Worst CDP Ever part 2: all I want for Christmas are my two front teeth

Worst CDP Ever part 2: all I want for Christmas are my two front teeth

A tale of how something else awful became part of my teaching practice. Or, how anything can have a sliver lining professionally. Eventually.

Some months ago, I wrote a post about how I caught scarlet fever. I described it as the worst CPD ever.

Apparently, I was in error. I had forgotten something far worse. It became relevant to my teaching for the first time ever last week.

So, here’s another tale of gruesomeness and how it became grist to my learning mill.

Inspiration in even the strangest places

recently, I have found myself teaching a session at the National Army Museum about prosthetic limbs and robots. The session is fairly straightforward: it looks at soldiers who have prosthetic limbs and asks the children to carry out a simple task using a robot arm. The children are asked what task they think soldiers would feel most of a sense of independence from being able to carry out without assistance. Invariably the children (or, in one case, the teacher), identify going to the toilet. That’s not the task.

The simple task is to make a cup of tea. It’s not as easy as it looks, which is rather the point.

Being put on the spot

In the course of delivering one of the sessions, a child asked me whether I have any prosthetics.

A reasonable question, I suppose. After all, how can I speak from a position of knowledge if I have no first-hand experience of the situation?

I looked at myself and admitted that I was largely complete, but carried on to talk about the work I have done with Hasler Company, the Royal Marine rehabilitation unit (now officially Hasler Naval Service Recovery Centre), and how I had worked with and come to understand the issues and emotions of service personnel with life-changing injuries.

It felt like a bit of a soft answer, but they seemed happy with it. Anyway, they enjoyed the session and went away happy. Besides, I can’t beat myself up for not having experienced everything I teach about.

Hasler NSRC

Hang on a minute…

At the weekend I was cooking roast duck. I tasted the juice coming off the bird with a spoon. A spoon that had been dipped in fat from an oven set to 180 degrees. “It’s a good job,“ I thought to myself, “that I don’t have my real teeth any more. This would probably be really hot if I could feel temperature.”

Then I paused and considered that thought: “It’s a good job I don’t have my real teeth any more.”

Oh.…real teeth.

Wait a moment. Does that mean I have prosthetic teeth? Yes, I think it probably does. I did lose them in a life-changing incident and they’re never growing back.

How does one “lose” teeth?

In the summer of 2002, I was in a road traffic incident where, to cut a long story very short, I collided with a Land Rover when riding my bike. The slightly longer version is that the driver overtook me and then stopped very suddenly, so I crashed into the back of the car, taking out their back windscreen with my face.

Or, at least, that’s what I’m told happened.

I remember trying to work out where my glasses had gone because I couldn’t see.

Then I was rushed to hospital by ambulance and straight into A&E. A battery of tests, x rays, scans, some maxillo-facial work and a lot of stitching later I was sent to bed on a ward. It turns out I was lucky to come out of it in one piece.

In the days before omnipresent mobile phone ownership, getting a message to my family was…tricky.

It looked a little like this

It looked a little like this

It wasn’t until the following morning that I was even allowed to look in the mirror. I discovered that, although I hadn’t broken anything, my face was a mess. In fact, I looked a lot like Robert de Niro when he played Frankenstein’s monster. It was not a pretty sight.

And I couldn’t speak. That was mostly because I’d knocked out several of my top teeth in the impact. Others were glued in place in a desperate attempt to save them.

Later that day, I was sent home with instructions to take it easy. That wasn’t difficult: I felt like I’d been hit by a car.

Within a fortnight it became clear that all of my front teeth at the top were either gone or going go. I was fitted with false teeth: dentures.


Dentures!? I was 25. People my age are not supposed to have to buy strident and denture glue. On a number of occasions, I was actually asked if I was buying them for my gran. Nothing is guaranteed to make you feel old better than that.

Dentures are rubbish. They never feel like they belong. They have an annoying tendency to fall out when you least need it. I will never forget the look on someone with whom I was sharing a climbers’ bunkhouse when I produced a glass while brushing my teeth and proceeded to spit my front teeth into it. Talk about mood killer.

The long and short of it

I had the dentures for a year. A year of hospital visits, of long sojourns in the dentist’s chair and painful procedures.

At the end of it I was the proud owner of a bridge. It’s basically a set of false teeth that are glued in place, stuck over my canines.

I’ve had them for fifteen years now. Most of the time, I can almost forget they are not my real teeth. They don’t hurt and they fit pretty well, all thigs considered. I’ve had to relearn how to whistle, how to eat apples, in fact anything hard, I have to be careful with drink because of the odd shape of my lips, I can tell when I’m dehydrated because the bits of road in my lip come to the surface, things like that. I can no longer do my party trick of picking up a full glass of drink with my teeth, the bridge is too expensive.


This is from an entirely different incident

This is from an entirely different incident

They feel almost “normal”. Almost. Most of the time. Sometimes, it feels like I’m wearing a gumshield. After all this time, I usually forget that this isn’t the way I have always been. Except when I try to whistle.

So, I don’t consider myself an amputee. That would be greatly overstating it.

But, there is less of me than there used to be. I have had to get used to the fact that by body is different, that I look different, that a part of me is artificial and might break in normal use. Thinking back on it, there was considerable emotional adjustment.

Back to the point

Where were we?

Oh yes. If I dig a little, I do have some insight into what it feels like for a catastrophic (potentially fatal) incident. It’s an insight that I can bring to bear when teaching about traumatic experiences. So, next time I am teaching a class and someone asks that difficult question, I will have to remember to say yes. It will make my teaching better.

