It was back in the early 70’s that I was to have my introduction to dental gas anaesthesia…..
I was sitting in the dentist’s chair waiting for the local dentist to finish his examination, when he suddenly turned round to his assistant and instructed them to ask my mother to come into the surgery as the dentist would like to talk to her. My mother came into the surgery and the dentist started talking to her, I couldn’t understand everything that was being said but I did hear the words “extraction and having gas” mentioned. I saw my mother nod to the dentist as if in agreement and then the dentist came back over to the chair and said “Right young man, that’s enough for today, I’ve asked your mother to bring you back next week so I’ll see you then”
Relieved that I could go, I quickly got out of the chair and taking hold of my mother’s hand walked out of the surgery and down the stairs and out into the high street. We walked up to the nearby bus stop to wait for the bus home and whilst we were waiting I asked my mother why did I have to go back to the dentist’s the next week, and what it meant by “having gas” my mother didn’t say much in reply apart from she would tell me at home. We got home and as soon as I was free of my coat and shoes I went upstairs to my bedroom to play with my toys, I soon forgot about what my mother had said, and didn’t remind her to tell me, anyway I thought she didn’t seem to keen to tell me when I had asked her at the bus stop.
The next day at school I was talking to my friends and had asked them what does having gas mean when you’re at the dentist? One of my friends asked me why I wanted to know and I told them about my visit the day before to the dentist and what I had overheard the dentist say to my mother. All of my friends started to tell me how absolutely horrid having gas was…the sitting in the chair, the heavy rubber apron placed over you so that you couldn’t run away and then the gas…the rubber mask that was held so tightly by the dentist over your face, the strong, sickly smell of the gas and the overwhelming feeling of being suffocated whilst the dentist gassed you to sl**p. After hearing all this I was determined that there was no way on earth that I was going to allow the dentist to do that to me!
After school, I walked straight home and remembering what my friends had said I must have looked a bit tearful because as soon as I got home the first thing my mother asked was, what was wrong? I told her what my friends had said, and then blurted out that I didn’t want gas and started crying. My mother kept reassuring me that there was nothing to worry about and eventually I must have believed her and stopped crying. My mother said that she had something to show me and walked out of the room and upstairs. I could hear her rummaging around and then she walked back downstairs, she came back into the room and in her arms was a pile of dark green material which was giving off a strange smell.
It turned out to be an old rubberised cotton rain coat that my mother used to wear to work, but had stopped wearing it because she had brought a new on to replace it. My mother asked me to take a seat on one of the dining room chairs which I did, and then she unfolded the rubber rain coat and then she told me to hold out my arms and slid the rain coat on back to front over my arms until it was on all the way up to my chin. The smell of the rubber coat so close to me was strong but strangely pleasant. My mother told me that I was to imagine that I was in the dentist’s chair and that I was now wearing the rubber apron. She asked me how I was feeling and I replied OK. She said that she was now going to pull the hood up over my head for a few seconds, and I asked her why? She replied that the smell of the hood was similar to that of the rubber mask that would be used to send me to sl**p. I wasn’t to sure about that but I let my mother continue anyway. She pulled the hood over my face and over the top of my head. The smell was very strong because there was no other material apart from the rubber, and I could hear my breaths echoing in the confines of the hood, the sensation was strange but I told myself that it wasn’t too bad. My mother removed the hood and asked me how I felt. I said it was strange but I hadn’t been afraid when the hood had come over my face and all I could smell was the rubber. My mother smiled at me and said that she had hoped I would say that, and when it was time for me to sit in the dentist’s chair for the gas I should just think back to what I had just experienced. I asked my mother if she had ever had gas at the dentists and she told me yes she had, she then told me that her mother had used the same trick on her with the rain coat so when she had to have the gas. By co-incidence, later on that week, there was shown on TV a programme called “Your Life In Their Hands” This programme showed people in hospital who were going to have an operation, and followed what happened. In the anaesthetic room you could see the patient on the trolley, the anaesthetist making preparations with the equipment and when everything was ready, bringing the anaesthetic machine closer to the patients head , and then bringing the rubber mask over and placing it over their face and starting the anaesthetic, the camera would occasionally zoom in closer to the anaesthetic machine and you could see the rubber breathing bag inflating and deflating with the patients respirations. I remember being intrigued with this large metallic trolley with metal cylinders attached and the equipment connected to it from which via the mask and length of hosing the patient was breathing the anaesthetic gases. Recalling what my friends had said earlier on that week about how you struggle to escape the rubber mask and gas, I was expecting the patient to be held down by strong assistants so that all the patient could do was breathe the gas through the firmly held rubber mask and eventually succumb to the inevitable sl**p of anaesthesia, but, there was none of that the scene was in fact very calm…almost surreal as the patient just laid there, excepted the rubber mask and breathed themselves to sl**p….
