La version française de ces histoires se trouve sur En direct de l'intestin grêle

Wouldn't it be great if these stories were true? Unfortunately (or fortunately) they're not; they are just the product of my overworked mind. All characters and events are fictitious and if you think you recognize yourself or somebody you know in these stories, it was not my purpose and it is purely unintentional. In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy reading this blog. Feel free to link this blog wherever else you hang out on the Internet and to post comments below. I enjoy hearing from you.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

The World of Dentistry

The Bartlett pear (called Williams pear in England) is one of the tastiest and juiciest fruit in North American supermarkets. It’s hard to believe that by chewing on this soft delicacy, much to my dismay, I managed to break the filling on one of my lower molars.

Dental problems started to appear about 10,000 years ago, when humans stopped roaming the land to settle in villages and towns. At that time, mankind’s eating habits changed as our ancestors began eating more sugar, a leading cause for cavities.

Could it be that toothaches are God’s curse on the children of Cain for adopting their father’s sedentary living?

salad dressing,condiment. groceries. grocery store
Cain was a farmer and his brother Abel was a nomad. Abel sacrificed the firstborns of his cattle to God who seemed to enjoy it. However, the zucchini, carrots and celery Cain offered up weren’t to the Almighty’s taste, maybe because Cain neglected to serve them with ranch dressing.
It took a long time for people to understand tooth decay. In olden times, cavities were thought to be caused by worms. In ancient Egypt, dental malformation in children was treated by feeding skinned and cooked mice to toddlers. In China, cavities were filled with bat dung. In Spain, frequent mouthwash with urine was key to good oral hygiene.

In the Middle Ages, tooth pullers began exercising their trade in public squares, promising their clients painless relief. Of course they were lying through their teeth but it provided great entertainment for crowds who had neither TV nor Internet to kill time. Tooth pullers also removed calluses.

In those days, dentistry and pedicure drank at the same well.

When Renaissance arrived, hairdressers joined the dental trade bandwagon. Noble ladies of Florence could thus have tartar removed from their teeth while getting a perm or having their hair styled.

In the 18th century, Pierre Fauchard, the “father of modern dentistry,” published The Surgeon Dentist in which he recommended the use of heavy metals for tooth fillings. He also endorsed regular mouthwash with urine.

urination, urophagia, urine therapy, personal hygiene, dental care

A man collected his own urine in a bottle to use as mouthwash. Beware of unproven personal hygiene advice: it might just be a fad... especially if it’s gross.
Progress cannot be stopped but it sometimes takes a while to occur.

You can understand why I have always had mixed impressions about dental medicine. Should it be considered a science? An art? A technical trade?

With this in mind I began looking for a dentist. I chose a new dental office that had just opened in a strip mall close to where I lived, tucked between a video rental store, a pizza parlor and a realtor’s office.

Doctor Nguyen’s office was new, tidy, tastefully decorated and equipped with the latest technology. The good doctor was a pretty 30 year-old woman who had recently graduated from a Las Vegas dental school, a city that does not readily come to mind when you seek higher education.

I was told however that its dental schools have an excellent reputation.

After her examination, Doctor Nguyen told me that my decayed molar needed a crown but first I had to see a dental surgeon who would lower my gum, raise my jaw and perform root canal surgery. She would make the necessary arrangements for me.

Root canal surgery is a procedure in which the pulp of a damaged tooth is removed with files, reamers, drills and other precision instruments. Although this treatment sounds painful, the Polish surgeon I went to see possessed undeniable skills.

He first gave me a solid local anesthetic and then put on a blaring Johnny Cash CD to distract me from the abominations he was performing in my mouth using sharp objects.

I did not feel a thing.

When I saw Doctor Nguyen again, she worked for several minutes on my molar before saying: “This won’t do.”

She led me to her office. My mouth was numb from the anesthetic and I was still wearing the necessary bib that dentists tie around the neck of their patients while they intervene.

Doctor Nguyen turned on a giant screen on which I could see the digitized x-ray image of my mouth.

“You see, I can’t install a crown because your teeth are out of alignment, specifically here, here and here as well as on all this side of your mouth,” she said pointing at teeth with her laser pen.

“This is what I suggest: I will make a set of braces to adjust your teeth. You will wear it in your mouth for six to twelve months, long enough for your teeth to be redressed. This treatment will cost about $1,800. Your parents would have done well to take you to a dentist when you were a child.”

I refrained from telling her about my grandfather who lived the last 30 years of his life with only three teeth in his mouth and who saw a blacksmith when he had a toothache.

“Then I will install crowns on the teeth of your lower jaw which will no longer be aligned with those of the upper jaw. It’s about twelve crowns and it will cost $15,000 to $18,000. We can start the treatment next week.”

I asked Doctor Nguyen for a few days to think about it.

“You know, many people would not hesitate one moment to mortgage their house to receive such a treatment,” she said.

“Oh! I believe you!” I replied. “However, just to satisfy my curiosity, how much would it cost to have all my teeth pulled out to replace them with dentures?”

“About $10,000 but I wouldn’t recommend it,” she answered.

I thanked her, paid for the treatment I already had received and left her office, dizzy from novocaine and the astronomical amounts that she had quoted me for fixing my teeth.

A friend suggested I seek a second opinion and recommended a Swedish dentist for whom her sister worked as a dental assistant.

So I went to see Doctor Svensson, a middle-aged lady who looked in my mouth mumbling “I see, I see...”

Then she asked me:

“Is your dentist young? Her office and equipment, are they all computerized?”

