Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Our Polish doctor, our Polish dentist

Watching the Coen Brother's inestimably brilliant movie A Serious Man sparked off so many reflections; one of relevance to this blog relates to the characters of Dr Shapiro and Dr Lee Sussman, doctor and dentist respectively. Just as Minnesota's Jewish community would see Jewish healthcare specialists, so we Poles of West London had our own doctors and dentists.

Our doctor was Dr Bernaciński, who had his surgery in a flat in South Kensington. Very posh place, plush carpets in the hall and spiral staircase leading up to his apartments. Through the door into the waiting room; usually a handful of people sitting there, leafing through magazines. Our turn to see Dr B. First impression - cigarette smoke. The man smoked prodigiously (indeed, so does Dr Shapiro in A Serious Man). The place reeked of tobacco smoke, both stale and fresh. Right into early adulthood, I would always be reminded of Dr Bernaciński's surgery when entering a smoky room. Bald on top with brown hair, beaked nose, slim build, wore glasses and tweed suits. His large, leather-topped desk was always clear, except for a stethoscope, a blood pressure monitor in a steel case, a diary and prescription pads. Being in his mid-fifties then (in the mid-1960s), he would have completed his medical studies in pre-war Poland. I don't know what he did during the war; in those days, it was less talked about than today.

With our prescriptions written out, my father and I would step out into the night air of South Ken to a nearby pharmacy. Bright lights, big city, an exciting departure from the grey suburbs of Hanwell W7. A trip to the doctor's, invariably at night in winter, into town along the Great West Road, past the old West London Air Terminal on Cromwell Road, was a rare treat. So if my brother was ill and a prescription was needed, I would beg my father to allow me to go with him on the eight mile (13km) drive to the doctor's. Why so far? Dr Bernaciński was my mother's doctor from before she married and moved to Hanwell from Kensington. My father's doctor was also Polish, if I remember correctly - Dr Kimmerling.

If my memories of visits to Dr Bernaciński are pleasant, the same cannot be said for my memories of our dentist, Dr Kucharski. I would dread visits to his surgery on King's Avenue in Ealing. Having an appointment for the dentist looming before me would be like facing a dreadful wall of fear that was moving ever closer, unavoidable, physically terrifying. In the 1960s, dental equipment was not as sophisticated or patient-friendly as it is today. The drilling machine, upright ivory-coloured pillar with stainless steel arms and little wheels and wires and that drill bit at the end which went into your mouth - it was the devil's own instrument for torturing for small boys. That moment when the drill hit the nerve. Those cotton-wool tubes inserted between gum and cheek made me retch. Pain-killing injections, delivered in huge shiny syringes, were worse than the pain they were meant to relieve.

Dr Kucharski was a big man, silver-haired with hairy arms in a white coat. Every procedure would be followed with a rinse of pink mouthwash and the instruction wypluj ('spit it out') in a sing-song voice. His tall, thin wife, working as his assistant, also in white coat, would laugh at me for crying.

My diet today is almost totally free of confectionary, and oral hygiene is an important matter. I have also lost all fear of dentists. In the past 30 years, I've had just two fillings, compared to the two a year I used to have in my childhood. Did Dr Kucharski over-treat my young mouth, egged on by generous NHS payments? Or was this the price I was paying for a sugar-rich diet? Or both?

Before moving to Poland, I would long continue using the services of other Polish doctors and dentists. Today, I have little choice in the matter!


Stefan Kubiak said...

Dentists! Under Gierek there were dentists in schools and visits to their surgeries were obligatory! Actually some of them did a lot of good job. Each appointment, however, was a nightmare! They introduced those high-speed drills cooled with water at the end of 1970s. Before that drilling was a traumatic experience ;)

Eddie said...

Dentistry (Atlanta, GA) has become more innovated and far way better nowadays because a lot of cool tools have been made that help us have healthy teeth and gums. Maybe that is the reason why most patients (especially kids) do not fear their dentists anymore because of these human-friendly tools. Dentistry in Atlanta where my hometown is is trusted and reputable in giving good quality dental services for their clients.

ANNIS said...

I use to fear dentists- till I came across a Polish- possibly Jewish- excellent man and very professional- expert in his field - made our dental NHS consultants work look like trainees work.
I think anyone who gets to see a Polish dentist is very lucky- try the Asians and English if you want to live in fear or dread and with their poor dental skills comes the nasty comments from the Asians "You British people have very poor-weak teeth" and the English dentists after age of 40 yrs are dismissed for losing it mentally.
So it was a pleasant surprise to have my teeth/mouth looked at a Polish dentist- very polite, Professional and expert in his work- along with sense of humour-albeit dentist's brand of humour!
The Polish dentists should be good - are often trained by Americans or not?

ANNIS said...

I am trying to search for this Dentist- anyone know if he is still practising?
His name is Dr Robert Przybyszewski last known location in Loughborough Leiecestershire in the UK in 2009-10.
He was the best dentist I had the good pleasure to meet- and I have met many so called dentists - having rather sweet taste buds/teeth- I am even thinking of going to Poland for a dental holiday!