Well, the week is done. My husband laughs and says about our first week in Costa Rica, "We found the week from hell." Yes, dear.
We were in and out of the clinic in record time today. Our appointment was at 10 a.m., and we walked out the door by 10:50 a.m.
I received my partial denture today that will keep me company for the next six months. Honestly, it's not as cumbersome as I thought it would be, but it's still uncomfortable. First, the doctor checked the implant wounds and said all looks as it should. Then, this little contraption with hinges and teeth (I just had a flashback to mama's bathroom medicine cabinet). Since I'm only getting the upper plate, eating will still be a chore, for I am missing molars on the bottom. He measured the bite, making sure it was a natural fall. For the next week or so, it will stay in its little white container while I heal. Then, it only comes out when I don't want to scare clients or traumatize small children. Another perk about working from home: I only have to dress for myself and Bear.
We walked out of the clinic with a bag of Costa Rican coffee plus hugs from Adriana and Andre, a handshake for Dr. Jose, and hopped in our third UBER of the week. I told Dr. Jose I would see him in six months. In the back room, Dr. Meza was in a consult with a patient. Those gold shoes keep moving.
It's so good to be going home. I feel relief that the first stage is complete. Knowing the pain I feel in my mouth currently and some of the ugly teeth that I still rock are only temporary gets me excited about the final process. I've listened as people tell of how their life has changed because of their visit to Meza Dental. People in the waiting room are actually happy and smiling. Not sure I can say that about any dental offices in the states.
I'm not naive in thinking that all of this is rosy.
It comes at a high financial cost, one Len and I have decided is worth the sacrifice. The cost of this option is a third of what the only other alternative would be, so we hunker down and figure out how to make it work.
It comes with lots of pain. Right now, my face is still a watermelon with a semi-black eye and a puffy nose and cheek. It's not pretty, but it's temporary.
And with this improvement, there must come others. All parts work together for the good of the whole.
It's time to find Judy once more.
So this afternoon we rest, and we fly Delta home tomorrow. We start planning our return on March 16, 2018, for the final leg.
But next time, along with teeth, we're going to make sure there's an ocean, too. We want to see this beautiful country that gave me my smile. #findyoursmileincostarica
Today has been the easiest day thus far, proving that everything - not just dental work - does get a little easier with time.
Two permanent crowns are attached, and as I hold the mirror to my face, I'm actually starting to feel human again. They look as though they grew there, rather than being placed there by the steady and meticulous hands of Dr. Jose Umana. "Happy birthday to me," I say, telling him that my birthday is next week, and for this birthday - well, for every birthday for the rest of my life, I get teeth. A smile! He tells me his mother turns 58 tomorrow. "You could be my son," I laugh. "I will be 58, too."
I am beginning to fear that these people are spoiling me and I'm getting attached.
After the crowns, he fits the temporary denture that I will wear for six months, making sure the coloring was right and the bite and feel, natural. He instructs me to wear it when going out, but when I'm home, I don't need it. Letting the wounds heal is the priority. Then, the mirror. My top teeth stretched from one side of my mouth to the other. I can not reach back in my memory to find a time when that reflection looked back at me. No elementary school picture, no college portrait, no wedding image. I'm still in a lot a pain from the implant surgery, but at this moment, I forget it. I almost feel giddy about a face and a smile that will be complete.
THIS is what they do for you here. They make you feel complete and whole.
We finish a little early and retire to the waiting room. A lady is waiting as well, and soon, she disappears into the back room. In about 10 minutes, she and a nurse return. The lady was beaming. She immediately rushes to the mirror, smiles wide as she admires her new smile. She is at the end of her journey, and she might as well have donned wings and soared through the waiting room. The woman standing in front of the mirror now is a different woman than the one who went back to the treatment room only minutes earlier.
Different is very good here. This is a life-changing different. I'm not sure whether the staff understands the miracles they perform daily, especially to ladies my age who never thought beautiful would be an option. My guess is that they do which is why what they do continues to be so important.
I have one more day here before returning home for six months of healing, both inside and out. Physically, I will be making the transition toward wholeness. Mentally and emotionally, I have to figure out the bigger picture of what a smile will do for me. For so long, I have been held captive by its less-than-perfect image; now, there are no excuses. Understanding this will be a life-changer.
So to my miracle workers in Costa Rica, thank you. We're not done yet, but we have turned a monster corner toward the light.
When we arrive in Costa Rica, everything is in place.
Our driver Jose picks us up at the airport and takes us to our home for the week. He tells us he will be waiting outside the hotel lobby at 12:30 for our 1 p.m. appointment.
Like clockwork today and every day, Jose is on time. Many times, it's not just us, but other patients who are here for the first time, and others, it's their return trip. We've met Bradley from upstate New York who sings Dr. Meza's praises loudly. We met Jay and his wife from Atlanta; they ditto Bradley's sentiments. At some point, Len and I look at each other wondering if this can be true. Did we find the one dentist in the world that is almost super human? We hope so.
Driving through the streets of San Jose, we're reminded of the streets of Grenada. Very small, yet three cars are moving to get into the same lane at the same time. There are no yards, simply houses which begin at the end of the street and hidden behind steel post barriers. At one stop, we see the posts open, a car backs out, and the posts close again. There is a homeless man covered with a red blanket asleep on the sidewalk; a man pushing a wooden cart down the main road as a panel trucks skirts by missing him by inches; school children in uniforms laugh and huddle together at crossings; a man carries what looks like a dozen multi-colored pillows over his shoulder.
