Elena Escalante Ruíz
It was almost seven o’clock at night when I arrived, by recommendation of a friend, to Dr. Vladovici’s office. I was soaked. I had been surprised by the rain and, as soon as I announced myself with the receptionist, I ran my hands over my face trying to dry it a bit. The woman did not seem to flinch about my condition: she muttered something and with an abrupt gesture pointed to the waiting room. Her lack of courtesy made me feel uncomfortable. I thought she could at least have offered me a towel. My shirt’s collar was wet and I could feel my hands sticky.
The waiting room was small. In addition to the armchair, there was a very low table on which there were no magazines, but a single book that I leafed through distractedly: they were stories of an H. Quiroga. Minutes later, in an attempt to familiarize myself with the place, I noticed the photographs of primitive dental instruments that decorated the walls. I wanted to approach to see them better, but the silence and the severe look of the receptionist, who ordered me to go to the office of Vladovici, inhibited me.
The doctor asked me several questions about my dental habits: “Frequency of brushing, toothpaste predilection”… and so on. He immediately sent me into a small cubicle and began to check me. While listening to Vladovici count my teeth, I noticed that I was lying on an old barber chair, which surprised me given its comfort. The rest of the furniture was white and seemed top notch; although I am not sure about this, for I am not an expert in dental furniture.
The next day I arrived a little before the time of my appointment and decided to calmly observe the photographs of dental instruments that I could not see in detail the previous day. The symbiosis of the reflection of my glasses with the glass of one of the images, created a fish; and, when I moved my stare, the fish also moved, either horizontally or vertically, but always within the edges of the image: I found the optical discovery hilarious. Playing with the fish I felt the cold gaze of the receptionist who, I am sure, was bothered by my presence. There were still a few minutes left for my appointment. Then I sat, ready to read some story of Quiroga’s booklet as I waited for my turn.
On that second appointment, Dr. Vladovici explained to me that I was suffering from a very common illness among people my age. It had to be treated as soon as possible, as I ran the risk of losing some teeth.
– You will not feel any discomfort. – he assured.
I confess that the diagnosis took me by surprise, because I always enjoyed excellent dental health. Subsequently, Vladovici asked me to sign a letter in which I committed to follow a very expensive treatment. In those minutes, I thought it was worth the expense and signed with pleasure.
Under the blinding light of the lamp, I remained attentive listening to the devious movements of the doctor, preparing to start the treatment. This took several minutes. I immediately felt a sting in my gum and began to feel heat. I narrowed my eyes and, little by little, the world began to lose precision.
When I woke up I heard it was raining and, for an instant, I thought I was at home. Disoriented and with an unpleasant dry throat, I asked the doctor what time it was: I had been asleep through out the whole procedure. This puzzled me. I thought maybe I was much more tired than usual. Despite the elapsed time, I noticed that nothing had happened inside my mouth. Then, I asked the doctor what the treatment was about.
-We have not started the treatment properly, yet. -he told me-. First, I must clean each and every tooth with great care. This takes an average of three weeks to a month, as sometimes several sessions are required for one tooth only.
A few days later, while I was looking through the book on the little table, waiting for my turn, I noticed some doors that most likely led to other consultation cubicles. In them, I imagined other patients waiting for the doctor but, until that moment, I had not seen any other person in the office. This seemed strange to me, but I immediately assumed that the doctor’s rigid personality made him very punctual.
That day, trying to have a conversation, I asked the doctor how long the procedure would take, but he stood up without saying a word and, seconds later, I heard him crossing one of the doors. I waited for him a long time while listening, involuntarily, to a whispering that came from the same place. I did not want to interrupt any urgent matter that the doctor might be attending and, although his attitude seemed improper, I did not reproach him upon his return: I thought it was a bad idea to upset him just before starting the procedure: again this took him several minutes.
When I woke up I was surprised to notice that it was already dark: I saw the clock and it was after nine o’clock at night. It was raining in the window and, in the distance, the billboard of an optician was shining: “See the world as it really is.” I had wasted too much time waiting for the doctor and wanted to leave the place as soon as possible; but with a brief signal, the doctor told me to go to an office that I had not seen until then.
Sitting at the other end of the desk, Vladovici took a handkerchief out of a little drawer and slowly began to clean his glasses. I remained still, waiting to hear something important related to my dental health:
-I don’t understand your urgency to leave. I beg you to think if you want to continue with the treatment. I can tell you that I do not consider it advisable to stop it at this stage due to the bad condition of your teeth, especially the upper canine teeth. -He paused and continued.- I admit that progress is slow, but you must be patient, otherwise, I assure you, you will not see favorable results.
I felt very ashamed of my lack of tact, to such an extent that I began to apologize without being able to close my mouth. Then, I tried to explain to the doctor that I was not thinking of stopping the treatment but, despite my efforts, only incoherences came out of my mouth.
As weeks went by I started to feel depressed. I did not known since when my mood change had developed: I had lost my appetite and had severe pain in my limbs, not to mention other embarrassing details. Nor did I understand why, despite my determination not to fall asleep during the sessions, I did. One day I asked the doctor if this was common among his patients, but I immediately felt his intention to avoid the subject. His attitude puzzled me in such a way, that I ended up blaming myself for asking such a foolish question. Then I understood that, from the moment I heard my diagnosis from the doctor’s mouth, I felt subjected to his wishes, worried about what he might think of me. This left me very uneasy.
Days later, sitting in the old barber chair waiting for the doctor, I felt an intense smell of disinfectant that made me nauseous. I associated the smell with a very unpleasant sensation, without understanding why, because I had no memory to justify this idea. Simultaneously, I heard some voices coming from another cubicle that, at times, became laughter. Then I had the impression of being observed and thought that the «Voices» were making fun of me. I began to suspect that Vladovici exerted some kind of hypnotic force on his patients. I realized that I had forgotten the name of the friend who recommended Vladovici to me. Actually, I admitted, he was not my friend, but a strange character with whom I had an absurd conversation, when leaving a cinema, and whose face I could not remember: the only image that came to mind was that of a greenish and crumpled piece of paper with the dentist’s phone number. In that instant, Vladovici entered. My anguish was indescribable and by habit, or because I didn’t know what to do, I leaned back in the barber chair. Carefully, placing his right hand on the lower part of my neck, Vladovici asked if I was satisfied with the treatment. Then, I tried to sit up straight to get out of there as soon as possible, but suddenly his eyes widened as if he had heard my thoughts. I was terrified. Then I jumped and threw him to the floor.
I woke up in the hospital. The only image I have of what happened next, is the receptionist running towards me with a heavy book and, as if I were a bug, dropping it on my head.
Despite the skepticism of family and friends, I am very aware that I am still in danger: yesterday, following my doctor’s orders, I was walking through the corridors of the clinic when, suddenly, like a blinding ray, the horrible smell of disinfectant from doctor Vladovici’s office, reached me.