HNCSA is on holiday but our forum, our private Facebook group, goes on 24/7 all year. What are the issues that come up for patients over the holiday period? An important  one is, who do you call if you have a minor to medium health crisis duing this time? The usual channels of communication like the clinical nurse specialist are closed off to you. My experience this Christmas has taught me a lot after I had a dental crisis starting on the December 23rd. After radiotherapy we can’t have teeth extracted willy nilly.

It wasn’t just the pain but also worry about infection that sent me on a journey through the Christmas health system.

First Healthline – fabulous service. Then Silverdale Medical Centre, again, great service and some antibiotics to allay my fear of infection in the gum and jaw. They both advised me to ring Greenlane when the statutary holidays were over or see if the Tooth Company had any experienced dentists to at least assess my teeth.

One of the teeth flared up bigtime and I didn’t realise that Greenlane was open on Boxing Day. Went to North Shore Hospital who promptly sent me to Shore Care with a voucher. There I received excellent care and was prescibed morphine and once again told to get hold of a dentist with the only ones available over that time being the ubiquitous Tooth Company. When I didn’t seem to be getting through to Greenlane the next day, I booked an appointment with the Tooth Company but on the way there (!) I was rung by a friendly dentist at Greenlane who said they would check my radiation levels and get back to me with an appointment for an extraction if all was okay. I wondered what would happen if it wasn’t okay. HBO? Pentaclo?

In the end I had the two teeth out on 29 December by a very skilled dentist at Greenlane. I’m a difficult customer because of my trismus.

What I’ve concluded from this process is:

1. Toothache can be so painful that even the knowledgeable patient can throw caution to the wind and just want the teeth out

2. GPs and Healthline, while very helpful, don’t fully grasp the importance of checking radiation levels for head and neck cancer patients

3. Unfortunately the hospital Emergency department is your only option if you are caught in this dilemma over the holiday period. Ringing them first would be a good idea.

Anticipating that Greenlane wouldn’t be able to see me, I prepared a long list of bullet points for the private dentist about my pain levels, my radiotherapy and risk of ORN. I wasn’t going in blind but I’m so glad I didn’t have to go there at all!