Yesterday turned into a self-care day. Necessity is the mother of self-care days. I had been plagued all Sunday night by bad toothache. I woke with it. Too early to call my dentist (who is still an hour’s drive away because it’s my dentist from when I used to live in the village – more of that later). So I wrote the daily post, packaged up book orders, wrote a birthday letter to my friend D (hope he’s not reading this, but he’s more of a hard copy man, so no fear of that), emailed my agent, had breakfast, did some work. Then it was time to call the dentist. Yes, come see us at 14:20. So, more work, called my agent, called other people I needed to talk with to get stuff sorted out (stuff I don’t want to reveal quite yet), called my optician (in the same town as my dentist) to see if by any remote chance they had a sight test appointment free before or after my dental appointment (the answer was no, so I’ve booked that for in a couple of weeks’ time). Scribbled some more notes. Did more work. Then brought forward my lunch break (though not the eating part because I didn’t want to eat before seeing the dentist) to walk down to the post office and fit my daily 2-miler into that space of time. Got home five minutes before I had to leave for the dentist, so ended up leaving 5 minutes late.
The odd thing in all this is that I actually never felt pressed for time, that the feeling I have had all year of time trickling through my fingers too quickly had just disappeared. I was just doing things I had to, and time didn’t come into it, not the frantic sort of time I’ve been writing about anyway.
It turns out that covid-19 has had an impact on my teeth and gums, that because I’ve not had someone telling me to look after my teeth properly (hadn’t been to the dentist for over two years because of the pandemic), I’ve not been looking after my teeth. So my dentist (who is a very kind and wise man who flatters me – or is that just me thinking he’s flattering me because he says honourable things?) sorted out for me to have a hygienist’s appointment half an hour after I’d seen him so we could at least make a start on sorting out all the things that were making my teeth hurt. In the gap in between, I went to get the antibiotics but didn’t get them because there was a hold-up at the pharmacy (I ended up getting them later). So back to the dentist. Sudden realisation that I hadn’t topped up my parking payment. Run to car. Drop coins into the parking meter and throw ticket into car. Run back to dentist. Glasses steaming up now because of the mask. Sit in chair. About to write comment on Alex’s latest poetry post when a shape in my peripheral vision stops and puts its hands on its hips.
I look up. It’s an old friend of mine whom I haven’t seen for years, who used to run the caff at Diss station, whose mobile phone number I don’t have, whom I’ve always bumped into at supermarkets or in the streets before we moved, whom I think of a lot. I stand up, a grin spreading from my stomach to my face behind the mask. ‘Have you been boosted?’ I say. ‘I’ve had everything I’ve been able to get my hands on,’ he says. So we have a bear hug. It felt so good. The other people in the waiting room look at us (indulgently, questioningly, pityingly, with confusion – you take your pick). And we talk and talk and talk, because it’s been a long time, because we hardly know each other really, but we’ve always felt drawn to each other. Exchange mobile phone numbers. He dashes off to work. I get led upstairs to the hygienist who will watch my mouth overflow with water while she shaves tartar off my teeth. By the time I get home after dark, he’s texted me – we’ll have coffee in Norwich some time soon.
There is no such thing as coincidence.
Just some points here about dentists and politics. The government was supposed to announce yesterday measures to reduce the NHS backlog, especially in cancer care. It didn’t. Indications are that it will announce old investment in the NHS as new investment. In the meantime people who should have had treatment are getting more ill and dying. This government has historically underfunded the NHS, and it’s not about to reverse that – and all this a few days after the UK’s National Audit found that this government had wasted £8.7 billion on PPE that was either useless or overpriced. How many operations, how many nurses, doctors, new hospitals could this have paid for? And to get to my point – how many dentists could have started taking on NHS patients for a fraction of this money? Dental practices aren’t taking on NHS patients, not just here in Norwich, but all around the country, because the funding formula doesn’t work, because the government won’t fund dental care effectively, because it won’t actually fund any free healthcare decently, never mind effectively. It’s a disgrace. And meanwhile my MP has still not done me the courtesy of actually acknowledging, never mind appropriately responding to, any of my emails. Draw your own conclusions about public service here.
The problem with self-care days when they involve physicality is that they raise my hackles, because they grate on my impatience with the infirmities of the body. Teeth are one of the most ineffective things evolution has come up with. They break and splinter, and gums swell and recede and inflame, and yet, after we’ve died, after we’ve been buried in the ground, and when archaeologists exhume us, the teeth are still there, grinning skeletally at posterity. It makes no sense. This is where my desire, my need, for everything to be perfect all the time starts seething. Why can’t we be perfect all the time? Why can’t life be perfect all the time? Why does there have to be illness, pain, death. Evolution and, in my case, my god must surely have been able to implement better solutions and mechanics and methods than they have done. M tells me I have unnecessarily high expectations of life, of my god, of the human body, of everything, and has, ever since we first met, managed to lift all this away and get me to sleep by a simple touch of her hand on my back.
My advice to anyone is – marry a pragmatist.