Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Root Canal, or The Death of a Tooth

This story began around the middle of July when Lorraine and I went to see M. for our annual checkups and cleaning.  I thought my teeth were fine, no weird sensations in them, no jagged edges from a broken off corner; however, the X-ray told me I was wrong.  Somewhere under an old filling at the back of my upper rights something was amiss.  I came back in a couple of days to get it fixed and thought that was the end of it, but M. booked me to see an endodontist (endo, Greek for inside, and odons of course meaning tooth), or root canal specialist, a few days later because he was concerned that the depth of the repair he had done might upset the nerve.  (Check here to learn about endodontics)

Thankfully it didn’t, and I was really happy when Dr. M., the endodontist in the office down on the third floor, completed all his tapping of the tooth and touching it with hot and cold things and told me it seemed OK.  I took it as an affirmation of my tooth’s health as well as my own and felt pretty good, even, I suppose, a little smug.  And then I forgot about it.

I kept on forgetting about it and carrying on with my usual sleeping and waking and eating and drinking and enjoying the things that make up a day for me; that is, I kept on until a week ago.  That day I woke up with a dull aching that felt as if it went almost up to my right cheekbone.  I don’t think I have ever had a toothache – perhaps someone who has would be thinking right now, That’s not something you’d easily forget  – and didn’t immediately connect it to my happily recovered tooth.

When we went to see M. the next day, by which time I knew the cause of my ache, he told me that these things don’t usually settle down when they flare up and that it’s better to set up an appointment with Dr. M. now before it got to the banging your head against the wall kind of pain.  I took his advice, only Dr. M. was away, so I got booked in to see one of his endodontic partners, Dr. A., this morning, six days later.
Last Friday was the worst day with a serious aching in my jaw and a tooth so sensitive and tender that even the tip of my tongue made it hurt.  Ibuprofen settled it down, and more ibuprofen settled it down more, and as the weekend passed the pain and sensitivity gradually went away, until by Monday everything seemed fine.  Hooray, I thought, my brave little tooth has recovered its good health, in spite of what M. had told me.  No head-banging for me, we beat it, and I felt proud of my tooth!

Yesterday I called Dr. A.’s office and said that the tooth had settled down and should I still come in?  She checked my chart and said Yes, so I went in this morning thinking I would have a conversation with Dr. A. about whether or not we really needed to do this root canal (here is what that looks like).  After all, I wanted to protect the life of my tooth, the little tooth that could.

Dr. A. reassured me that we wouldn’t do a root canal if we didn’t need it and proceeded to ask me questions and tap my tooth.  No problems there, it felt as sound and sturdy as any of my teeth, with no special sensitivity.  I felt relieved, and proud of my healthy tooth.  Then he said he was going to try some cold.  Whatever he used looked really cold as vapour was rising from it, but no matter where he touched my tooth was still ok, no pain at all.  I was still relieved.

Then he dropped the bomb, Your tooth has died.

It was a bomb.  A part of my living body, sleeping and waking and eating and drinking through the days, had, without my even noticing, up and died.  I felt a considerable sense of loss and dislocation.

What do you do now? I asked.

He told me what I really already knew, that he had to drain the tooth to remove the risk of abscess, so that’s what we did, he the doctor leaning over me in a blue mask, she his assistant on the other side, also masked, and me the patient stretched out, rubber dammed, and anaesthetized.  And that’s how we stayed for about an hour.

I learned a lot as I lay there looking at the fluorescent light bars in the ceiling and listening to and feeling the work going on inside my mouth.  For one thing the whole place felt a lot like an office in Mad Men, with all the male endodontists and their female assistants.  Dr. A. and his assistant worked together really smoothly, like a team that has been at it for a while.  He would say something like, I need a #10 file or some kind of paper tip or more irrigation, and she would immediately put it in his hand or make it happen.  One time in all of their exchanges he murmured, Thanks, and she quietly replied, You’re welcome.   I felt we were all engaged in an intimate little endodontic dance.

I knew they could see inside my frozen mouth, but I wondered if they could tell much by looking at my eyes; then I remembered I was wearing protective dark glasses, so all they could tell of what I was feeling or thinking was how often I swallowed or how clenched my hands were with my thumbs pressed so tightly against each other.