The Main Event
The rest of the time soon passed and very quickly the day arrived that I had to go back to the dentist for my gas anaesthetic. When I woke up the usual smell of a fried breakfast had wafted upstairs.
I made my way downstairs expecting the usual plate of fried breakfast to be waiting for me, but there was nothing. I asked my mother where my breakfast was and she said that I wasn’t having allowed anything to eat or drink because the gas might make me feel sick, and having food or drink would only make things worse. Accepting reluctantly what I had been told I went upstairs to play. Before long my mother called upstairs that it was time to make myself ready and so I put on some trainers and a jacket and went downstairs and followed my mother out of the house and down the road to catch the bus which will take us into town. The bus journey seemed to take forever, but eventually we stopped at the bus stop closest to the dentist’s surgery. We got off the bus and taking my mother’s hand we walked the short distance up the high street to where the dentist’s surgery was situated. We arrived at the surgery and my mother rang the bell and then pushed the door open and we walked in. We walked up to the reception desk behind which a lady wearing a heavily starched uniform sat. My mother told the nurse my name and said that I was having gas today. The nurse handed my mother a card to sign which she did and then we were directed to the waiting room. I was expecting us to go upstairs to the waiting room, but my mother said that we were going to another waiting room that was on the ground floor. We walked down a short corridor and down a small flight of steps and around a corner. As I rounded the corner I could see lined up along the wall a row of coloured gas cylinders, on the top of each cylinder was a plastic ring that stated “Full” or “Empty”. We walked past these then turned into a small room with another desk behind which was another nurse though this time she was much younger looking.
My mother handed the nurse the card she had been given at the main reception, and the nurse crossed my name off against a list that she had open on the desk, and we were asked to take a seat and that I would be collected by one of the extraction room nurses soon. I take a seat next to my mother and start to read a comic that was lying on a small table nearby. My mother told me to remember what she done with the rubber coat at home and that there was nothing to worry about. After about 10 minutes I heard a door being opened and soon a nurse appeared in the doorway and called my name. My heart missed a beat when I saw what she was wearing. She wore a dark green surgical gown and a dark green cap, tied around her neck was a thick, white cotton surgical mask and on her feet were a pair of white clogs that had “anti-static” stamped on them. Over the green gown she wore a dark brown rubber apron, similar to that as described by my friends and mother. The rubber apron was giving off a strong smell of rubber and I began to feel a little apprehensive about what was to come…The nurse seeing that I was not at ease walked over to where I was sitting, as she did so the rubber apron made a strange swishing sound that I thought was a little bit funny. She reached my chair and knelt down to be roughly level with myself and said that there was nothing to be afraid of and before I knew I would be back with my mother. She asked if I would walk with her to the surgery and even though I still wasn’t too sure I said that I would. My mother leaned over and gave me a little kiss on the cheek and whispered into my ear “remember the coat”. The nurse took my hand and very slowly I got out of my chair and walked out of the waiting room and down to the extraction theatre. As we walked down the corridor we walked past a door that said “Anaesthetic Storage”, I wondered what was behind that door, but before I had a chance to guess, I could see in front of us a large door that had a sign above it written out in red that stated “Extraction Theatre , Anaesthetic Gases Present, Authorised Personnel Only”
We walked up to the door and when we were close to it the nurse rang when a bell that was on the side. The door was opened by another nurse dressed similarly and the nurse said my name. We were beckoned through and as I followed the nurse I found myself in a fairly large room, with a large black covered dentist’s chair in the centre of the floor , overhead was a large operating lamp and to the side was a large trolley with wheels, most of which was covered over with a green cloth. I could see just peeking underneath from the bottom of the cloth two curves of red rubber hosing, and in the air I noticed a strong but sweet smell.
