A bad toothache

A bad toothache

(unpublished chapter from Six Children on Mars)

During the journey back home, which was going to take five months, everyone was calmer and less rushed. The strongest emotions of the expedition had passed, and they also had less work to do. They spent quite a lot of time communicating via the Internet with their friends on Earth and telling them about their experiences on the planet. Daniel spent the entire day sending messages to Raquel, a good friend, who had nearly gone with them to Mars, but due to a small family issue she had to stay on Earth and was replaced by Jimena, Mariú’s best friend.

This is what Daniel told her in one of the messages:

‘We are having a blast. You cannot imagine how many things we have done in Mars and, especially, the wonderful landscapes we were able to see. We had a small drone that flew without a crew and explored places before we could. Mariú was controlling it very well; one time she almost broke it, but luckily we were able to mend it. Manuel fell down a very deep cliff and could have died, but he only twisted his ankle. I will tell you more another day. Bye. Danielote (that is what my grandad used to call me before we left for deep space).

Álvaro looked a bit down, and everyone immediately noticed.

‘What is wrong, Álvaro?’ asked Jimena one day. ‘Are you sad this is going to end?’

‘No, on the contrary, I would like it to end right now. I have a terrible toothache and have not slept in three days.’

‘Why didn’t you tell us before?’ said Mariú, angrily. ‘We are going to the clinic right now, since it’s there for something. Although it is tiny, we will be able to figure something out. Jimena and I learned a little about nursing at a camp last year, so you can trust us.’

The three of them went to the clinic, which looked like a first aid cabinet more than anything, but was quite well equipped. Álvaro sat in an armchair similar to those in dentists, although far smaller and less comfortable, and had to strap himself in so as not to fly off, since they were in a state of weightlessness the whole way home, just as on the way out. He leaned back and opened his mouth as wide as he could.

‘Where does it hurt?’ asked Jimena, looking at Álvaro’s mouth with apprehension and leaning uncomfortably against the wall.
‘I think it is this molar here,’ said Álvaro, touching the first molar on his lower-left.

Mariú grabbed a small hammer and carefully tapped on the last molar on that side.

‘This one?’ asked Jimena, who was watching what Mariú was doing.

‘No, further on.’

Mariú continued hitting one by one all the molars on that side, until she reached the first one.

‘Ah! That is the one,’ cried Álvaro, grimacing in pain.

‘Well, now we know,’ said Mariú circumspectly, ‘it is the first lower-left molar.’

‘What do we do now?’ asked Jimena.

‘I have no idea, let me think.’

‘Can you see a cavity or anything like that?’

‘No, I cannot see anything. When does it hurt more, with cold or with heat?’

‘Neither with cold nor with heat. It hurts the most when I am trying to fall asleep,’ said Álvaro, who was starting to doubt the two astronaut nurses.

‘I think we will have to take an X-ray. There is an X-ray machine here, but I cannot remember how it works. We will have to study the instructions,’ said Mariú. ‘Why don’t you go for a walk or go out on the balcony while we set it up?’

Álvaro, looking defeated and grim, because now his molar hurt even more after being hammered, headed for the balcony. He found César there, who had been observing with the twins if they could spot Earth, and told him about his molar.

‘That is annoying. Maybe we will have no other choice but to take it out,’ César said sternly.

‘Do not even think about it! I would rather die of pain, but I will not let you take out my molar, you immature astronauts!’

After half an hour had gone by, the two girls called Álvaro.

‘Come, we know how to operate this junk now. Sit down again.’

Finally, after three or four attempts, they managed to get a a rather good X-ray of the diseased molar. They studied it carefully, but could not detect anything special.

‘It seems to me like this white spot on the root is a sign of infection,’ said Jimena, who was now very worried.

‘I think you are right. We will radio the X-ray to the Control Centre and see what they say.’

‘Okay, very good idea. What do you think, Álvaro?’

‘As long as you make the pain go away, whatever you decide is fine with me,’ he replied, getting increasingly  more nervous. 

Control’s response took almost two hours. They had to study the case carefully, but finally the message they were waiting for arrived.

‘The molar is practically lost. It is very badly infected. Try a strong painkiller that you have in the medicine drawer. It has the code no. 7243. He may also want to take an antibiotic to hopefully beat the infection, although it is highly unlikely. Its code is 435;  he must take those three pills on consecutive days. If these remedies do not work, there will be no option but to extract the molar. When you return, we will give him an implant and it will be as good as new.’

