Being Cruel To be Kind

When I was dentist we were always hearing that old saw about having to be cruel to be kind. Mostly it came from people who were doing it for no other reason than to be cruel and get paid. You can be pretty darn cruel with an old saw…

It was the worst part of the task…because, unfortunately, anaesthetics do not always work as we would have them. And surgical operations do not necessarily go well. There was a little cruelty evey week and some weeks it was every day.

I tended to grit my teeth and get on with it…praying that the patient would not grit theirs while I had fingers in there. I was only ever bit once and it was deliberate. I was not offended by the smartaleck, nor did I take any revenge – I just added it onto the bill.

Thankfully, I never had to give someone a fatal diagnosis – nothing further than having teeth out. And by the time they came to see me they generally knew that was on the cards. The full clearances tapered off somewhat in the last decade of practice as fluoridated water and increased public awareness meant that people took more care of themselves.

Now that I am safely out of the dental profession – and out of the sales profession as well – I can go back to the cruelty/kindness duopoly and just choose which one I fancy day by day. Sometimes you help people back onto their bike after you push them over. Unless it’s a really nice bike, and then you just ride away on it.

Being A Pariah Is Fun

I have been a pariah on several occasions in my life and look back on them with a certain fondness. Of course that warm glow is tinged with a sense of shame as I brought it on myself each time – but any memory is a good one, when you consider that there are people who are losing theirs day by day.

First incident occurred when I visited our local water treatment plant with an excursion group from dental school. We were shown the fluoridation equipment and harangued about how it would make our jobs redundant. Some forty years later I thought about this when I sold the practice and retired. How prophetic…

Any rate, we had been told to bring our own lunches so I stopped at a supermarket on the way up and bought some bread rolls and fillings. Cheese, salami, and olives from memory. I was rounded on by the classmates and laughed to scorn for eating dago food. The professor who accompanied us on the tour was a Greek gentleman and he sampled the salami and the olives, but said nothing. It rather soured me on eating with my classmates ever after – even to the extent of avoiding their graduation dinner. In the event, I graduated 6 months after the rest so the dinner would have been a pain anyway.

The next time I was asked to dine with the erstwhile classmates was a couple of decades later – after I had established my own marriage, family, and surgery and had moved past the point of being a worried little wart. I’d joined the ranks of the muzzle loading rifle shooters, got into historical re-enacting, and collect a number of uniforms and costumes.

When we were dressing for the 20th year dinner of my university class I remarked to the wife that everything I had to wear was dull and old. She suggested that I wear the latest bright costume that I had – a New York Zouave outfit. Ever the fool, I agreed.

I have never been greeted with more disdain or a colder shoulder than at that restaurant meeting. Old classmates literally turned their backs on me. Their wives flocked to me and we had a great good time discussing the oriental-style costume. The dinner was eaten and I retreated, and from that day to this most of those old classmates – resident in this city – have never spoken to me. I hear news of their madnesses, decrepitude, or business failures through the grapevine, but aside from that have no contact.

And the result? I am free to live my own life as I please – no posing to please and no tiresome social gatherings based on forty years ago. I may have done myself – and other pariahs – some good.

Has You Been?

No, I’m not talking about today and the All Bran. Your digestive tract is none of my concern. I’m talking about your career and your past successes. Things that you may legitimately cherish.

But a hint: Cherish them to yourself, in private. You’ll do far better in the social scene if you keep up to date with what is going on and don’t hearken to or harp upon the past. Others may know of your history and celebrate it, but as soon as you join in the praise of you there is a danger that they will fall silent. And eventually so will you, in shame.

It will go even worse for you if you come and cry your decline. It may be real, and if so people will perceive it. You need not tell it like a tragic opera.

I was reminded of this at a trade fair where I met several former practitioners of professional photography who have settled into a pattern of retailing their past business history and bewailing their current retirement and/or failures. I feel for them, but if they continue to tell of the woes of getting old I am tempted to feel for a sharp knife to cure that problem.

It was exactly the same for me after my retirement from dentistry – now when I meet an old colleague I try to celebrate our hard-won escape from the profession and I do not go on as if I pine for it. In truth, I do not, and am pleasantly surprised to find that most of my old classmates are of a similar mind.

I find I can bore people wonderfully with new topics and do not need to use the old ammunition. Most of it was duds anyway.

Nailless In Willetton

And I suspect I will be Sleepless In Bull Creek as well.

Those who have never visited a podiatrist may be wondering what they do there. What they do there is carry on the fine traditions of the Spanish Inquisition or the Red Indians. Physical torture has gotten a bad name in the last century ( Though that has not stopped it from being popular…) but there is still one place where it is going strong – the foot doctor’s office.

I do not mean to suggest that the professional there is a sadist – far from it. Nor do I impugn their morals or kindly character. But very little of what they do is fun; at least not on the working end of the instruments.

Many people have 10 toenails. I have 9 – now. This morning saw one disappear due to an infection that was not resolving of itself. One of those minor reminders that we are not unbreakable. The doctor made the right diagnosis and took the correct action – now we hope that the toe does its job and regrows a nail. I am not that fussy – I would be satisfied for it to just heal over and be no trouble. I rarely exhibit my toes in public anyway, and as long as they do not hurt, I am satisfied.

Like the finger episode of a few months ago, the toe combines pain with fear and shock, but doesn’t entitle anyone to feel brave or garner any public sympathy. There is something comic about it all – evident to others – that escapes me.

The basic process – inject some lignocaine into the toe then grasp the half-off nail and pull smartly, followed by mopping up and washing the wound  – is perfectly good professional practice. It is not painful once the anaesthetic is working, but getting to that point is awkward. I used to pride myself on painless anaesthetic injections but then the oral mucosa has more fluid room than a toe.

