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Tales from the dump: Pulling teeth in the bush

Monty Python would say: "and now for something completely different."

Modern medicine, doctors and nurses do save and prolong a lot of lives and we should all be grateful that we live in a land where we have access to them. However other professions you may not think of also save lives. If you were to go back in time, you would discover that in the good old days, a lot of people had gum disease or teeth that were infected and the poisons from these conditions actually killed a lot of people. If you want to scare yourself, look at the instruments dentists used in the past, if you could actually find a real dentist. Often barbers and blacksmiths did the dirty work when a tooth needed pulling. If that doesn't scare you, consider the fact that modern anesthetics hadn't been invented yet.

Tales from the Dump

So, here is a story or bush tale of life in Northern Canada that I heard in various forms when I first started working in the field. A seven- or eight-man camp was sent out to the bush to do a job over break-up. In those days before helicopters were in use it meant that they would be on their own and cut off from civilization for six or eight weeks: the time between when the last plane on skis left and the ice melted so a float plane could land.

A few days after the last plane left on skis, a fellow known as grumpy old Gus, started to complain that he had a sore tooth. It and the complaints seemed to get worse, each and every hour of each and every day.

His constant complaining, moaning and groaning, cursing and swearing was starting to drive the rest of the crew crazy. He was difficult to get along with at the best of times and now he was making everyone's life miserable. Several times people suggest that if the tooth was bothering him that much, then he should just pull it himself. He considered that option but just didn't have the fortitude to actually do it.

One night at dinner, they convinced him that the tooth was only going to get worse and might even kill him. The offer was made that if he couldn't bring himself to it, well then, they volunteered to do it for him. The tooth must have been really bothering him because he reluctantly agreed. At least that is the way the story goes.

So, before he could change his mind, several of the heartier lads pinned him down and pried his mouth open, while the boss got a pair of pliers from the kitchen toolbox. It all happened so fast some even suggest that the crew had this all planned. Now some men would have sat stoically while the procedure took place, but not Gus, he was a screamer. As the boss and the pliers approached Gus, he apparently was having second thoughts and started to kick and squirm like all get out. A couple more lads had to pin down his legs.

It was hard to hear what Gus was yelling, with his mouth held open and there was a lot of commotion going on, but the boss got a good grip on the tooth with the pliers and twisted and turned and pulled and heaved until the tooth finally came out. A little bloody, to be sure. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and loosened their grip. Gus was swearing a blue streak and feeling around in his mouth with his tongue. He let out a scream and yelled "You pulled the wrong tooth, you idiots." The boss said, "Grab him boys" and proceeded to pull the second tooth. Luckily this time, they got the rotten one.

Gus was none too happy but what was done was done and after a few days he did admit, that much of the pain had gone and he was even feeling a tad better.

Like all good bush tales this one had a couple morals attached to it. Get your teeth check before you go to the bush and once there, you are on your own and you just have to do what needs doing.

Also, there is a limit to how much moaning and groaning the crew will tolerate.