I would not recommend this as a way that anyone else can hone their teaching craft. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It was awful, but it has helped me.

Just like the Scarlet fever, you will be pleased to know that I have no plans to use bloody pictures of my own face to illustrate learning sessions.

Posted by Past Participants Andy in Thoughts, Uncategorised, 0 comments
Worst CPD. Ever! How I caught scarlet fever

Worst CPD. Ever! How I caught scarlet fever

This week I found myself doing research on historic illnesses. In this case it’s not for a learning session but because, apparently, I’ve been suffering from scarlet fever.


I’m used to researching all kinds of slightly odd subjects. All sorts of weird and wonderful things have been on my radar at one time or another. Former heads of the KGB? Check. How to construct a dirty bomb? Check. The background and history of various paramilitary groups? Check. Peculiar illnesses of sailors (not that sort)? Got. The Latin name of Stella’s Sea Eagle? Done that. All in the name of genuine academic research for a learning session of one variety or another.

Not this week. This week I’ve been researching something because I have been the victim of it. This is, without doubt, worst research I’ve ever done.

So, how did we get here?

Last week, as I was minding my own business in the shower, I looked down and noticed that my arms were the wrong colour. The colour in question was scarlet. Being bright red is never a good sign. The only thing that is worse than being bright red is realising how red you are based on the little blotchy bits that aren’t. Those little blotchy bits were confined to the inside of my elbow and by armpit.

Being the only person in the house, I started ever so slightly to worry. As I called NHS Choices (or whatever they call NHS direct now) I started to run through the things that it might be: none of these were places I particularly wanted to go. The result of that conversation was that they thought I was to get myself to hospital post-haste. A short taxi ride later I was sitting A&E waiting to be seen. A few short hours later and I was sent home reassured that I was indeed having an allergic reaction to something, though exactly what that something was wasn’t entirely clear. A bit of a pain, thought I, but something that could be lived with.

Or so I thought.

My arm with scarlet fever rash

My arm with scarlet fever rash

I took this picture in A&E. The light is pretty awful, but this lurid rash was all over me by this stage.

Things become steadily less clear

that night I completely failed to sleep.

The following day I felt like I had been run over. Everything ached. My hands and wrists and arms were swollen. And I was doddering round like an old man. In short: it was rubbish.

“Oh well,” I’ll just muddle through this and, sooner or later, I’ll be right as rain again. Turns out that the emphasis would be on later rather than sooner. I shuffled through that day, the following day, the weekend and, eventually, admitted that if I still felt this bad on Monday morning I’d call the doctor.

Monday morning. Guess what? On the phone to the doctor. Cue phone consultation. Cue appointment to be seen later. The doctor looked me over, poked, prodded and generally badgered me before making her pronouncement: “you’ve got a strep infection.

I raised one eyebrow and asked: “a what?”

“A streptococcal infection.” After a certain amount of elucidation she said “you’ve got scarlet fever. Or, at least, something very much like it.”

“Oh. Scarlet fever you say.”

Well that answers that then. That would explain the aches and pains, rash, feeling wrung out, everything. Just a quick blood test in the morning to confirm all of this.

So, why am I telling you all this?

So, I went home and did what any self-respecting education professional would do next: I sat down and researched what the hell it was I’d been diagnosed with. In many ways it was a lot like being at work. It was like those situations where someone says: “Andy, do you think you could put together a session on this?” To which I always reply: “of course I can.” Before heading off frantically beginning to research it. That evening was pretty much the same. I was starting from a base knowledge on streptococcal infections of approximately zero (except that I’d heard of some of the diseases and courses). The learning curve was, unsurprisingly, really rather steep.

The other way in which this was much like preparing for a learning session was this: no one gets scarlet fever any more. I found myself reminded of Terry Pratchett’sthe Colour of Magic” which finishes with Scrofula turning up to collect the soul of the main character. The would-be Grim Reaper is rebutted thusly: “nobody dies of scrofula any more”. I felt very much the same about scarlet fever. Here I was researching an illness that nobody gets any more. Nobody, that is, except me. It was much like the times in the past when I have prepared learning sessions on scurvy or typhus or dysentery. These were not diseases of which I expect to gain first-hand knowledge.

And yet here I was with a list of symptoms ticking each one off with a sage nod and a mutter of “yup, got that.” There was a certain grim humour attached to the whole process.

A matter of empathy

so, what have I got out of the whole experience? I did have a rash, but that’s gone away now. I still have a lot of aches and swollen joints. What I’ve really got out of this is a sense of empathy with sufferers of illnesses, diseases and conditions that are (thankfully) largely considered to be historic. No longer do I view the poor unfortunates who have suffered from these diseases as characters but as real people groaning and mumbling about how unwell they felt. And rightly so because, if they felt anything like I do, they felt awful. As well as empathy, I also feel a sense of genuine sympathy for fellow sufferers.

The downside of all this is that, whilst I have discovered many new and exciting things, I have been far too unwell to do any actual work. Preferring instead to shamble listlessly around complaining about how my hands and wrists hurt. Notable things that cause significant pain: using a keyboard and opening door handles. Both of which feature fairly heavily in my daily routine. Excitingly, I have been able to circumnavigate the first of these by beginning to work with voice recognition technology (which feels a lot like the future).

You will, however, be pleased to hear that at no point do I plan to develop a learning session using photos of my own ill-health as teaching resources.

Posted by Past Participants Andy in Thoughts, Uncategorised, 0 comments