This is a long post but it is for Jennifer at http://laavventura.wordpress.com who is yet to visit an Italian dentist. The follow is an extract from a book I am attempting to write, please excuse the grammar.
I have suffered with intermittent toothache since arriving in Italy. This is partly because of the bureaucracy and the necessary completion of various forms and to be honest my aversion to pain. I don’t even want the state to pay; well it would be nice if they offered but it is highly unlikely. I needed with the help of my wife Mrs Sensible to work through loads of forms just to enable me to visit a private dentist.
When I first arrived in Italy Mrs Sensible and I went to see a dentist recommended by Angela our landlady. “Go see Dottor Roberto” she told Mrs Sensible, “he is cheap and good; you can’t miss his surgery it is based in the old folks home in Giarole.” If you are reading this book while sat in an old folks home in England or are waiting to be admitted to one put the book down and go and request a transfer to an old folks home in Italy because they don’t smell of wee and old people.
As we entered the reception area of the old folks home we found the door to the surgery situated on the right hand side of the reception area. But before we could enter the surgery we had to walk past a group of old people sat outside the surgery door on chairs and in wheelchairs. Their highlight of the day was to say ciao and come stai? to all the unfortunate patients of Dottor Roberto.
After I had reluctantly sat in the dentist chair my wife explained in Italian to Dottor Roberto why we were there. To involve myself in the conversation I helpfully pointed to the tooth that was throbbing away. After I had shown Dottor Roberto the molar which was hurting he proceeded to poke and then tap each of my teeth in turn with a small metal bar to satisfy himself that I wasn’t kidding.
He started from the right and slowly worked his way down my teeth as a musician might on a glockenspiel. As he got close to the painful tooth I started to become a little stressed. He gave the painful tooth a whack and I yelped; Dottor Roberto smiled with satisfaction. “Ecco!” he said.
After explaining to Mrs Sensible the treatment I needed and after filling out more forms he said he would drill and fill my tooth with a temporary filling. Sitting up in the chair and getting ready to leave I was quite shocked that Dottor Roberto was intending to start the treatment straight away. I protested that there were other patients sat in the waiting room and I even tried pleading with Mrs Sensible that we had only come to have it checked and to see how much it would cost but to no avail.
Doctor Roberto administrated one and then after much pleading a second injection of anaesthetic. He then set about drilling my tooth and putting in a temporary filling.
Charging me eighty Euros for the temporary filling Dottor Roberto then quoted a further 230 Euros to finish the treatment. He explained that I had to be registered with the local health department for him to finish the treatment but not to worry as the temporary filling was ok for two months which should give us enough time to register with the local health authority and to fill out more forms.
The following day my wife and I went to the main administrative building for health in the centre of Casale Monferrato. We asked the woman in charge if we could have the necessary forms so that I could continue my dental treatment. The woman asked to see my medical card. I produced with a flourish the battered cardboard card the UK National Health Service had issued to me many years ago. She took one look at it and shook her head. “It needs to have the European blue flag on with all the stars, like this one” she said producing from her purse her own plastic medical card. I muttered to my wife “that my card had been issued before we got dragged into the European Union by Maggie Thatcher.”
Leaving the building without any forms I was still muttering as we got into our car. “I will get my dad to organise a medical card for holiday makers abroad. We are after all in the European Union and then we can wave that under the nose of that stupid woman.” My wife said something about it was me that wanted to live in Italy and so I should stop complaining.
Thinking that 230 Euros sounded a bit steep for a filling and as I was due to visit Sicily where everything is cheaper I managed to delay the treatment even longer.
In Sicily I received a second opinion from my father in laws dentist in the little village of Giarratana. Following a quotation of 120.00 Euros the dentist told Nuccio that he needed more x rays of my tooth before he could continue. Nuccio turned to me and said “Come on we have to go to the mayor to get an x-ray of your tooth.” It sounded a bit strange to have to go to the mayor for an x-ray but this is Sicily after all. When we had located the Mayor I found out that he also doubled up as the local radiologist.
