Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Humor in Uniform – “Dental” Memories from my Navy Days

Around 12 years ago – towards the end of my Naval Career – I was appointed in a rather nondescript inter-service organization – and – I lived in “Aundh Camp” – in the “back-of-beyond”.

One Saturday morning – my “Better Half” had a “dental emergency”.

So – we rushed to the Military Dental Centre (MDC) located in Military Hospital (MH) Kirkee (Khadki) – which was the nearest Dental Centre I was aware of.

When we reached MDC Kirkee – we noticed that the place was all “decked up”.

The Dental Centre had been made all “spic and span” with a lot of “spit and polish” for a “VIP Visit”.

At the reception counter – we were informed that in view of the “VIP Inspection” – patients would not been seen on that day – so – we should come on Monday – the next working day.

When we pointed out the “dental emergency” – we were told:

“You can try the Bombay Engineer Group (BEG) Dental Centre…”

Someone said:

“No – No – it is better they go to College of Military Engineering (CME) Dental Centre – their unit is located in “Aundh Camp” which is across the river – so they come under the “jurisdiction” of CME Dental Centre…”

Someone else remarked:

“No – No – since they want urgent dental treatment – it is better they go to BEG Dental Centre – the Dentist there is very good and cooperative – the Dental Centre at CME is most non-cooperative – last week  they sent back patients saying that they were overloaded with internal patients and had no time for “outsiders”…”

A random “Pongo” gave an “expert comment” (in the spirit of “Jointmanship”):

“Why are Naval Officers coming here for Dental Treatment…?”

“Do you want us to go to Mumbai…?” I said angrily, “please understand – it is a “dental emergency”…”

“Sir – I suggest you go to BEG Dental Centre…” someone sensible advised us – and he gave us the directions.

So – we drove down to BEG Dental Centre.

There – we discovered that the Dentist had gone to “Dighi Camp” to conduct “Dental Inspections” of Soldiers.

But – the Dental Assistant at BEG Dental Centre assured us, saying:

Sahab is very good – he will see you in the Dental Clinic there. Sir – you go to Dighi – I will call up and tell him that you are coming…”

So – after getting directions from the Dental Assistant – we drove down to Dighi.

I must say that this BEG Dentist was one of the best Military Dental Officers I have ever met.

He immediately attended to my “Better Half” in a most professional and courteous manner.

Sometime later – when we wanted some Dental Treatment – we visited him at the BEG Dental Centre – and he treated us most cheerfully.

Unlike others – he did not seem to have any “jurisdictional” issues – and he welcomed all patients.

Sadly – he was posted out – and his replacement was very particular about “dental jurisdiction”– which we discovered a few months later – when he showed great reluctance to treat us – grumbling loudly that we should have gone to the Military Dental Centre at Khadki (Kirkee).

After this disheartening experience – my “Better Half” decided to get her dental treatment done from a reputed Civilian Dentist.

After retirement – I too visit the same Civilian Dentist for dental treatment.

This morning – while I sat terrified in the Dental Chair – hearing the Dentist’s comforting words – I remembered this story about my favourite Military Dentist – a Lady Navy Dental Officer… 

Dental Memories of a Navy Veteran
A Fictional Spoof

This is a humorous spoof – satire. 
So – read this story only if you have a “sense of humor” 

“Dentists” in Uniform – Memories of My Navy Days

A few years ago – after I had retired from the Navy – a fellow Navy Veteran learnt that I was visiting a Civilian Dentist for dental treatment – so – he asked me: 

“Why are you going to a Civilian Dentist…?”

“It’s convenient…” I said.

“But – if you go to a Civilian Dentist – you have to pay from your own pocket. If you go to ECHS (Ex-Servicemen’s Contributory Health Scheme) – they will send you to a Military Dentist – and – you can get your dental treatment done “free of cost”…” the Navy Veteran said.

“The Civilian Dentist is located near my home – whereas the ECHS Clinic is quite far away – and – the Military Dental Centre is even further – so – it is very inconvenient for me to go all the way – first to the ECHS Clinic to take a referral – and then drive down to the Military Dental Centre...” I said.

“Yes – you live so far away – it is certainly inconvenient…” the Navy Veteran said.

“Actually – inconvenience is not the only factor. The main reason I go to the Civilian Dentist is that I like this particular Dentist – I am comfortable with him. In the Military – I cannot choose my Dentist – I will have to go to whomsoever Military Dentist they send me to – whether he is good or not – and – there is no continuity – next time – they may send me to someone else – especially if the earlier Dentist is posted out…”

“But if you go to a Military Dentist – it is free. If you go to a Civilian Dentist – you have to pay…”

“At my age – as a Retired Senior Citizen – for me – my comfort is more important than money…” I said to my fellow Navy Veteran. 