In the room there were a total of four people, all wearing the same type of theatre clothing…the nurse who had collected me from the waiting room, the nurse who had opened the surgery door for us, the dentist who I recognised and another man that I didn’t know, and of course…me
The dentist and the other man were talking and looking at a piece of paper, the nurse who had opened the door was standing with her back to me so that I couldn’t see what was happening, but, I could hear a loud clinking sound as she prepared the instruments. The nurse who I had walked down with asked me to climb into the chair and try to make myself comfortable. I did so and then she walked over to the side wall and pulled down a dark red rubber apron. She carried it over to the chair and told me that she was going to put over head and let it drop down over my body and legs. With the assistance of the other nurse, who had by now finished preparing the instruments, she brought the neck loop of the apron over my head, and d****d the rest of the rubber apron down over my body. The weight of this rubber apron was quite heavy and the smell that it was giving off was very strong, but it did remind me of the rubber rain coat my mother had introduced me to the other day. Satisfied the apron was sited properly, one of the nurses then went over to a large cylindrical apparatus that was sitting on a shelf. There was a gauge above the door on this piece of equipment and the nurse turned a dial, opened the door and took out a small metallic tray, the contents of which I couldn’t see. The nurse put down the tray on a small trolley which already had something else on it and covered it over with a small green cloth. She then walked over to the dentist and the other man and spoke quietly for a few moments.
The dentist after a few moments walked over to me, and after saying hello asked me to open my mouth as wide as I can. I did so and he had a quick look and then said that I close my mouth again for a few moments. He told me that he was going to remove some of my older teeth in order to give the larger teeth space to grow properly. The nurse who had collected me then reappeared with a small tray inside of which was a pair of rubber bite blocks, on the end of each of these there was a small chain. Everything was beginning to happen to fast and it was hard to take it all in. The other gentlemen had walked over to me and introduced himself as the anaesthetist and told me that he was here to help me go to sl**p so that I wouldn’t feel anything when my teeth were removed, he carried on that there was nothing to worry about and that I should just let myself relax. He asked me if I had been given gas before and I told him no, but I had seen it being done on TV.
He smiled and walking around the back of the chair he removed the cloth and prepared the anaesthetic machine. At the same time the nurse holding the tray walked up and asked me to open my mouth as wide as I possibly can, as I did so she removed one of the rubber blocks and placed it between the top and bottom of my teeth. The rubber was hot to touch and my mouth was now full of the salty taste of the rubber from the bite block, I could also feel the warmth of the rubber chain as it dangled against my chin. The anaesthetist was still preparing the anaesthetic machine and I turned to look at what was happening…As I looked at the top of the machine I could see numerous gauges and controls and a couple of glass bottles, one of which was full of a clear liquid, on the top of this bottle which was metal, was a small notice that was embossed and stated “USE HALOTHANE ONLY”, at the end of this top mounting bar a small, thin rubber tube lead down to the bottom of the machine. I followed this tube as far as I could, and saw that it was connected into a large piece of equipment that was mounted on a pole just underneath the work surface of the machine. On one side of this piece of apparatus I could see what reminded me of a flat football, I tried to think what this could be, and then I recalled what I had seen on TV as this thing went in and out as the patient breathed. At the front of this unit were fitted the end of the twin lengths of red rubber hosing I had noticed earlier. On either side of the machine were mounted two cylinders of gas one black with a white collar and one blue, on the top of these cylinders was a plastic clip that said “In Use” The anaesthetist had by this time finished his preparations and seeing my curiosity asked if I would like to know more I nodded that I would. He pointed out the cylinders and told me that one was full of oxygen, that was the gas that we breathe all the time, and that the other one was full of a gas called nitrous oxide and that was the gas that would make me sl**py. He then points to the glass jar full of liquid and says that when I am feeling sl**py he will start to give me his “special liquid” and that will actually send me to sl**p.
