Tuesday, 5 June 2007

CJD under her nails

The other day might have been an ordinary one: wake up; take Bessy out for a walk on the Downs; have a cup of tea with Felix on the bench where he's staking out the lighthouse; do some work; go home; brush Bessy's teeth; sleep. But it wasn't.

The previous night I had read the Chief Dental Officer's letter to his esteemed colleagues (I think I'm one of them but the word esteemed conjures up ideas of people puffed up in some way and so has a faintly distasteful feel to it for me). The letter concerned endodontic files and CJD. Not so much to worry about. I stopped letting Cookie retain and sterilise files months ago after I found she was making artistic configurations with them and oranges, something like a pomade I think - but without the cloves.

Being one for not thinking whilst peeling fruits that happen to be lying around, I felt a bit queasy at the idea I might tuck into said artistic configuration, and that it would be full of patients' personal acquaintences. Not that I don't love my patients, it's just that their bacterial flora simply aren't as pleasant as them - and are unseemingly attached to endodontic files.

So I handed the letter to George. He's a fantastic receptionist and has taken to going through the stereotypical motions of the position in order to prove a point. I haven't worked it out but he promises to tell me in due course. George is sixty seven years old and so I extend every courtesy to him that I can with the faint idea that someone might do the same to me one day. This involves letting him speak to his girlfriends regardless of whether there's a patient waiting to be attended to or not.

So George took the letter from me and promised to file it with all the other bits of paper I never read. It was then that the first feeling of queasiness gripped me. It was his nails - manicured to perfection and painted a perfectly monotone pink. They were beautiful and yet I felt repulsed. I had to turn away and I felt appalled to think that I might be succumbing to some sort of hidden prejudice. I have always prided myself on allowing free expression in my practice - and pink nails were George's perfect right to wear.

The disquiet continued. I tried to take my mind off the nails by recalling Felix's report on the lighthouse - there had been no movement and the imminent launch of the twenty-three year old rocket out of the English Channel was still on hold. I had always thought Felix was a little on the eccentric side until Cookie said we were entering another cold war with Russia over American missiles in Eastern Europe, and that global warming wouldn't be enough to prevent it.

Despite the threat of global warming being shown to be all hype, I could not take my mind off George's nails. I left at the end of the day without saying goodbye to him. And then - as Margaret served me bangers and mash for dinner I saw her nails. She'd been to the nail parlour in the village (it doubles as a post office and will paste stamps to your fingers if requested) and spent the best part of the afternoon chatting with Mei Wong as she - and this was the crux - polished and filed them.

There on the edge of the plate were two thumb nails - brilliantly designed and perfectly smooth and evidently retained on plate long enough for me to notice. I choked and recalled the Chief Dental Officer's letter warning of the risks of re-using files. I was gripped with fear for the well-being of my wife.

'My dear,' I said. 'Does Mei Wong re-use her files?'

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