It took almost a month after returning from Costa Rica to do what I had wanted to do for months - eat a Five Guys burger - the correct way, the way God intended. It was even better than I imagined.
There's so much more to my story, and as the days pass and time becomes mine again, you'll find it here. Words seem inadequate for a gift (yes, I paid the price tag) that I have been given, but as a writer, I know they will come.
Want to know about Dr. Meza and his clinic? I can spill the beans with a smile on my face.
But for now, here's proof that burgers are better when you can take a big, 'ol bite!
As a Christian, I know my story of faith began centuries ago on this very day. For without today, Sunday wouldn't have had its power.
Today is Good Friday. We are in San Jose, Costa Rica, for our final appointment at Meza Dental. When we scheduled this two-week-time-slot, we gave little consideration as to the time of year. It was convenient, so it was chosen.
Yesterday, my mouth's restoration was completed, and today is simply for tweaks. For most people, our one week last September and our two weeks in March are nothing more than dental appointments, a time to repair what nature just couldn't hold onto. For me, this is a journey to become whole again.
It has been 50 years since I've had a full set of teeth. 50 YEARS! I can run my tongue over my teeth, and heavens, they are all there. Surely, health will improve, and the chance of me scaring children has decreased dramatically, although I will say that my grandson enjoyed following the dancing teeth! The physical benefits are astronomical, but those don't even compare to the blessing of self-confidence.
This becomes the catalyst to make the other parts of me better - the physical ones as well as the mental ones, the business and retirement aspirations, the travel dreams, the risks to be taken, the second book that has yet to be written, the challenges to overcome, the willingness to sit still and listen, to get rid of the noise and concentrate on what really matters.
So every Good Friday from this point forward will be a reminder of my turning point. Good Friday has always signified the beginning of the Christian faith, and sometimes, in this world of chaos and craziness, we all need a reminder of who is still in charge. God never stops teaching, never stops crafting miracles, and providing us with those "Fridays" so that "Sundays" will rock our world.
"Are your teeth this big?"
"How do I eat without swallowing food whole?"
"It feels like food is stuck between my teeth, but it's just my teeth."
"I haven't had a full set of teeth in 50 years!"
"I wish my mama could see."
"How's that feel, kissing someone with teeth!"
"That's some damn good cement!"
This afternoon as Dr. Marin screwed the last crown on the implant, placed the last veneer on my dingy tooth, and I wiped the last bit of slobber EVER from my shirt, I felt as those I was totally changed. I got up from the last three hours in the chair, detoured to the bathroom, and looked in the mirror.
I raised my head. Is this me?
I don't look like myself. Who is this woman staring back at me? I don't know her. I have always imagined that she lived inside, but until today, I had never looked her in the eye. I slumped over the sink and began crying. Honestly, I've been crying for the last two weeks, but this time, I was in the dental office and it felt like the only alternative.Throughout the entire process, I whispered to myself, "Don't cry now. Don't cry now. Wait." I looked up and instinctively, covered my mouth as I have for the last six months. I moved my hand down and said, "Never again." I have no reason to cover my smile again.
I went to the waiting room where Len has been patiently waiting for what seemed like the last six months. He looked at me and he was giddy. He grabbed me. I grabbed him and I knew our life would never be the same.
Who knew a smile held such incredible power? Ask the girl who never smiled for a class photo, never did anything that called attention to herself in high school, never volunteered for class projects that involved standing in front of others, never shared her joy in her wedding photos, always worried that she was never good enough or pretty enough.
Today, that all changes. She has lassoed the power. And that power begins with her smile.
I see a horse from my balcony. Yes, we're 19 floors above downtown San Jose, but just beyond the parking lot some 200 yards in the distance in a small grassy area, there's a white and brown spotted horse. He has to be standing horizontal to me for me to even recognize him as a horse. He's not within sight most of the time, which is why Len question's the validity of the horse. When he's not there, I assume he's getting cool beneath the trees that surround the 600-square-foot backyard.
Every morning when I step out onto the balcony, I look for the horse. "I promise he's there," I tell Len. He has yet to see him, my San Jose mirage.
Maybe the horse is my lesson. He's obviously there, but the time has to be perfect in order to see him. The conditions have to be right. He has to be hungry to venture out beyond the cool shade of the trees and munch on the patchy grass. Plus, I must need fresh air and step onto my balcony at that exact moment when the little guy is hungry. We have synced twice; I hope to see him again before we leave.
It's our final week in Costa Rica.
Our first break between appointments was spent on the southern tip of Costa Rica, the Osa Peninsula. Or second break, in the mountains near La Fortuna.