Álvaro began shaking. The first thing he did was ask for the analgesic and the antibiotic boxes. Mariú, who was very clever, told the Control Centre that she needed instructions on how to extract a molar. As soon as she received them, she began to study them with Jimena.

Daniel immediately informed Raquel, in another message, of the current situation:

‘Now we have a serious problem. Álvaro, our boss, although he does not want us to call him boss, has a terrible toothache, he cannot sleep and is always in a bad mood. I think we might have to pull his tooth out. It is going to be a very serious situation. I have no idea how we are going to do it. I will let you know. Love. Danielote.’

Álvaro improved significantly with the medication, mainly thanks to the antibiotics, but the intense pain returned after six or seven days. He was in a worse mood every day, because the analgesics no longer had any effect. After a new consultation with the doctors at the Control Centre, they had no choice but to seriously consider the solution of extracting the molar. Jimena and Mariú got very nervous and said they could not do it, that they were not strong enough. Manuel announced he was really scared of blood, and that if he tried he might faint, so he went to the control cabin, getting out of the toothache situation.

‘That leaves you and I,’ said Daniel, looking at César, ‘so let’s get to work. Let’s ask the astronauts for instructions.’

Álvaro looked at the young astronauts in horror; he realised that he was about to become their guinea pig, but the pain, which he had been battling for almost a month, was so disturbing he was ready for anything.

César and Daniel went to the clinic with Jimena and Mariú, and they explained the details of the process. They even let them handle the pliers they had to use to perform the extraction and do a test run, grasping a small screw to assess the force they could apply. The most complicated aspect was going to be finding a good position to be able to pull steadily, considering that they were not going to be tied down like Álvaro, and they would be floating around the space of the clinic. In the end, they decided to secure a metal stool next to the armchair where Álvaro would be sitting, and tie the person who was going to pull the molar to the stool by their calves.

When he was asked to come to the clinic, Álvaro was frightened and very pale, but, meek as a lamb, he headed for the ‘slaughter house’, as he told Manuel before leaving. Manuel was scared stiff, so he stayed in the control cabin with the excuse that someone had to remain there at all times. Although he tried not to think about what was going to happen at the clinic, he could not shake it out of his mind. Fortunately, no important maneuvers had to be made, otherwise he would have definitely messed them up. 

‘Come on, don’t be a scaredy-cat, nothing is going to happen to you!’ said Jimena, trying to cheer Álvaro up.

‘I can assure you I am more scared now than I was during the entire trip exploring Mars, despite the fact that we have risked our lives many times,’ said Álvaro, as they tied him to the armchair so that he would not float away.

‘The first thing we are going to do is give you a strong anesthetic. Also, so the jab does not hurt, we will numb the gum with the liquid on this cotton disc,’ said Mariú, somewhat nervously as she rubbed his gum.

‘Is it asleep yet?’ Jimena asked, holding the anesthetic injection in her hand as if it were a cowboy’s revolver.

‘How should I know? Please, do it at once, I am getting really nervous!’ said Álvaro in a nasal tone, since he had a tube in his mouth to extract the saliva.

Álvaro was queasy. The scene he was contemplating from the armchair in which he was tied up was horrifying. The two astronauts were floating in space, near the room’s ceiling, stretched out to their full, with their faces close to Álvaro’s mouth; one of them, Mariú, was holding in one hand the tube she had put in his mouth to extract the saliva; the other, Jimena, was holding a syringe and waiting to inject it into his gum. In a corner, near the ceiling, he saw Daniel curled up, pale and expressionless. Finally, César was next to the armchair, strongly gripping Álvaro’s arm with both hands, also floating mid-air, his feet near the ceiling. At the sight, Álvaro thought that if a professional dentist could see what he was seeing, they would be instantly petrified.

Jimena clenched her teeth as hard as she could, pressed the needle onto Álvaro’s gum, closed her eyes and pushed gently. The needle pierced the gum and the anesthetic liquid followed.

‘Be careful, the liquid is spilling out!’ Mariú exclaimed.

‘What do I do?’ asked Jimena, horrified.

‘You must inject it again, but deeper. Do you want me to do it?’ said Mariú.

‘No, no, let me do it. I have already taken out the needle. How far should I go?’

‘Half-way. But hurry, the effect of the anesthetic could wear off.’