The anaesthetist asks me if I’m ready and I nod in reply. I watch as he picks up the fitting to which the other ends of the red rubber tubes are connected… one either side of something that looks like a large computerised “C” and picks up a black rubber face mask which he then fits onto the bottom centre of this fitting with a slight squeeking sound. He then asks me sit back straight and to look forward , I do so and can see just out of the corner of my as he turns one of the controls for the gas. There is a slight hiss and then before I know it he has brought the mask from the side and it is there a few inches from my face. I remember looking into the depths of the mask and just making out the hole from where the gas will come. Coming through the mask is a soft hissing sound and I notice a strong smell of rubber. The anaesthetist asks me to tilt my head back a bit which I do, then he says he is now going to put the mask over my face. As the mask comes closer to my face the smell of rubber gets a bit stronger and very quickly the mask is touching my face and being gently but firmly held in place by the anaesthetist. As I breathe into the rubbery confines of the mask I can hear my breathing going in and out and the sound of the rubber bag as it responds. The anaesthetist tells me that he will be starting the nitrous oxide and that I should just relax and breathe normally. I hear to the side of the chair, another hiss as he turns on the control for the nitrous oxide. I hear in my head my mother telling me to “remember the rubber coat” and all of a sudden I detect a different smell in the mask, it is fairly strong but at the same time very sweet. I suddenly realised what the strange smell was I noticed when I first walked into the surgery. The anaesthetist keeping a firm grip on the mask keeps telling me to relax and breathe normally. After a few moments of breathing the gas mixture through the rubber mask, I slowly notice that a strange sensation is coming over me. I first notice a feeling of tingling in my toes and at the tips of my fingers, next my hearing is getting a lot more acute, for instance the sound of my breathing into the mask and the faint hiss of the gas now sounds more like a waterfall, and then I notice a strange cotton wool feeling begin in my head. The anaesthetist now turns up the strength of the gas and the smell of the rubber mask and hoses etc is now totally hidden. The fuzzy feeling in my head is now beginning to make me feel sl**py and I can feel my eyes getting heavy. The anaesthetist mentions “special liquid” though what he said sounded very far off, due to the now rapidly spinning feeling and roaring sound in my head. I detect that there is now a very thick, sickly, chemical smell in the mixture, something like nail polish but before I could place it, I could feel my eyes closing and then a feeling of falling down a bottomless pit….
I could slowly detect that there was a bright light overhead and someone was calling my name. I slowly opened my eyes to see the nurse who had collected me earlier bending over me and smiling. I could feel that I had something made of rubber over my face and thought that I was still in the surgery with the anaesthetic mask over my nose and mouth. The nurse told me that it was all over and that I was in a recovery room. I was being given oxygen just to help me clear my head of the anaesthetic gases and also to help me wake up. After a few minutes I was much more awake and feeling a bit more with it and the nurse turned off the oxygen and removed the mask. I could see that it was made of green rubber and that there was a thin rubber strap attached to either side.
As soon as I tried to move I felt my stomach churn and told the nurse that I felt sick. She quickly reached up to a nearby shelf and picked up a sick bowl and placed it under my chin. Almost immediately I was sick and afterwards I felt quite a lot better.
My mother was called and as she walked into the room was relieved to see me sitting up and feeling well enough to go home. Even though when I was standing up I felt light headed I didn’t think I was going to be sick again. As we walked past the reception desk my mother was called over and given a small iced lollie to let me have when I was feeling better in recognition of me being the “star patient” of the day. We were collected by a friend of my mother’s who had a car and we were driven straight home. When we got home my mother sent me to bed to sl**p off the gas and I didn’t wake up until later on in the evening. I made my way downstairs to find that my mother’s friend was still there, I was asked how I felt and I said fine, my mother let me have the small lolly from the dentists, and whilst I was enjoying it my mother asked how had it been. I replied that there was nothing to it and that I wanted to have gas again and again and again
The next day at school all my friends were asking me about how horrid had I found having gas at the dentist, and were amazed when I told them that I hadn’t been afraid, and that to be honest I had enjoyed the experience and that I wanted to have gas again. When they asked me how I had managed to be find it frightening, I just told them that all I did when I was sitting in the chair and the rubber mask was on my face was to “remember the rubber coat”
Ever since that first experience I have had 5 more dental gas anaesthesias, all induced with the black rubber mask, and 4 anaesthesias in my local hospital for an on-going stomach disorder, all were gas induction ( I have needle phobia) but sadly all but one were with the now familiar plastic mask and hoses.