Well, the clown bandage is on and I’ll be able to exchange it for a Betadine sandwich tomorrow, but just in case of snakebite I have called at the brandy shop on the way home.

If I am going to be undignified, I might as well get to the point of laughing at myself.

Which Club Do I Belong To? Part One

Canadian Club.

And a number of other ones, too, I hasten to add. The CC, however doesn’t impose the sort of rules and restrictions that the other ones seem to. The only things that are forbidden after attending a Canadian Club meeting are driving the motor car, dancing on the dining room table, and firing off a hilarious but sternly worded email to the management. Extended club meetings may result in a certain queasiness and sensitivity to light and sound next morning, but this is probably just due to the air conditioning…

I’m drawn to this analysis of club life after making a list of organisations to which I have belonged in the past  –  ones that were voluntary, took a small club fee, or could be considered social in some respect. You may have been a member yourself at one time or  other:

a. Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts of Canada

b. Uncle John’s Radio Club

c. Wasatka Staff – Mount Pleasant , Utah

d. WA UDSS, Perth

e. WA Model Boat Club

f. Dental Association Of Australia

g. WA Naval Wargames Society

h. WA Muzzle Loading Club

i. 42RHRA

j. Grey Company

k. WA Model Collector’s Club

My current situation, as of right now-typing this post, is that all but the last two have fallen away into history. They have been laid aside with fond memories and in a few precious cases, have enabled me to make friends and acquaintances that remain with me to this day. Some have also led me to regrets…

It’s also caused me to analyse the nature of clubs and club or society membership. Of course this is a deeper topic than ever I could embrace, and has been done better elsewhere, but as you are already this far down the page, you might as well keep on reading. Either that, or get up and start to do the darned housework again.

The questions that arose immediately were:

a. What were these clubs? What, indeed, is a club?

b. Why did I join or found these clubs?

c. What did I give to the clubs? What did I get from them?

d. Why did I quit the clubs? Was it a good decision?

e. What clubs should I join in the future?

If you can find any echo in these thoughts – if your life seems to have clubs, societies, and organisations  as well, past and present – please read the next few columns. They may help you to have a better time. Or a good time. Or just a time…

 

 

 

The Burden Of Genius

How can you sit there at your computer and read a title like that without writhing?

Who the hell is this bird anyway? What makes him think that he has any genius to bear?What the hell has he ever done?

As much and as little as anyone else. And I hasten to add that very little of it gave any evidence of genius. There was the average number of childs’ and youth’s successes and a hope of greatness that may have been held by my parents, but eventually they probably had to accept that I was just an ordinary Joe. I discovered it in my teens – and I can’t say that I was unhappy to do so…though I think I would have appreciated more brain power as a university student and more business acumen as a practitioner.

Probably the only real genius I have ever exhibited occurred when I discovered I could draw things in the margins of my school books and on pads of yellow paper. This went on to the ability to remember and reproduce line diagrams seen in textbooks, and this in turn to passing examinations based on the false assumption that anyone who could draw well knew the subject.

No. I knew the drawing. Later on in my career I would have to try to translate the drawing – that perfect clinical diagram – to the actual teeth, gums, cheeks, lips, blood vessels, and noses of the patients. Did you know that a high-speed drill will go through all of the above?

One day I was sitting at the dining room table with a pad of yellow paper and decided to test out my childhood ability to draw a circle freehand. After a few goes I got it. Then I decided to put two Disney eyes on it. And a hat. And from there it all took off. I found my own style of cartoon drawing – very crude by the standards of others – but made it serve me as a vehicle satire and jokes. I learned early on to draw myself in cartoon style and then used that as the basis for all the send-ups and pratfalls that poked fun at others.

It was profitable. I drew cartoons for my own profession’s gazette, then for hobby clubs, and eventually for a European toy manufacturer – they paid me handsomely in toys!

I have used the style here in this weblog column as Brother Stein, the sanctimonious Quaker and again for the commemoration of the start of WW1. It is still useful whenever I want to zing one past the censors here or on Facebook.

And the nice part of it – the simple Photoshop Elements drawing section contains most of the raw form shapes I need to continue the style long after my own hands go shaky. All I need to find is a suitable topic and away we go.

The Little World – The Pup

dscf5464Twenty years ago a small hardware store that was near my first surgery closed its doors – the owner had been offered a redevelopment buy-out and was ready to retire. As he had been a patient of mine and I had been one of his customers, he gave me a parting gift. From somewhere in the recesses of his old shop he pulled out a 1950’s or 60’s hobbyists kit –  A Picador Pup.

It was made in England to old designs and standards by a firm that wanted to help miniature engineers. The basic device was an adjustable grinding machine, wood-turning lathe, and miniature circular saw. It was configurable as a sanding machine and horizontal drilling machine.

dscf5465A friend found an ex-washing machine motor and rigged a couple of pulleys to drive it. In its first mounting it was noisy, smelly and frightening…but it did sharpen drill bits, sand accurately, and cut strip wood. It went out of commission for years, though, as there was nowhere to put the awkward mounting block.

This week I changed that. Our local hardware store sells a line of Chinese shelving units in modular form, and they are inexpensive and very well made. I had several components already so a few more struts and shelves gave me a way of making the Pup work correctly. It no longer groans as it works nor moves alarmingly. I can now saw strip wood for models…and if I can find even finer blades I’ll be able to stop buying the Artesiana Latina stuff at the hobby shop. Note: The stick with the duct tape is the pusher that keeps my fingers out of the blade.

All the twist drill bits in the shop are going to get a damned good sharpening. A man with a Pup is never at a loss.

Thank you, John Sweet, for such a kind gift.