Álvaro was getting more and more frightened. Hearing the astronauts’ conversation made his hair stand up, but he had no other choice but to endure everything that came his way.

Jimena extracted the needle and pricked again, this time with her eyes open. Then, she slowly pushed the syringe’s plunger. Álvaro, who had closed his eyes, opened them with a sigh of relief. Mariú looked inside Álvaro’s mouth: everything seemed to be in order.

‘Well, now it is your turn. Which one of you two is going to try first?’ said Mariú, glancing at Daniel and César, who were beside her.

‘I will,’ said César, trembling, stepping on the stool and getting ready to be tied by the calves.

César reached for the pliers and clasped Álvaro’s molar with them.

‘Careful, do not take the wrong one out!’ shouted Mariú anxiously, looking at the tooth.

‘Tell me, is it this one?’ asked César before pulling.

‘Yes, yes! That one!’ said Mariú. ‘Go ahead, pull hard.’

César pulled as hard as he could, but nothing happened.

‘You have to twist it, as if you were pulling a geranium out of its pot,’ Jimena shouted.

‘I cannot do it, I give up, Daniel can try. Untie me immediately, I need to go to the bathroom.’

Álvaro was terrified. He still had his mouth open, his eyes closed and clingued tightly to the armchair, even though he was strapped to it. Daniel, faint and trembling, got on the stool, grabbed the pliers angrily, grasped the molar, and began twisting, as Jimena had suggested. He continued twisting until Mariú slapped him on the head.

‘Stop, you will break his gum!’

‘Didn’t you tell me to twist it? That is what I am doing.’

‘But not so much. Pull hard at once, Álvaro is going to pass out.’

‘Here I come!’ Daniel yelled, pulling as hard as he could.

Everyone closed their eyes, except Daniel. Álvaro drew in his feet in shock, because, luckily, with the anesthesia he could not feel any pain. On the first try, nothing happened. Then Daniel pulled again, with much more force, and shouted with great satisfaction:

‘I have it! Here it is! Look how big it is!’

They all sighed in relief and looked at Álvaro, who, although very pale, did not seem to have suffered too much.

‘I suppose you are not in pain anymore,’ said Daniel, waving the pliers with the molar in his hand. ‘Do you mind if I keep it as a souvenir?’

‘You can take it to hell for all I care. I do not think I will need it when I get my implant,’ said Álvaro, trying to untie himself. ‘Please, let me out, I want to go to bed.’

When Jimena recovered from the shock, she sent her friend a message:

‘You will not believe the situation we had upstairs. We were forced to pull out a molar from Álvaro, who is the oldest among us. He was in a lot of pain, and the Control Centre told us that we had to take out the tooth because it was badly infected. We did not know how to do it so we had to study many things. I injected his gum. I have never been so scared in my life. But we finally pulled it out, and it does not hurt anymore.’

Álvaro slept for sixteen consecutive hours. He was really exhausted. When he woke up, he was a new man; he kept thanking everyone. He even thanked Manuel for piloting the ship during the surgery. The Control Centre were very happy to hear that everything had gone smoothly. It was the first time a tooth extraction was performed in mid-flight and they had been very worried.

Three days later, Jimena ran (well, flew) in search of Daniel.

‘Look! Look what just came through!’ she said, showing him a colourful sheet of paper she had received by e-mail.

‘What is this?’ asked Daniel, looking at the paper. ‘Wow! A certificate saying I am the first human to have extracted a tooth in outer space. How wonderful! I will hang it on my bedroom wall.’

‘What a scam! They did not send me anything!’ said César indignantly. ‘And I was the one who loosened the molar so you could pull it out. There is no justice. The world is so unfair!’

‘Come on, stop being dramatic. You didn’t do anything. You immediately ran away and left me alone in the face of danger.’

‘I left because I had to go to the bathroom. But I helped you a lot, admit it.’

‘Okay, do not get angry. If you want, I can call them and tell them to send you another certificate. That your participation was crucial.’

‘No, I do not want you to call them. I would have liked for them to send me one spontaneously, not because you asked them to. They can go do one!’

Luis Ruiz de Gopegui

[This unpublished chapter of Six Children on Mars belongs to a previous version of the book and was not included in Media Vaca’s edition as the publishers were unaware of its existence. Luis, the author, has recently recovered it and sent it to us so we could share it with all his enthusiastic readers.]