‘You’re meant to be having your dental appointment now!’ barked the receptionist, bringing my lie-in to an abrupt end.
Very unusually, I had left the builder boyfriend to do the horses on his way to work and I was lounging about in bed. Coffee at the luxurious hour of 9 a.m., spaniels sprawled on the duvet, sun lighting up the room… everything was feeling marvellously laid back, until I realised I had forgotten I was supposed to be having my teeth poked about.
‘Don’t worry, I can be there in 30 seconds,’ I gasped, falling out of bed and scrambling for a pair of jeans. I live four doors down from the dentist. ‘All right, if you come straight round that’s fine,’ she said.
I hurtled downstairs, out the door and round the corner of the short line of houses between me and the high street, throwing myself at the glass door of the dentist surgery only to bounce straight off it.
The door was locked. I peered in and the woman I had just spoken to was on the phone — possibly still finishing saying goodbye to me — while the woman next to her at the desk was dealing with a customer.
With one customer inside, I was not being allowed in. I knocked on the door to no avail. Then I stood in front of the window and waved.
The woman on the phone mouthed: ‘I’m on the phone!’ I felt like shouting: ‘Yes, to me!’ I had to wait until her colleague had finished dealing with the customer, who was ordered to stand aside, then leave, after I was brought in.
‘Place your bag in the box,’ she said, and made me put my handbag in a large plastic storage tub which she clicked shut.
‘Hands!’ and she glugged a blob of sanitiser into my palms. ‘Up the stairs, straight ahead.’
The hygienist is a lovely lady and I am thrilled to have found her after all the other hygienists who have tormented me over the years. She is the least totalitarian of all those who have scraped plaque off my teeth while lecturing me about my brushing regime.
She does, of course, still tell me off, but in a less confrontational way. ‘Melissa, a lot of build-up,’ she says, more in sorrow than in anger. And I think, you’re welcome.
I’ve never understood why hygienists seem to want enforcement powers to prevent the thing that keeps them in business, and why they approach the matter of finding plaque like a police officer pulling you over for speeding.
I must have missed it when they put through the Dental Offences Act with provision for hygienists to issue a caution to those found flouting the flossing laws.
Back downstairs, I barely set foot inside the reception area before being told: ‘Wait!’ Another customer was at the desk. ‘Take her bag out of the box and spray it,’ barked one receptionist to the other, and my handbag was duly extracted, handed to me, and the box wiped with sanitiser as the patient was told to ‘Put your bag in the box!’ before being ordered upstairs.
They had more boxes, a whole heap of them. I don’t know why they didn’t just crack open a new box.
Over at the GP surgery, the staff have barricaded themselves in and taken to serving people through a small slit in a side window. Plastered all over this window, and the window next to it, are notices warning you to wear a mask as you approach the window, not shout at the window, or bang on it, or be rude.
I observed this fascinating system as I stood at the chemist next door to the surgery queuing for my HRT which was now ready to pick up after a week of blood pressure readings, taken myself using a monitor bought online, were judged as normal as they needed to be.
A man approached the window and stood in front of it. A female employee inside cracked it open an inch. The man, wearing his mask, tried to explain what he wanted. The combination of the window only being open an inch, the mask on the man’s face, and the woman standing well back made for a conversation at cross purposes, naturally.
I felt a surge of pride as I watched, because I got inside this sacred place a week earlier when they had to see me for my blood pressure. I was granted a rare audience during the one hour daily opening hours and admitted after being interrogated over an intercom system. Once inside, I was seated alone in a waiting room where a single chair was marooned in each of the four corners.
They are not leaving anything to chance. And they are taking every chance to leave everything.