Probably as a result of being a bit under par (British euphemism for “knackered”) I have been suffering for a couple of days with what I believe is termed a gumboil. Not a lot of fun – very painful. Never had one before – my chief recollection of gumboils is of people in comic strip cartoons with distended jaws, usually supported by some kind of crude sling, tied with a knot on top of the head. Extreme gumboils would have drawn lines radiating from them, to indicate the sort of pain which could be felt at some distance. A gumboil, I understand, is like a dental abscess – the chief difference is that it usually doesn’t come from a rotten tooth, it stems from a gum infection.
I’ll spare you the grim details, but I have had an interesting couple of nights before I could get a dental appointment – the roof of my mouth swelled to an astonishing size and shape, and everything hurt – my jaws, my tongue, my nose, my sinuses, my left eye, my head – and my neck became very stiff and I had difficulty swallowing. The one small comfort in all this was that I discovered (once again? – can’t remember) that Nurofen tablets will not only reduce the pain, but also reduce the inflammation and the swelling quite dramatically – but we are speaking here of fairly small calibrations of discomfort, and there is a strict limit to how many Nurofens you can pop in a day.
Once upon a time, when I was 11, Ian Buckley told us that his brother was off school with a gumboil – the reason this was memorable is that Ian explained the treatment – you had to have a tooth removed (which in those days involved being put to sleep with gas – nitrous oxide?) – the only alternative was to stick a needle in the boil, but Ian claimed that there was a very good chance that the patient would then run around screaming until he died. Even at 11 we could see that this didn’t quite ring true, but it had that wonderful gothic whiff of crazed authenticity which schoolboys love, and so I stored away this fact: never prick a gumboil, or you will die horribly and very entertainingly. I stored it along with other well-known folk tales, such as how a disturbed swan will break your arm, and how there is no possibly way of avoiding injury if you run with scissors.
Today I eventually got a dental appointment. The dentist confirmed that it was a gumboil, and that he would have to lance it with a scalpel and drain it. No anaesthetic was possible, I was told, because a needle would simply push the infection deeper into the tissues. The procedure would be very unpleasant, but there was no alternative.
Clearly it would be unmanly to actually whimper, but my heart sank like a stone, and I very nearly asked – in an exaggeratedly careless manner, of course - whether I would run around screaming until death. Managed not to do that – sometimes we have to be secretly pleased that we do not disgrace ourselves more than necessary.
In fact it was almost disappointing. I wouldn’t recommend it as a way of spending a Tuesday morning, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected, and I didn’t scream a bit. Of course, I feel very much better as a result of the procedure – I believe I can stop the painkillers, and I am now on a course of horse-sized antibiotic pills for 5 days (no alcohol, I was warned, or I would become very ill indeed – perhaps that is where the screaming comes in?), and with luck things should calm down. I shall make a point of getting a proper static-bike programme organised for the winter, and I shall make sure I get my oranges, and every day I shall be fitter, and better and wiser.
One final ramble in this tale. I took my prescription for the horse-pills to a rather old-fashioned little pharmacy in Haddington. Had to wait 15 minutes for them to be ready, so went for a quick coffee next door and then browsed around the pharmacy. Well now. They had retro aftershaves on sale – things I haven’t seen or thought about for years. There was Brut (aaargh!), Joop and a few others. I had a good chuckle to see some old friends, but suddenly things became more serious, and I found that my heart was set on buying a bottle of Old Spice Original, which I swear I have not used since I was 17 – at which time, I recall, I used to shave a couple of times a month. I was the height of sophistication in those days, naturally.
So I purchased a bottle. I’m quite pleased to have it, though I have not smelt it yet. Maybe I’ll have to get a vintage corduroy jacket to go with it. No - let’s just stop there. I'm pretty sure that at 17 I was even creepier than I am now.