“Yes! How did you know?”

“Dear sir, I think I can fit you with a crown. Would you prefer gold or porcelain? I believe a gold crown would look good on you. A gold crown costs $900, a porcelain crown, $1,200.”

“Gold would be nice,” I replied sheepishly promising myself to light a candle to Saint John Maynard Keynes who suggested the gold standard be replaced with the porcelain standard at the Bretton-Woods Conference in 1944.

teeth, dentures, dentist, crown, orthodontist, filling, gold
John Maynard Keynes was a British economist who played a key role in the signing of the Bretton Woods Agreement in New Hampshire. As a result of this agreement, the gold standard was dropped. The porcelain standard is my invention. If you exchange your money for porcelain, you will be disappointed.
Two weeks later I was proudly wearing my new gold crown. It felt good and I was relieved that I did not have to rinse my mouth with urine.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Biggest Swimming Pool in the World

Superlatives are words used to qualify the absolute top or bottom in quality or quantity. How we enjoy talking about the wealthiest man in the world, the thinnest tablet or the most crooked political leader!

I guess these words were invented to make us forget how common our ordinary lives can be.

As I was discussing superlatives with colleagues, it made me think of something that happened while I was still married.

My wife was born to drive a car. She just loved to take to the road. She used any excuse to jump into the car and travel aimlessly looking for something new to see.

On a nice sunny Sunday afternoon my wife and I decided to take a ride in the countryside.

My wife was at the wheel. Fields, groves and cattle were going by the left and right of the car. I was daydreaming, thinking how great life was and how wonderful it was to be alive.

We came to a village famous for its cheese curds factory and decided to stop and sample the local delicacy.

poutine, cheese, curd, french fries, gravy, thumbs up, soda, pop, plastic fork, Quebec, Canadiana
Cheese curds were invented in Canada in the early 1960s by dairy farmers trying to bypass quota regulations. Easy to make, this fat, salty, slightly processed cheddar cheese quickly became popular and gave birth to the infamous “poutine,” a meal made of cheese and french fries topped with hot gravy.
We bought our cheese and as my wife was admiring the quaint shop, I read a story in the local newspaper about one of the area attractions, “the biggest natural swimming pool in the world.”

As soon as I mentioned it to my wife, she wanted to see it since it was only a few miles away.

We found the “swimming pool” at the end of an unnamed dirt road. The pool was made of three communicating stone basins at the foot of a large rock where a trickle of cold water was flowing from a spring. The bottom of each basin had been painted aquamarine to give the impression of an artificial swimming pool. All in all, the lagoon was much smaller in size than an olympic swimming pool.

It had been a hot summer with less than average rainfall. The stream was not a bubbly jet of water, just a slow dribble. The smallest basin was empty and the deepest contained nothing more than three feet of sticky water, green with algae proliferating under the warm sun.

This did not seem to bother the numerous children who were noisily splashing about in the water while their parents, slumped into lounging chairs around the pool, distractedly kept an eye on their progeny.

I told my wife this seemed to be the perfect place to catch a dermatosis that would make these poor kids’ skin tougher than the hide of Big Joe, the largest alligator of Florida that we had seen near Fort Myers.

alligator, reptile, lizard, amphibian, crocodilian, crocodile, bayou, Florida
With more than one million American Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) in the world this species is far from being endangered as it haunts the southeastern United States. The word “alligator” is derived from el lagarto (the lizard), the name given to the reptile by the first Spanish explorers.
“You always see the bad side of things! Look at how much fun they’re having!” she said smiling and waving at the children.

At that moment, a man with a worn-out Elvis Presley T-shirt and sporting a dirty pair of khaki shorts with a dangerously open fly came to meet us.

— Welcome to our little paradise on Earth! Are you looking for a place to park your camping trailer?

— Erm... No, we just came to see the biggest swimming pool in the world, I said before being interrupted by my wife.

— Oh! There’s a campground? Can we see it?

— Yes, behind those trees, answered the man pointing towards a thinly-wooded area. I can give you a tour if you want.

— Oh! That would be delightful! Shall we go my darling? said my wife to me as she took the arm of our improvised guide.

Against my will I followed them through an underbrush planted with birch and aspen trees.

A lacing road was forming a loop of the campground. Trailers were parked along the road close to each other, most of them permanently. Some seemed to have been there for decades.

At the centre of the loop, a large porcelain urinal decorated with lights and plastic flowers was acting as a grotto for a statue of the Virgin Mary. The saint was standing in this makeshift shrine with her open arms, looking discouraged as if she declined any responsibility for the compound she found herself in.

Our guide was explaining the intricacies of camping to my wife as she obediently listened and asked questions from time to time. The man was so happy to have found an audience that he was rocking on his heels, a nervous tick that, to my dismay, was causing the broken fly of his shorts to open even more.

He then invited us for coffee in his trailer. My wife accepted although I was not keen on the invitation and we walked towards the fellow’s mobile home.

The trailer looked like our guide: common and unkempt. As the guy started to fight to open the jammed door, the broken fly zipper of his shorts gaped even more and, to my disgust, I saw “Elvis” leaving the building.

I had had enough. I took my wife by the arm, thanked our host and, pretending we had a long ride home we left this place where I had seen everything I wished I had never seen.

public swimming pool, aquamarine, dead leaves, autumn, fall, 1.4 metre
Swimming pools have been popular since antiquity, the oldest one was found in Sindh, Pakistan. In England, public swimming pools appeared in the mid-19th century. However, nobody has ever boasted of having the emptiest swimming pool in the world.