This dentist with his good looks and black wavy hair that is only obtainable from the best Vidal Sassoon hair stylist looked, more like a rich playboy than a dentist. He quickly looked at the x-ray and said to Nuccio “Ha bisogno di una canalizzazione.” As the dentist shoved his syringe and gloved hand into my mouth Nuccio calmly informed me that the dentist said I needed root canal treatment.
As he started to drill my tooth I immediately noticed the absence of any dental assistant. Normally there is a pretty female assistant to take my mind off the pain the dentist is trying to inflict on me. She normally sits there smiling and handing over the tools and operating the various suction pipes. Maybe the playboy dentist was going to involve my father in law who was stood watching. I am pretty sure Nuccio would have jumped at the chance of helping as he stood gazing into my mouth. I also noticed the almost total absence of anaesthetic even my lip wasn’t tingling.
I am of the opinion that a dentist should not be allowed anywhere near me with their drills and other instruments of torture, until my lips are all rubbery and I have lost total sensation in at least one of my ears. So it was with no surprise that I jumped as he broke through the temporary filling and hit the nerve. My reaction did the trick; the dentist declined to complete the treatment claiming the nerve must have an infection. As this was translated to me, I told Nuccio to tell him I will be ok if he uses some anaesthetic.
After hastily inserting another temporary filling the dentist told me to come back in three weeks after the infection had gone. Mr Playboy then handed me his card and said if the tooth gives me any problems I was not to hesitate to call him, although this weekend he was going to Monaco to watch some racing.
So here we are another 6 months later back at the old folk’s home with Dottor Roberto who is no playboy. Indeed I may be mistaken but he looks as though he may have gained a few pounds around the waist but it has been a while since he inserted the temporary filling that was only supposed to last me 2 months. Dottor Roberto asked me which tooth was hurting. I replied “The one with the white temporary filling.”
Just to make sure he tapped each tooth in turn with his little steel rod. I don’t flinch or jump as he gave the bad tooth a whack. This was because I had taken precautions. I had dosed myself up with the best anti-inflammatory and pain killers I could find prior to leaving the house.
When Dottor Roberto found out about the pain killers he was not very impressed. After giving me a lecture on painkillers and the protocol for visiting the dentist which Mrs Sensible dutifully translated for me, (my wife hadn’t known about the pain killers either) she was giving me that you’re in trouble when you get home look; the dentist continued to explain that it is important that he can tell which tooth is hurting. Now I have always believed there has to be a streak of sadism in every dentist and this episode only goes to prove it.
My wife explained in mitigation that I have a very low pain threshold and he could see that I was looking a little worried so he obliged me by using enough anaesthetic to kill all the feeling on the left side of my face even my eyebrow was a little dead it seemed to be stuck up at an angle like one of Sean Connery eye brows. That coupled with the assorted pain killers I had taken before leaving the house I thought I would be ok.
My wife is as always the interpreter, she explained that if I feel any pain I was to raise my left hand. If I feel any pain he would know before I had had time to raise my left hand that’s for sure.
The Dentist with the help of his young assistant placed a piece of latex across my mouth and securing it in place with little rods that somehow must have been secured in and around my teeth. He then used what looked like a mini pastry cutter to cut a hole around my bad tooth and pushing it in place secured the latex. It was great, no debris from the drilling would drop into my mouth and the dentist wouldn’t have to stare at my tonsils. Although he needn’t have bothered as my tonsils had been removed twelve months previous when my nose was re-bored to stop me snoring like a pig. I have also for many years had trouble breathing just through my nose hence the nostril re-bore.
The latex had effectively shut off the air supply to my mouth and as I still have trouble breathing through my nose, every time I inhaled and exhaled the air that was forced in and out past the latex made a sound not unlike a whoopee cushion. After a little adjustment both the dentist and I were a little happier. Dottor Roberto held out a hand mirror so that I can watch him drill my tooth. But with a shake of my head I refused it. I like to keep my eyes tightly closed as I grip my hands together in my lap in a difficult effort to control the panic and my natural response to leave the surgery.
As he started to drill I knew that if I relaxed everything would be ok but my nerves were straining; waiting for the inevitable pain. Meanwhile my wife is entertaining him with the tale of where, when and how we met and why we are now living in Italy. I lay there in the chair with my mouth wide open and a corner of the latex tickling my nose every time I breathed in or out, wondering if the dentist could concentrate on my teeth while chatting to my good wife.