I learned that my brave little tooth actually had four roots instead of the usual three, that one of the canals was really hard to get at, and that the little electronic machine he hung in the corner of my mouth and made beeping noises measured three of my roots at 19 and one at 19.5. There were names for each of the roots as he told the measurements to his assistant, and I was sure I would remember them, but now as I write this they are completely gone.  Not that it really matters, because now they are empty anyway and the tooth is just an enamel shell. 

I have to go back in two weeks to have it checked and more permanently sealed, I guess, and now that the freezing is out and the aches in my gums and jaws have diminished, I can think about and probe my little dead tooth.  Chew on the other side and be nice to it for a couple of days, Dr. A. told me as I left.  I thought it was kind of sweet to say that about my poor dead tooth.

May it rest in peace, I’d say.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Weeds Are a Problem – The Comfrey Story

The comfrey story started for me in the spring of 1997 six months or so after we moved into this house in Ferguson’s Cove.  One of the previous owners had been a landscape designer, and an attractive thing about the house we bought was the layout of gardens and shrubs complete with a large pile that I understood to be mature compost.  Through the fall and winter we added to the pile, and in the spring a plant sprouted out from within the pile.  It was well established with its sturdy stalks and large leaves – when you see them you understand why some people call this plant Ass Ear – and grew vigorously.

It was comfrey.

I had heard of comfrey and had some notion that it was a useful plant, perhaps with some medicinal applications, but I wasn’t interested enough to research it.  Instead I started to build the vegetable beds that I most like working on and in, happily dug into the fertile depths of the compost pile, and began to spread it around.  I don’t recall now actually pulling up the comfrey plant or doing anything specific with it, but there must have been something because comfrey has a large and solid root mass, compared by some to a turnip.  What I do know is that spreading that compost around included spreading bits of comfrey root around, which really means spreading comfrey plants around.

And now I have them, comfrey plants, and they irritate me. 

I think of blackberry brambles, the way they send out their beautiful arching stalks and put down roots where they land.  They are an annoyance, some people might even call them a plague, especially when their thorns come through your gloves or the roots break off when you try to yank them out, but there is something I like about brambles, a raffish elegance in their way of spreading over an area, reaching out and putting down.  They are lithe adventurers, unlike the squat and somewhat bourgeois comfrey that just sit and proliferate.

Perhaps I am being unfair; after all, there are people who seem to value comfrey for its many useful applications, and there are detailed instructions (check here if you’re really interested) for how to propagate and care for them, as well as (here) how to use them.  I don’t care about the former – they seem to propagate easily and care for themselves very nicely thank you – but since I do have them, I really ought to explore their uses.  In fact, I will do that.

But all that notwithstanding, the task at hand is to eradicate as many comfrey plants as I can, because I have lots, and they do grow prodigiously. 

When we went away in 2003, there were maybe three of them established in a somewhat rocky area  where we had buried our dog and cat near the asparagus patch.  I didn’t attack the plants then, but now that we have returned and I have finally begun to re-address the issues of garden, the comfrey seem to have settled in to more than a dozen large, healthy, and apparently satisfied specimens, undisturbed in our absence by the cut of shovel or poke of fork.

In the spring I dug out two of them, one in each of our former vegetable gardens and was amazed at the large mass of each root ball.  I chucked them into the green bin where they landed with solid thunks (my serious hope is that the processing that happens at the municipal composting facility effectively kills these root chunks rather than just shredding and spreading them to unwitting HRM victims).  Then I gently pulled out as many of the long roots as I could, not because I cared about the plant’s feelings in all this, but because I wanted to extirpate every bit and fragment of comfrey root I could find from my garden area.  These also went into the green bin.

Of course I didn’t get them all, just as I never got clear of all the Japanese knotweed in the backyard garden we made forty years ago on Quinpool next to Annie’s convenience store, and have spent the rest of the season digging out small bits of root with eager young comfrey shoots poking up their loathsome leaves where I want only carrots and parsnips growing.  I didn’t lose the knotweed battle all those years ago, and I don’t plan to lose this one, but I know I’ll need to be diligent and I know I’ll continue to curse my comfrey.

