When you have a consistent pain that needs investigating, a crevice that is misbehaving, or a growth that won’t stop growing, you have to seek the advice of a medical professional.

I went to see a severe and antiquated doctor about my jaw, which was busted enough that I couldn’t eat on the right side of my mouth. He wore a three-piece suit and an accusing glower.

He asked me if there were “any precipitating factors?”

“I don’t believe it was raining,” I told him, wanting to break his scowl.

“Oh. People like you. People who can’t stop gritting their teeth. You probably grind them at night. You dream of being overlooked, certainly.”

He looked at me with concern.

He asked me if I had hurt it playing football. I looked down at my hoodie and jeans and then back up at him.

“Why not fencing?” I asked.

“Huh?” he said.

“Or lacrosse?”

He crinkled his eyes together, mystified, or possibly charmed to within an inch of his medical degree.

“At least cricket.”

He closed his eyes and aged a decade.

“No,” I told him, finally. “I woke up one day a few weeks ago and it hurt when I chewed.”

“Hmmm,” he said over the course of about five minutes.

He looked in my ear with an ear-looking lookie.

He probed at my teeth with a tooth-probing probie.

“I think it’s a problem with your TMJ,” he said.

“Sounds like a cable-tv music channel,” I replied.

He looked at me with concern.

“You realise, of course, that I’m in love with you, doctor?” I said.

He finally smiled.

“What shall I do about it?”

“That depends on the root cause of it. Have you had any dental work recently?”

“No.”

“Are you frequently angry?”

“I’m 41, I have two small children, and people won’t stop giving me their hot takes on politics. What do you think?”

“Is that a yes?”

Enraged, I gritted my teeth, and then I winced in pain. I gritted them more lightly and said, in a hushed tone (for some reason), “Of course it’s a yes. I’m an angry man, yes.”

“You could get a mouthguard made up,” he said, dismissing the whole case with a wave of his hand.

“Who would do such a thing?” I asked.

“Your dentist.”

“No, I meant in general. Who would get one made up?”

“Oh. People like you. People who can’t stop gritting their teeth. You probably grind them at night. You dream of being overlooked, certainly.”

“Well, that’s true.”

“Dentist, then.”

“I fell out with my dentist. Is there another option?”

Galvanised, he shot forward in his seat and wheeled closer to me. He was seated on an office chair, not in a wheelchair or anything, just to clarify. He is a walker. At any moment he could have sprung up onto his legs and attacked me, or whatever it is doctors do for fun. I read about one who gave a fella a BJ during a prostate exam. Not sure if I’d like that. Definitely wouldn’t!

“There is another option, yes.” I imagined an evil grin spreading on his face, or perhaps this really happened. “Have you heard of ‘aversion therapy’?”

“Don’t let my attire and love of football fool you, doctor—I’m a learned man, in some ways. I know what it is, this therapy. But what can you possibly mean in this regard? Are you going to break my jaw with your boot? I’m averse to that.”

He laughed like an incision had been made in his flank, and a feather inserted to tickle a bare rib.

“Not quite, dear boy,” he said. We’d formed quite a bond, me and this leg-abled doctor. “I want you to grit your teeth like you’re chanting at…which football team do you support?”

“Spurs.”

“Like you’re chanting at the Arsenal fans. Grit your teeth like you mean it.”

“I don’t go in for that whole football rivalry nonsense.”

Well can you fucking imagine yourself doing so?! For me?” he shouted.

“Jesus. Yes, OK.” He was in his mid-fifties, and it seems like those anger issues don’t get better. “So you want me to…”

“Grit your teeth, yes. Until your TMJ gets used to being stretched, and until you get sick of doing it, and want nothing more than to be a placid man, opposed to hatred-fuelled arousal.”

Inspired, I got up, so briskly my plastic chair upended. I picked it up and put it back while the doctor ground his own teeth and growled at the damage to his surgery.

“Doctor, I’ll give it a go. Will it work, do you think?”

“I’m not paid to think. Ask the Health Trust. They’d rather I was a fucking algorithm!” he screamed at his closed window—turned his head to the side and screamed.

He composed himself and buttoned his waistcoat. “Make an appointment for a month from now with reception,” he said, and then turned to his computer and started bashing away furiously. It was most inappropriate for him to start masturbating before I’d even left the surgery, but I supposed he had to get over that anger somehow.

 

I went about for two weeks with gritted teeth. I think I cracked one of them a bit, a premolar on the left upper. But the general public did whatever I asked and gave me a lot of space. I have a wild gleam to my eye, see. A birth defect.

It was quite the experiment. Usually, I go about my business without interaction with strangers, but I made a lot of new friends those weeks.

Most frequently, men would strike up a conversation with me.

“What the fuck’s your problem?” they would say. And touched by their concern for my medical condition, I would reply, as loudly as possible to show my enthusiasm, through gritted teeth.

“My jaw. Do you want me to make it your problem?” I would say, seeking their permission to indulge in a cathartic experience, unburdening myself via a thorough explanation of my woe. They would see my wild eye-gleam and leave, looking at me warily over their shoulders (probably wanting to examine the damaged jaw further for themselves, but not wanting to let on that they were doing so). But good, new friends nonetheless. I could walk into any park or pub during that time and be assured of a reception!

After two weeks my jaw felt better, more limber, and I didn’t feel the need to continue gritting. I resolved to smile, instead.

Despite my affability, people kept their distance. They saw my eye-gleam and the smile plastered on my face as I approached, and they left quickly. Some might have remembered me from my gritting days, and I’ll say this: they wanted no part of me anymore. They couldn’t get away fast enough.

It taught me that it’s easier to be loved if you look really angry, or are disabled in some way.

I resolved to keep my appointment with the doctor, to let him know how well his jaw trick had worked. Also, to recommend a wheelchair, to make him more genial in appearance, help with his ‘bedside manner’. Which is sorely lacking, what with the wanking and swearing and general anger.

Unfortunately, when I went back, I learned he was dead—killed in a riot he had started outside the Health Trust building.

In any case, my jaw was mended. Well done that man, and kudos to his field of medicine!

I shall speak at his funeral. Through gritted teeth, as a tribute to his pioneering work to make the working classes more loveable.

Simon Pinkerton

@Simon Pinkerton

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