started arguing again.
P/s I almost forgot, my verdict? Two thumbs up to plier-happy Lady Darth Vader and her plucky assistant.