So if you’re thinking you want to grow comfrey, for whatever reason, either forget the idea (come and pick some of mine if you need it) or do it with great care and caution.  You may regret ever introducing these complacent and persistent perennials to your garden areas, and you may, like me, end up girding yourself for an endless battle with the comfrey.  Consider yourself warned!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Equi Nox: The Last Day of Summer

We had some serious summer weather earlier this month where it was so hot that Lorraine and I set up a table down in the studio (our basement) for several days so that we could work in the uncharacteristic (for here at least) heat wave.  But then, as it always does, the systems changed, it got cooler, and felt more like September.  I have even started to wear socks and shoes on occasion instead of my sandals, I heard the furnace come on one night, and when we look at the forecast now it is most likely to predict highs of 17 or 18, rather than the 33 or 34 we had less than three weeks ago.

So today, the last day of summer, was a treat, with sunny skies after some morning cloud, brisk southwest winds, and temperatures in the mid-20’s, except, as always with that wind, a little cooler along the coast.  That description does read rather like an Environment Canada report and does not do justice to the warm beneficence of today, the equinox, the day that the sun crosses the Equator (or, to be more truthful, the day the earth tilts in relation to the sun, and our northern hemisphere starts the long slide into winter).  It was a treat, a glorious day, and after doing some work in the morning we decided to head for Crystal Crescent for a celebratory picnic.

We weren’t the only ones, but the stretch of beach we stopped at was empty except for a little girl of two or three who was there with her dad, playing in and around the large castle and well he had made in the sand.  Others arrived on the beach, some with towels, though nobody went into the water except the dad who held his daughter so she could kick her feet in the waves, and still others hiked on out to the point or to the next beach, the one we have always called Cootes Cove or Mackerel Cove, but most people now know as The Nude Beach.

We didn’t bother going out there, but we did fly our kite after eating our sandwiches, and each of us learned how to maneuvre it well enough to keep it from crashing whenever the wind did a shift or a gust.

We also walked out to check out the gulls and cormorants on the rocks.

And we saw the seasonal asters, aka Michaelmas daisies (find out about Michaelmas and St. Michael, the great Archangel, here), harbingers of autumn reminding us that school is in and summer is really over.

Back at home I was walking in bare feet – after all, it is the last day of summer – to fill one of the bird feeders – after all, winter is coming – when I felt something cold on my ankle and saw a most beautiful spring peeper in the grass, the first I have ever seen.  It seemed a nice irony of the day that this tiny creature, this harbinger of spring that you always hear and almost never see, should be jumping across our lawn today and is in fact chirping outside the window tonight as I type this.

So it was a large day, and tonight is it, the autumn equinox, and the last day of this season, a nice end to a really nice summer.  This evening’s moon, a smidgen away from full, will herald autumn and harvest when it rises over the harbour tomorrow night, reminding us that the day has just become a little shorter than the night. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Weeds Are a Problem

“Weeds are a problem.”  That was the opening line of an essay written by our boarder and good friend Phil when he was living with us while he completed his Master’s degree in botany.  He was struggling to find a way into the paper, and his solution, which is a tautology since a thing is called a weed only when it is perceived as a problem, did get him past the writer’s block and into the paper and eventually through his whole thesis.  And “Weeds are a problem” has become a signature phrase in our household ever since.

This year for me weeds have been a problem.  They have been present but easy to manage in the little herb and flower garden next to the walkway, but in the bigger picture, the larger environs we live in, they have been both present and often difficult.  The difficulty has been in part the fact that we have not really got to them to deal with them.  So they sprout and leaf out and flower and go to seed, taunting us with their problematic weedy presence.

One suggestion that makes sense to me is that it’s better to pull weeds after it has rained.  Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for the weeds, this has been a dry season.  We did get a reasonable soaking from Hurricane Earl a couple of weeks ago, but after he passed we were too busy putting our deck furniture back, waiting for the power to come on, and clearing up debris to think of pulling weeds.  However, we did get a steady and prolonged fall of rain on Friday – I know because I was in and out of it all morning – and there was a chance the weeds would let go more easily.

