Guest blog. Ron is back.

I’ll be in hospital this weekend so, realizing that depriving you of a blog would create an unbearable gap in your lives, I’ve asked my brother Ron to increase my visitor numbers (as his contributions always do). Ron is bottom right in the shot of the Kirton siblings. This is what he has to say:

Although this entry is unlikely to further the literary aims of Bill’s blog, it will have a thematic link with his current situation, in that it shares my recent encounters with the National Health Service.

What seems to characterize my time with health professionals is a profound need to make them feel better and an acute awareness that I’m wasting their time. And the higher their status, the more acute that awareness becomes. Ayisha, who was the last person to look at my teeth, was not high ranking. When I booked the appointment, the guy at the desk asked if, given the non-serious nature of my problem, I would be happy seeing the dental therapist. As it’s almost more important to keep the front of house sweet than to improve the lot of the expert professional I said yes, at the same time pondering the link between my understanding of therapy and a dental filling.

Hearing the name Ayisha, I used my time in the waiting room making a mental note to write a blog sometime on nominative determinism: the idea that a person’s name might condition their choice of career. It seemed to me that the sound of the name AYISHA is pretty close to the cry one might utter if the drill got a bit close to the nerve, so she might feature in the blog.

Once in the chair and with the temporary filling in place, Ayisha asked, “Are you happy?” (Clearly she and the receptionist had been to the same training session. At least her question called for a monosyllabic answer, unlike that of my usual dentist who fills my mouth with instruments, then asks where I’m going for my holiday this year.) I said I was fine and, once my mouth was free to move again, toyed with the idea of going into a bit of existential detail but, instead, made the mistake of saying, “So, a therapist….does that mean you’re on the way to becoming a fully fledged dentist?”

She was obviously – and quite rightly – offended and at pains to tell me that dental therapy was a legitimate career path and that she was already fully qualified. (Second mental note: don’t offend a woman in a nurse’s outfit when you’re lying on your back and she has a power tool in her hand – even though that image might appeal to some of this blog’s readers). (Bill’s editorial note: dear readers, please feel free to sue him for such a libel. I can supply full contact details.) The twenty-seven pounds I paid at the desk seemed a meager recompense for the trouble I had caused.

James, my physiotherapist, looks a little older than Ayisha – about fourteen – and has an excellent bedside manner. He is a little more methodical: “Are you happy?” has been supplemented by, “On a scale of one to ten.” And this is where my problems start. I have already been waiting six weeks for this appointment and, if I blow it, I may be sent back to my GP for some more cortisone, which doesn’t make me happy. If, for instance, I say, “Well, at its worst it’s about six…” he might conclude that, at its best, it’s one or two and tell me to look again at those poor wasted patients I just skipped past in the waiting room and stop being such a resource-wasting wimp. So I have to create a narrative over the next few sessions.

“I’d say nine in the early morning then easing to around seven as I warm up during the day. It’s plantar fasciitis.”

And that’s another glaring error. I’ve already been signed off by another physio a year ago, who told me that’s what I’d got, but why did I tell James? I’ve now saved him the trouble of diagnosing me and shortened my appointment time. I go on to tell him how active I am: walking the dog, cycling – carefully neglecting to mention golf in case he tells me to play less – all of which makes me sound far too fit and even less deserving of his help. But, having made a note of every word I’ve said, he does eventually do some hands-on treatment. This takes the form of kneading the sole of my foot with a knuckle duster out of which protrudes what looks like the “male” part of a recycled hip joint. And this time I’m not fabricating. Instead of cries of pain I speak what I take to be his language and squeal, “eight” or “nine” then, stepping right outside his lexicon, say, “bingo”. I’m rewarding him for hurting me and he’s loving it.

At my next appointment I declare that I’ve been doing the exercises regularly – lies – but tell him there’s still a bit of seven about the morning – more lies. I’m almost too delighted to hear him say that these things take a while to treat, that my patient status has been affirmed, and that I’m in his hands for the next few weeks. Just as we’re settling into our respective roles I risk referring to my other problem, in my left shoulder, but cannot prevent myself making the same pretentious mistake I made with the foot…

”I think it’s a rotator cuff issue.”

“Next please.”.


  1. Hehe, it’s nice to know our systems of medicine aren’t so very different. I love the numbers tango but since my doctor understands that the only way they get to see me is if I’m dragged in on a gurney, he does tend to distrust my personal assessments.
    Great post, I really enjoyed it, Ron.

    1. Thanks Diane. I forgot to mention a charming piece of PC advice from James. Advising me to roll a cold drinks can under my foot as I watched TV, he prescribed Diet Coke rather than any of those sugary ones.

  2. And Bill, just to add a bit of literary relevance, I might have been influenced by reading David Sedaris and hearing him on radio recently. He makes normal life sound very bizarre, and is a very entertaining reader.

  3. I believe I have cried out Ayisha once or twice during root canal therapy and during physio for a problem shoulder. It makes perfect sense to me. Well, to bbe honest, I have been known to say a bit more becuae my doctor doesn’t know his own strength and has been known to ask “does this hurt.” To which my reply is invariably, “It does now!”

    Good luck with you valve replacement.

    Hello Bill.

    1. Helen, the very words “root canal” have a dark, mythic significance; the sort of words I don’t want to hear in the dark. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Edgar Allan Poe had written a story with that title.

  4. Edgar Alan Poe would have an evil dentist who didn’t use any kind of painkiller, in fact, he could even have been a mysterious killer. But in a nice way, of course. We wouldn’t want to upset the ladies!

    As for the words “root canal” I don’t like hearing them on a lovely sunny day, let alone a dark one. Although the words do somehow make me think that visiting the dentist on a dark, stormy day does conjure up an image of root canal therapy that is bound to give you nightmares.

  5. By this time, you should be safely in the hands of the NHS, dear Bill, and I do hope we see you back here soon. Ron – you’re a very welcome entertaining and philosophical stand-in for the other Kirton. And thanks for mentioning a dental therapist as I think that might be the job title of someone I know and I had never understood what exactly it entails.

    1. You’re right, Rosemary. I was in the hands of the NHS, and treated very kindly and professionally by everyone there. Unfortunately, my blood refused to cooperate. I take Warfarin to keep it thin and had to stop 4 days before the op. That wasn’t long enough so I’ll be back inside towards the end of November. This all makes me seem to be a highly incompetent con-man. On the other hand, potential plots just keep on multiplying. I’ll let you know when it’s time to start worrying again.

  6. Root canal, Warfarin, will you stop using these scary, apocalyptic words. The words, “Rat poison” are somehow easier to bear than the name of some bloodthirsty Saracen marauder pillaging my brother’s circulatory system. Rosemary, the nearest -and silliest- job description I can think of for the dental therapist is that he/she fills in for the regular dentist.

    1. Hi Peter. Thanks so much for dropping by. Astonishing how this web stuff gets people reconnected. Good to hear from you.

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