We are back in San Jose, and I can honestly say, the days can not move swiftly enough. I'm not sure what my tongue will do with itself once there's nothing left to play with - no bumps, no posts, no exposed gums. Although, I'm willing to give it a try, but at this point, I find it hard to believe that my smile will look like the many finished portraits I see on hanging on Meza's wall. The distance between where I am right now to where I hope to end is ENORMOUS. My mind can't comprehend.
Again, blind faith that everything will come together at the perfect moment to produce the expected end result is the primary player in this scenario. All the prep work that began in September of last year had led to these final days, some six months later, when I hope to become whole again.
So here we go. Chair. Chair. Chair. Fly home on Saturday.
But by Friday, I predict, I'll see my horse once more - and hopefully, Len will see him, too - say goodbye, and thank him for teaching me that patience and hopefulness are a great combination. And it is not for me to know when the perfect moment is but to be willing to hang around and be willing to endure what transpires during the in-between.
From the airport to the clinic, we began with a flurry.
As in September, Jose scooped us up at the airport, drove some 30 minutes to the clinic and it was time to commence the beginning of the end. Our first appointment was scheduled for Saturday but was moved up to today, Friday, eliminating the Sunday scheduled visit. All in all, a good thing.
The first procedure, expose the posts, which is the portion of these two weeks that I dreaded the most. Unlike the implants I had in the US, these implants had been totally covered by my gums over the last six months and now they had to be uncovered. Yes, as fun as it sounds.
On Saturday, more x-rays, fittings, and the beginning of the cosmetic work on my lower teeth. Removing the top layer of my teeth and putting a plastic coating on top would hold her work until the middle of next week when porcelain veneers would be placed.
My doctor, Dr. Marianella Marin, who had recently received her credentials as the only female dentist in all of Latin America to be accredited by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, would be my transformer. I observed her hands as she maneuvered her instruments and moved my lips for easier access and was amazed as her composure and steadiness. To say I was impressed was an understatement. To say I was confident in my choice of Meza, another affirmation that words can't do justice.
As before, with every new move each assistant and doctor made, an explanation as to what was happening and what will happen next always takes place before anything. I never had to guess or wonder what was transpiring.
After a four day break to allow gums to settle into place, I returned for the metal try, a fitting for the final posts on which porcelain crowns will rest. A little work left for the lab and after an hour, I'm finished until next Wednesday.
Man cannot discover new oceans unless
he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.
I keep reminding myself that I'm not on this journey alone.
Although it's my giving into human frailty and having fought it for years, it's the one who stands beside me that offers me hope and assurance that all will be okay. A gift that I'm not quite sure I deserve, but I accept it wholeheartedly and with grace. Discovery #1.
To most of you, a dental procedure is hardly anything to get worked up over. To me, it's life changing. It's dealing with fear - disgust - expense - pain - all in one foul swoop.
For you, it might be a new job. A separation from family. A decision that is looming. A plan of action for the future. The search for the right one. A question of faith. We all have our finding me moment. Discover #2.
Another observation these past six months - other than the complexity of eating and not complaining - is that you never really know what others are going through. Honestly, you would have never guessed I had issues unless I removed them and stuck them in your face! Treat others with kindness. Offer a hand. Smile. It's those unselfish, simple things that mean the most. Discovery #3.
This may not change my world like I am hoping it will, but it will move me toward being a better woman. It's definitely a positive when you eliminate one excuse from the arsenal. Discovery #4.
Nevertheless, Saturday is D-day. I wonder what discovery is next.
Laugh if you will. It's lipstick.
Of course, there are the perks like a complete set of teeth that allows me to ferociously bite down on Five Guy burgers (my first stop post Costa Rica), the ability to smile at people without sending them into cardiac arrest, the option to chomp on a apple or gum a banana—either option, okay, the prerogative to feel normal.
But it's the opportunity to pull a myriad of tubes from my makeup bag and say, "let's do this" that excites me maybe a little too much. Maybe it's the girly girl in me exploding at this point in my life when she hasn't in a really long time. Sure there's a billion other parts of me that need a little love and care, but there's something about painting a touch of color on your lips that creates a shield of insurance and power. Whether it's Chanel or Revlon, it's adds a layer of potential to what comes next. It's kind of like the same feeling that consumes me when I pick up my camera. "Ain't no stopping her now!"
Before I started this process, I concocted lots of reasons why I should just let this toothless scenario play out. After all, I'm an old woman and my time has come and gone. They are just teeth. Spending this kind of money on me is, basically, a waste. Although taking this route has saved us thousands, it has still cost us thousands—thousands that we could have spent on travel, dreams and a more comfortable tomorrow.