So yesterday I got to it.  I weeded around my tiny asparagus plants in the bed I am working to establish and then started to reclaim a section of my old vegetable garden now overrun with goldenrod, morning glory, and bracken ferns.  It was truly satisfying yanking bunches of goldenrod out of the ground and pulling up tangles of morning glory; they did come out more easily and completely because I was pulling them out of wet ground.  The bracken fern took more digging than pulling because their roots extend under the ground and break off, but I also got clear of a small invasion of them and had a substantial area mostly clear of weeds, at least the big ones.

The other satisfying thing was clearing a part of our driveway from plantain and other small weeds that persist on growing up through its several centimetres of gravel.  For this I used a nice little forked tool from Lee Valley that allowed me to loosen the gravel and more easily pull out the offending plants; in fact, it worked so well that I now have a wheelbarrow load of them to take down to the compost pile.

There is also a not-satisfying aspect to the weeding problem, and that is the comfrey.  The image above is a small comfrey plant I dug out yesterday, and there is much that I would like to say about it and the plague of comfrey, but unfortunately most of it is unsuitable for this medium.  However, when I started to investigate comfrey [aka Ass Ear, Assear, Beinwurz (Ger), Blackwort, Boneset, Bruisewort, Consolida, Consoude (Fr), Consound, Gum Plant, Healing Herb, Knitback, Knitbone, Nipbone, Okopnik (Russ), Salsify, Schwarzwurz (Ger), Slippery Root, Wallwort, Yalluc (Saxon)], I found that there is a great deal that one can say even in a public blog; as a result, my next post is likely to be “Weeds Are a Problem – The Comfrey Story”.  It’s an interesting one and a cautionary tale.  Watch for it.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pesto burgers there and here

Friday afternoons in Istanbul we usually left the school where we lived through the week and drove over to the European side. Crossing the bridge was always a treat for us because it meant we had left the work week behind and were heading for Ortaköy to spend the weekend in the studio.

One of our Friday night treats, once we had found a place to leave the car and carted our stuff into the studio and maybe had a bit of wine or a cold beer from the tekel, was to head for the waterfront for some supper at Sedir, our favourite restaurant in Ortaköy. For most of the years we went to Sedir there was neither beer nor wine available, perhaps because of its proximity to the famous seaside mosque, Büyük Mecidiye Camii (here’s a picture of it), but the atmosphere and the food were consistently great.

I thought of Sedir on Friday night after the first full (or almost full) week of school, as we talked about supper. We had wanted to spend a little time outside after getting home because Lorraine had been inside the classroom and the photo lab for too long, so we found squeegees and buckets, hooked up the borrowed pressure washer, and started to wash off the salt spray, shredded leaf bits, and pine needles that Hurricane Earl had stuck to our walls and windows last weekend. It was satisfying work and the view improved considerably, but it wasn’t very long before we decided we had done enough of that and it was time to think about eating.

What about burgers? I asked.

Sure, Lorraine said, can we make pesto burgers?

One of our favourite Friday night suppers at Sedir was their pesto burger. It was always a nicely done ground sirloin burger with a generous spread of good pesto on the bun, accompanied by a small dish of shredded, slightly caramelized onions and a side of fried potatoes cut in wedges – in Turkish they were sometimes called “apple-sliced potatoes” or “village potatoes” if I remember (and translated) correctly – and the usual dispensers of mayonnaise and ketchup. It was always a treat and a great way to start off our weekend.

So I told Lorraine we could make pesto burgers, I just needed to pick the basel, get out the food processor, chop up some good Turkish hazelnuts we bought in the spring at Ölmezler Kuruyemiş (Siz taze taze ve ucuz alın diye, biz ince eleyip sık dokuyoruz is what it says on the bag, meaning something like Because you want fresh fresh and not expensive, we weave thin and thick. Maybe one of my Turkish friends can give me a better translation – I certainly won’t bother with the gibberish that the online translator gave me), mix in some good olive oil and parmesan, and spread it generously on the bun.

It didn’t take long, and we soon had a nice jar of fresh pesto to go with the Angus burgers that sizzled on the barbecue. We didn’t have the cute little dish of onions or elma dilim potatoes, but we had great pesto burgers with a glass of wine and memories of those wonderful Friday night suppers down by the Bosphorus in Ortaköy to start us off on this happy weekend in Ferguson’s Cove.