“Oh...” he remarked.

 Then – I said to my Navy Veteran friend: 

“Let me tell you one more reason – the Civilian Dentist is trying his best to restore some of my teeth which were ruined by Military Dentists…”

Dear Reader – before I tell you about the Military Dentists who ruined some of my teeth (or removed them) – let me begin on a positive note. 

Let me tell you about the best Military Dentist I came across during my long Navy Career  a Lady Dentist.

Actually – she was wearing Navy Uniform at that time. 

But then – like all Military Doctors belong to the Army Medical Corps (AMC) – all Military Dentists belong to the Army Dental Corps (ADC) – and – they keep changing uniforms – depending on the service to which they are posted. 

And – just like Military Doctors are called Medical Officers – Military Dentists are called Dental Officers.

This happened around 18 years ago – when I was appointed in the premier Naval Dockyard at Mumbai.

One afternoon – while having lunch – one tooth chipped off and broke.

This hapless tooth had been “worked-on” by a Military Dentist – many years ago – during an Annual Medical Examination (AME)

Dear Reader – let me digress a bit – and – tell you that – during the AME – we were sent to the Unit Dental Officer to get our teeth examined.

Most Dental Officers delegated this task to their Dental Assistants – called DORA (Dental Operating Room Assistant) – in the Navy.

However – some “Eager–Beaver” Dentists who were keen to “hone their skills” by extensive “Hands-On” experience – would personally examine and “treat” every Officer who came for the Annual Medical Examination (AME).

I remember one such “enthusiastic” Military Dentist – who probably wanted to become the best “Root Canal Therapist” in the world.

Since uniformed military personnel have no choice to select their doctor/dentist – they have to visit their Unit Dentist for Dental Examination/Treatment.

Luckily (for him) – this passionate “Root Canal Therapist” was posted to a prestigious tri-service Military Training Academy – and – he was the one and only Dental Officer posted in this huge establishment – and he had a large number of military cadets and staff under his “dental jurisdiction”

This opportunity provided this aspiring “Root Canal Therapist” plenty of “Guinea-Pigs” – on whom he could experiment and hone his dental skills – before he quit the Army – and started a lucrative dental practice in “Civvy Street”

So – he ruthlessly “root-canalled” everyone who entered his dental clinic – and – sadly – I was one of his early “victims” when he “root-canalled” two of my teeth in quick succession – when I reported for my Annual Medical Examination.

Both my teeth were ruined.

Later – one of these “experimentally root-canalled” teeth was extracted by another Military Dentist  who was aspiring to be an “Extraction Specialist”.

Fortunately – the other tooth was restored by a Civilian Dentist who painstakingly performed a “re-root-canal” 

And – it was only then – that I realized that Root Canal Therapy was an intricate procedure involving multiple sittings – not the “shoot and scoot” type “root-canal” done on me earlier by the Military Dentist.

Military Dentists are lucky – they have plenty of opportunity to “experiment” on hapless gullible “Faujis”.  

It is not so in the case of Civilian Dentists – who run the risk of being put out of business – in case their “dental experiments” start going wrong. 

Yes – just a few “dental mishaps” can badly affect a dentist’s reputation in the highly competitive field of dental practice in the civilian world – and even ruin his business. 

Coming back to Military Dentists - like “Root-Canalists” and “Extractors” – I came across a few “Drillers and Fillers” and “Cappers and Crowners” too.

Yes – like the Corps of Engineers has “Sappers and Miners” – in the Army Dental Corps – we have “Cappers and Crowners” and “Drillers and Fillers”…

Maybe – it was a few of these “super-specialists” who seemed to have “worked on” the tooth which had now chipped and broken.

Anyway – I rushed to the Naval Dockyard Dental Centre with the broken tooth-piece in my hand.

There – I had expected to see the Surgeon Commander (D) who was the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the Dental Centre – who I feared would probably extract the damaged tooth (since he was famous as an “Extractor”…)

But instead of him – there was a pretty young girl in Naval Uniform wearing Two Stripes with Crimson in-between (a Surgeon Lieutenant)

(In the Navy – for Medical Officers – the term “Surgeon” is prefixed before the Rank – and – for Dental Officers – in addition to the prefix “Surgeon” – there is a suffix (D) in brackets)

Seeing the surprise on my face – the young Lady Surgeon Lieutenant (D) said to me: 

Sir – the OIC had to suddenly go on leave…”


“Sir – I am officiating as the OIC Dental Centre now…”

“Have you come on Temporary Duty…?”

