Enthusiasts Street - the street where I lived and where my parents live now (photo source)
Write about your first visit to a dentist – or the most memorable one. Do you remember the dentist’s face, voice, the smell of the office? Do you remember your pain, fear, or a pleasant feeling of knowing that you are taking a good care of your teeth? You don’t have to write about yourself – write about your child’s visit, or about your character’s visit.
It was a regular school day, and I was in school, as always, in my Mom’s class. She couldn’t leave her work - there were 40 children to teach how to read and write and do arithmetic. Mom loved her job and treated it responsibly – she was in her classroom one hour before the classes started every morning, and she had a few packs of thin little notebooks to check and write little notes to students every evening – 40 notebooks dedicated to learning spelling and writing, and 40 notebooks dedicated to arithmetic. 80 little notebooks to check on every single night, Monday through Saturday. Of course she couldn’t just leave all those 40 little children only to take me to a dentist. I was one of her students for the first three years of my school life. I felt miserable, but I knew I had to wait. After the school was over, she took me to a dentist lady named Natalya Vasilyevna.
“You remember Natalya Vasilyavna, don’t you? She has a son, I taught him, remember? She works in the First School where I used to work before,” said Mom.
I did remember Natalya Vasilyevna – she had a kind face and she smiled a lot.
“Will she remove my tooth?”
I worried. The tooth was very sensitive, and I did not want to suffer the pain, but the idea of removing the tooth was even worse.
“She won’t. She will just look at it,” Mom assured me.
“But what if she has to remove it?”
“Don’t worry. She will just look at it, that’s all.”
“Will it be painful?”“No, not painful at all.”
We arrived to the office of Natalya Vasilyevna which was located inside of the First School – the very first school built in our little working town. You see, it was a common thing back in Soviet times to have a children’s dentist in schools. The dentists would do regular check-ups, perhaps once a year or so, and if there was a problem, they would treat it. It was common, but our new school which just opened that year and where Mom started teaching as soon as I had to start school, still did not have our own dentist. So she telephoned Natalya Vasilyevna from the school office and asked her to check on my tooth.
The dentist’s office seems like a blur to me now, but I remember that it did not seem especially bright. Or maybe it’s my memories that make the office dark and the lights dim. The smells were unusual, the strong smells of medicine. Natalya Vasilyevna was wearing a white doctor’s robe, and still had a very nice and kind face, the way I remembered her. She greeted us and asked me to sit in a special chair. The metal machines which seemed big and scary were surrounding me. She had a special light and a special mirror attached to a headband, and special metal sticks that she took in her hands which smelled like soap.
“Please do not remove my tooth,” I asked.
“I won’t. I will just look at it. Do not worry, it won’t hurt. Open your mouth.”
I felt reassured. The tooth bothered me all day long, and worries about removing my tooth bothered me all day long, but this lady had a kind face, a nice smile, and a very honest voice, and I relaxed. I trusted her. She will just look at my tooth. Of course she will. There is nothing to be afraid of, nothing to worry about. She promised me. With all my trust I opened my little mouth as wide I could.
Natalya Vasilyevna looked in it for a little while. Her hands were gentle, and that reassured me even more. Nothing to worry about. Not a thing.
Sudden, incredible, sharp, unbelievable pain – the biggest pain I experienced in my whole seven years of life!
She promised! She promised me! Mom promised me!
“That’s all, shh, shh, that is all,” Natalya Vasilyevna tried to calm my cry that was bigger than the office, bigger than the school, bigger than the whole little town, bigger than my whole universe.
Pressure, pain, and the cracking sound. Something that was a part of me cracked, and my flesh was wounded. Then I saw my own blood.
“Shhh, that is all… You are a good girl… You did such a good job… Now it’s all behind you… It was a bad tooth, it did not let your good tooth to grow right, and so we had to remove it.”
A million of tears, a ton of pain. They promised me! They promised! How can someone with such a good, kind face and such a good, honest voice, break their promise? How could they do this to me?
Even though it all happen long after medieval times, most probably in 1980 or 1981, but in a regular Soviet school’s dentist office in a small working town somewhere in the middle of Siberia, there was simply no anesthetics to make the suffering easier. Nothing to sooth your pain. Nothing other than a kind smile and an honest, reassuring voice of the dentist who knew, of course, that the troublesome tooth had to be removed before bigger problems started. Who knew, of course, that a seven year old child would never understand any explanations, and there was no other way to make her feel relaxed, than telling a lie. That was the only medicine the dentist had – the mixture of kindness and lie. None of which would work without another. It had to be both. Only in this strange mixture she could find at least some relief from the shock and from the pain.
I did not know it back then. My shock was not only physical – it was the shock of breaking the trust, my trust. They promised me that they wouldn’t remove the tooth. They promised me that they would only look at it. They promised me that it wouldn’t hurt. And they broke all the three promises, in one short violent moment.
It’s hard to point a finger on the roots of our beliefs. But maybe that’s when I realized that in life nothing matters as much as both kindness and honesty woven together – that kindness without honesty heals no more than honesty without kindness.