We enter a gated office building and pull up to the front door. It's a modern facility and we will find Meza on the second floor. We are greeted by the office manager with an electric smile; in fact, they all have these smiles. A good sign of what is to come.
We barely wait five minutes when two young doctors (whose names I can't remember or pronounce but will get before I leave) who are may be 30 at best, escort me back to the corner room overlooking a grove a palms and plants. They introduce themselves and explain what is about to happen. After a series of x-rays, we meet Dr. Meza in his Meza-green scrubs and we shake hands.
You can tell a lot about a dentist by his touch. I've always believed this and it has served me well. The more gentle, the more expert. The next 90 minutes begin with a penciled tooth drawing on a clip board - dentist school in 15 minutes he says - and he explains more about a tooth than I've ever known. And surprisingly, I understood it all. Then, we looked at the x-rays, tooth by tooth, and he went through the good and the bad. He decided what to leave alone, what needed a little work, what needed to disappear. And he made sure we understood each course of action and why he thought this would be the best. He also said that there is nothing he can give me that is stronger than what God gave me. I liked that. A conservative dentist wanting to save rather than yank it all out and start over.
I'm feeling a rush of peace. Then, I look down at his gold sneakers and I know, I've struck gold. There's something to be said about sparkle in a scary place.
He ordered a CT scan of my jaw, getting a closer look at the roots and nerves. What dentist does that? So off we go with Jose to another part of town. Zip in, zip out with a CD in hand to begin the procedures.
We arrive back around 4 p.m. They take a look and the two young doctors being their work. First up, the two back upper teeth on each side, building and forming readying them for root canals and posts.
Darkness fell on my floor-to-ceiling picture window, and around 8 p.m., we are finished. I asked if this is normal. They offered not really unless the schedule dictates. Again, I'm amazed. The entire staff was gone and only Len remained in the waiting area. It was me, two doctors and Len.
Tomorrow is the heavy lifting day as Len calls it. Surgery. Implants and extractions. The day will begin at 9 a.m.
It was early May 2016. I, like many days when I have to run errands in downtown Watkinsville, pop into Zaxby's for a salad. I take it home. Grab a real fork and plant myself in front of my computer, working and having lunch simultaneously. And how I love their summer classic, Zensation. A little Asian flare, with a mini-egg roll. What's not to love.
I'm sitting, eating and reading. A normal afternoon, when all of a sudden, a bite turns into a loud crunch. Not a salad crunch, but one that originates at the base of my front, right tooth.
First, the backstory.
I have horrible - HORRIBLE - teeth. The teeth that I do have are horrible. I make no excuses for my bad behavior as a child when I fought my mama about brushing my teeth. It was only baking soda for our family, and I detested that taste. None of that flavored mouth wash in cool colors or the refreshing sparkling toothpaste I'd see on commercials. Only that pasty baking soda. I fought it. By the time I was in the sixth grade, my dentist and I were on a first name basis. I'd sit in the waiting room, blood pressure pumping ferociously, waiting for my name to be called. The only thing that calmed me was walking through the doctor's door, down the hall, past the waist-high treasure chest of goodies that you could only reach into if you were walking the other way when everything was over. What will I get this time?
Maybe it was my childhood that instilled the fear of dentists inside me. Maybe it was the dentist actually taking off his belt because I wouldn't stop crying because it hurt so badly. Maybe it was my small mouth coupled with an active imagination. No matter what, I avoided and still avoid the dentist like the plague. It is only when I am pushed by pain or circumstance that I darken the doors.
Now, circumstance is running the show.
A next-day visit to my dentist taught me that the root of the tooth had broken loose. Since the tooth itself didn't seem to be loose, it might hold for a time, but eventually, it would require an implant and replacement. A small favor, but within the next week, the tooth became loose and the inevitable came much too soon.
Having gone through three previous implants and crowns, I knew this process would not be without its pain and economic cost. In my area, just for the extraction and implant of one tooth, the price tag soars to nearly three grand. Add the anesthesia, temporary crown, and a plethora of other items, and finally the permanent crown, it's about five grand for one tooth. The cost of a used KIA.
I'm at the point in my life, where the repair of this one tooth will simply not be enough. I need major work, major replacement of teeth, and forgive me, I won't do dentures. The thought of gumming just sends shivers down my spine while images of teeth falling out at the worst moments. Let's not forget how they look, sitting beside the bed in a cup. Now, what is my course of action?
As a traveler and journalist, I've heard snippets of conversations of what we call medical tourism. I've read about it on the AARP site, of how people my age, baby boomers, are seeking answers to their inevitable medical issues that crop up due to aging. They are looking outside the US for medical treatment that is affordable without losing the expertise of a skilled American doctor.
Today, my research begins. If I have the mouth restoration that I need here in the States, it will cost me upwards of $60K. I don't have that kind of money. I don't want to go into that deep of a hole. I don't want to hogtie my future, and my husband's future, to my teeth. There is NO insurance to cover implants or restoration (a rule that is ludicrous to say the least). My hands are tied.
The three countries recommended for exceptional dental work: Hungary, Malaysia, Costa Rica.
I start with Costa Rica.
I have horrible teeth. Always have and always will if I don't make changes now.