“No, Sir – I just reported yesterday – they have appointed me as Deputy OIC – Sir – today is my first actual day at work as a dentist…”

I had no choice but to submit myself the young lady dentist. 

I explained my predicament and showed her my piece of tooth which had chipped off and broken.

She asked me to get onto the dental chair and she examined my damaged tooth.

“Are you going to extract the tooth…?” I asked her, fearfully.

“No, No, Sir – we will save the tooth…” the pretty lady dentist said – and – she began working on my damaged tooth.

While she was treating my tooth – she kept on talking to me – giving a “running commentary”  explaining what she was doing.

Normally – I feel terrified when I sit in a dental chair – but – her “running commentary” had a soothing effect on me.

Though she was young – she was extremely dexterous and skillful – and – she repaired and restored my damaged tooth very well.

Then – she checked all my teeth – and said: 

“Sir – I think two more of your teeth need a bit of restoration – the fillings seem to be coming off...”

Impressed by her proficiency – I asked her: 

“When can you give me an appointment…?”

“Sir – you can come anytime – preferably in the afternoons…” she said. 

I got those two teeth fixed “ship-shape” by her that week itself.

I was so impressed by the young Lady Surgeon Lieutenant (D) – by her gentle dexterity and her professional skill – that I profusely praised her everywhere – even during our weekly meeting chaired by our boss.

“If the new Lady Dental Officer is really as good as you say – I must get my teeth fixed by her too…” he said.

“Yes, Sir…” I said, “She is a really good dentist – she is not like our “Extractor”…” 

Ha Ha – “Extractor” – an apt name for our Surgeon Commander (D)...” our Boss said, “That’s why I avoid going to the Dental Centre – all that the bugger does is to extract teeth at the slightest opportunity. I have to go “out-of-station” this week – so – I will get my teeth fixed by the new Lady Dental Officer next week…” the boss said.

Sadly – he was too late.

When the boss reported to the Dental Centre after one week – the Surgeon Commander (D) had reported back from leave and assumed duties as OIC – and – the young Lady Surgeon Lieutenant (D) was relegated back to her position as Deputy OIC.

Now – in the Military – seniority is sacrosanct.

Yes – in the Military – everything depends on seniority – even competence – so – ipso facto – it is assumed that the Senior is more professionally competent that the Junior (though actual facts may be otherwise).

So – the senior Surgeon Commander (D) – the “Extractor” – attended to Officers – whereas – the junior Lady Surgeon Lieutenant (D) – the “Restorer” – she had to take care of Sailors.  

As per this precedence – when our Boss – who was a Senior Officer – reported to the Dental Centre for treatment – he was ushered into the office of the Surgeon Commander (D) (the “Extractor)

Our Boss pleaded that he would like to be treated by the young “Restorer” Surgeon Lieutenant (D) – the Lady Dental Officer. 

But – the “Extractor” Surgeon Commander (D) refused to listen – and he said to our Boss: 

“Sir – you are a very Senior Officer – how can I hand you over to that young inexperienced Dentist – she is only a Lieutenant – she is meant for junior ranks.  Sir – I will personally treat you myself…”

In the Military – the moment you enter a Clinic/Hospital – the Doctor’s word is final. 

So – our Boss had no option but to submit himself to the “Extractor”. 

As expected – the the “Extractor” Surgeon Commander (D) extracted the tooth which was paining. 

One hour later – our Boss emerged from the Dental Centre with one tooth less in his mouth. 

And – in lieu of this extracted tooth – he carried a One Day “SIQ” (Sick-in-Quarter) Chit in his hand.

Yes – in the Military – visiting a Dental Centre is like playing “Roulette”. 

If you are lucky – you may get a “Restorer”.  

But – if you are not that lucky – you may land up with someone else – a “Driller and Filler” – a “Capper and Crowner” – a “Root-Canaller” – an “Extractor”– or maybe – an even more deadly “super-specialist”…

Also – when you are in military uniform – you have no choice – and – you have to report to the assigned Military Dental Centre if you have a dental problem (and for your Annual Dental Examination)

At least – after retirement – you can choose your own dentist – if you are willing to pay for it. 

(Dear Reader: Hope you enjoyed this story. I am sure you will enjoy DOCTORS IN UNIFORM even more. 


Copyright © Vikram Karve 
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1. This story is a fictional spoof, satire, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
2. All Stories in this Blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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