Then, I removed my martyr crown (as Len calls it) and I realized, I deserve this. I deserve to smile, feel good about myself, explore new worlds and conquer new dreams. If not me, then who? Who is me and this is my time. It's hard for me to say I deserve anything because my parents were not ones to tell me I deserved anything, a conclusion I have carried through life. God bless them, they were hard working and devout and what you got your earned or you did without. And then, I thought, what I do for myself now, will carry me through the rest of my life. What doors can this open? I'm already living my second chapter . . . will there be more? Be good to yourself, Judy. Be good.
We all need a push. We all deserve to be what we were meant to be, and that includes me. Embrace it. Run with it. Take Len along for the ride.
Like the many hues and tubes of lipstick in my bag, characters and roles played during my lifetime have been plenty. Some are over (she says rejoicing); some are beginning. I always have loved a good beginning.
This time next week, I'll be face-to-face with those gold shoes, looking out over the rain forest, and counting the minutes until this dental journey is done. I keep thinking about the first time I look into the mirror, envisioning what I will see. I hope to find a better me, one that will embrace the potential that has lived inside all along. She just needed a little fine-tuning.
Oh, and a tube of Chanel's Ever Red to blaze the way. 💋
It's so close, my mouth is watering (or is this one of those hairy teeth moments that have plagued me for months?). Two weeks to go and I'll be saying farewell to six of my closest friends during the past six months. Yippee!
Six friends in a singular package. In and out, depending on who I met face-to-face and wanted to impress or who I met and didn't really care what they thought of me. Sometimes, spontaneous "I can't believe what I'm seeing" reactions are priceless, and I'm in the mood for a little shocking excitement—the curse of working at home with no one to talk to except cats, dogs and horses. Yes, I have left them at home on purpose; other times, I'd be halfway to Publix, a 15 minute drive one-way, and have to turn around and go back home. "Shit, I forgot my teeth."
I'll never have to say that again!
I will never look on my bathroom counter and have them staring back at me. No more removable body parts! No more struggling to make them connect and knowing that it always takes two attempts. No more taking them out after a long day and my gums feeling like Sponge Bob. No more reminders of what I had for lunch. No more apologies for the slur in speech or the spitballs that shock even me. No more repeating myself to Len or to the woman on the other end of the phone because my first words were garbled and misunderstood; I took Southern to a whole new level.
In the spirit of doing what you have to to get by, thank you chompy for making me look normal for the past six months. However, I will not miss you. I will not mourn your demise. You have confirmed my dental implant decision a million fold, and that was a very important job. You did it very well.
Reservations have finally been completed for our trip next month. Wow, I can say next month.
Getting through this journey can not come quickly enough. No pain at all, just frustration. That which does not kill us makes us stronger, said every Southern woman that ever lived.
We have two in-between times; the first four day break we'll head to the coast. More on that later. The second four day break, we'll head to the mountains. To a coffee farm. To stay in an earth bag house. I just had to throw that out there. I'll let you know more about our adobe once we arrive.
There should be some perks for hours spent in a dental chair.
It's holiday time. Time for eggnog, cake, chewy clusters of caramel, candied apples, and piping hot chocolate.
Forgive me while I put in my teeth!
I have a feeling it will be a "to-go box" season for me. Eating in public is still a challenge, and one that I avoid when at all possible. Thus, the "to-go."
I'm going on three months past implant surgery, and all is well. The stitches finally let go about the middle of November. That alone was spectacular. Saying they drove me crazy was an understatement. They are gone, and all that is left to drive me crazy is the partial which I only wear when I leave the house and actually have to carry on a conversation with people. Sometimes, I accept the challenge and leave the dreaded white case home. I come face-to-face with people and see how long it takes for them to realize my teeth are missing. The grocery store is a great study; cashiers will look at me once and discover, to their surprise, the seemingly normal looking woman has no teeth. That's the end of eye-contact. It was kind of like the same response I once got when I was at my heaviest. Judgement comes in all forms, especially when you are different than they think you should be.
I've also been in contact with two potential patients of Meza. One, I know, has taken the plunge and will be beginning her journey in January. The second, I do not know the outcome. I do, however, feel that telling my story and being honest allows potential medical tourism patients to make an educated decision. You can read all the reviews and still be confused. Talking to real people who are going through the same experience with the same fears - well, that's priceless. No matter your story, that's why it's important to share your experience. It does matter.
So here we go through the holidays. We have two weddings to photograph before Christmas and a week-long journey to Ireland for our daughter's wedding. The partial, I fear, will become more of a permanent fixture in the next few weeks. Ugh. That's all I can say. Ugh.
Here's the bright side: March 16 (my perfect smile) is only 103 days away.
I have horrible teeth. Always have and always will if I don't make changes now.