The assistant had noticed that I had opened my eyes and that I did not look entirely relaxed and happy. She asked my wife “Lui va bene?” My wife said “Are you ok?” I managed to reply through the latex “Urrrmppph!” At that moment a mobile phone started to ring, it wasn’t mine or my wife’s as just before we entered the surgery we had switched them both off. The dental assistant calmly picked up the offending mobile and passed it to Dottor Roberto… “Pronto, ciao Alberto, come stai. si ok dove si va bene…..”
I was gob smacked; truly astounded not only was my dentist talking on his mobile, he was still drilling my tooth. I tried to signal to my wife with my eyes that I was not pleased and the panic I had managed to hold just under the surface was close to escaping.
After what seemed like an eternity the assistant spotted that I was a little stressed and that my eyeballs appeared to be popping out of my head. She calmly ushered the dentist who was still talking on his phone out of the room.
Italian phone calls are never short and end with lots of goodbyes ciao baci arrivederci si domani ok capisco ciao ciao.
I was still in the chair with the tube sucking away in my mouth the latex burping away happily as the doctor reappeared to frosty scowls from both the assistant and me.
The good news is I survived the procedure. The bad news is I had another appointment in ten days time for him to finish reconstructing the tooth. As I left the surgery I promised the dottor that I wouldn’t dose myself with pain killers next time if he promised not to answer his phone while he was drilling my teeth
Wow, so much work for one tooth! Typical that he would answer a call in the middle of a root canal!
I hate dentists.
My Canadian dentist was so sweet, kind and gentile. Your post has me scared to see an Italian dentist. And last week I woke up with a bad tooth ache and a swollen cheek. Thank goodness it went away the next day. Weird.
Italian dentists may not all be as bad as this. Or maybe they are.
Wonder what the call was about?
At the time, the only Italian that I understood was si, non, ciao, grappa and non e vero so I haven’t a clue, but in my honest opinion he was probably talking to his mum.
He’s a good lad!
You’re killing me with all of these posts…It’s like re-living my life here in Italy all over again. Your post reminded me why I never go to a dentist here in Italy. You are way funny my friend, but everything is just so true!
I started to write a book when I flew to Sicily in search of work, it was a little strange because all the Sicilians were flying in the opposite direction to find work.
I sent a rough first draft to a friend and she said you need to ramp it up, exaggerate the situations a bit to make it funnier. I tried, but to be honest I couldn’t do it so I changed everything back. I have stuck with what I saw and believed to be happening.
Italy is so bizzare that from an English point of view, most things are funny.
Also thanks for saying it is funny. The comments on the blog have helped me to pick up my book and finish editing it.
As an Italian who never recovered from being Italian ( thank god!! ) I have totally enjoyed your various ordeals because I can look at them from both sides of the fence. I laugh my head off, ‘xcuse me if it is impertinent…, but it is a best kind of medicine for my nostalgia for the past… because the past is still present and all is well with my compatriots’ zest for living. You’ll know life much better and how to live it but it will be difficult to do it as well elsewhere. ….mind my word… All the best – si’ si’, no, auguri, sta bene. No, a dopo, si’. Si’, si’, ciao-ciao, tante belle cose…
Thanks Veraersilia, I love Italy it is a country of contradictions
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I am a dentist (don’t hate me) trained in Australia and am also an italiana. The “dentist answering the phone” is not just an Italian thing – though the call is likely to be longer and accompanied by hand/arm waving (which is a problem when holding drills or other pointy things)
MMM a dentist are you? That does not put you very high on my Christmas Card list.
Does the fact that I no longer get my fingers wet put me higher on your list??
2 steps, now if you could drill my teeth without hurting me or my bank balance you would go almost to the top. 🙂
How about: worked at Dental Hospital teaching and treating the needy, never taking a penny from them??!
Did you get involved with administering pain in any shape or form, holding down patients (they still have to hold me down), or even sharpening the tools of torture? huh huh..
You go up 5 place for treating the needy and not taking their money, maybe even 7