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 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.
To be honest, Costa Rica is a blur.
It becomes real when my jaw throbs or the stitches begin dangling from my gums. I still pinch myself that for an entire week, I reclined in a dental chair, each day receiving invasive and often times nerve-racking procedures. Again, I do not like dentists. I do not like anything that has to do with walking into that office, but I must say, the experience changed me. Their (the staff at Meza Dental) level of authenticity changed me. And that is where I will search for the story.
The story has become more than one of medical tourism, although that is a major part. It has become one of change, faith, trust. My story goes way beyond a dental chair.
One week home and I'm learning the benefit of luke-warm soup. I have yet to wear my partial - even for the striking new DMV photo for a renewed driver's license - because there's swelling, and well, I try to avoid pain as best I can.
I'm still on a diet of soft and cold foods. Yogurt and smoothies are my friends. I avoid Five Guys commercials. I have dreams of wallering in waist-high burgers smothered in jalapenos. I promise, it's my first stop once this mouth returns to normal.
It's not been a bad first week. Very little need for pain meds. Nighttime seems to be the hardest (isn't it always!) Some adjustment needed, but otherwise, life is rolling on as it should.
For the next two weekends, we're working weddings. Partial goes in; slurred words come out. Len will take over my voice, and will, more than likely much to his chagrin, understand the value of my pointing.
Other than burgers, I dream of the changes that will be taking place over the next few months. Like I said, my story is so much more than just teeth.
so you know . . .
Many people believe medical tourism is a new phenomenon. This is just not true. People have been traveling outside of their borders for decades. The potential for this growing trend towards globalization is not designed to improve just the private sector. Raising the quality of care internationally in the private sector can have extremely positive effects on the public sector as well. The Medical Tourism Association® connects hospitals and countries with accreditation systems making the highest level of technology and healthcare information available to people from around the world in both the private and public sector. ~ Medical Tourism Association website
For more information on the Medical Tourism Association, visit their website.
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.
Remember those two crown preps they did on the first evening?
Today is time to cut the root and put the post on these two jewels.
I was worked on by my fourth doctor today, Dr. Hernandez. As always, he began on one tooth, finished, and immediately moved to the next tooth. There is no down time here. No rest in between procedures. No rest for me, but no rest from them either. They never leave my side during the entire time I am in the chair. We're bound together; I'm here, and they are here.
And another thing and this is my own, personal observation. There is a degree of comfort in not understanding everything that is being said. When they needed my response, they spoke to me in English; to each other, they spoke in Spanish. Their commands and requests of each other in Spanish took my mind away from the technical and the clinical. All I heard was the melodic cadence of the language, and it soothed me. I'm not sure I've ever noticed its beauty until now. Hearing it in this environment changed my desire to learn the language. Since we will be returning in six months, we are up for the challenge.
Tomorrow, our appointment is at noon; it is described as delivery. I'm not exactly sure what that means but my guess is they will fit me with dentures. What I tried to avoid, I get to experience - but only for six months. This will be the tricky part - at least for me. It's always odd after dental work when changes are made in your mouth. Your tongue can't keep away from the difference, but after time, the change becomes the new normal. This new normal will be astronomical. They say that there's always difficulty is getting used to them. I do difficulty very well. We will see.
I have never been a fan of needles. I don't like dentists. I don't like pain.
And look where we find ourselves. In the middle of needles, dentists and pain.
It's all hands on deck for Judy, Len says, and that comforts him. We arrive at 9 a.m. and there are no other patients; only me. For the next four hours, extractions, implants and bone grafts are center stage, all in a tiny mouth barely big enough for me.
This has been the day I have dreaded most. And this is the day I find myself feeling prayers all the way from Georgia. I guess you never really know how many people love you until you find yourself in a predicament. I feel them and they have made a difference in this week, this day. For this, I am truly grateful.
I meet my anesthesiologist, Dr. Susana Quesada Vindas, who assures me she knows everything about me. She pats the chart she holds in her lap and I begin the first of my crying escapades. I want to jump into her arms and let her sooth me with hugs. I hold back because she has serious work to do.
The young doctors as always come get me with a smile and outstretched hand. Len and I again get the corner office with the view.
Len stands behind me as the bee hive starts. He takes pictures, and of course the travel writer/photographer selfie, and he never feels pressure to leave or is even asked to move. At the moment when things get real, he leaves. Dr. Meza gives me a few words, and then the lady of the hour does her work.
I don't remember much after that, only that randomly, I would wiggle. At that point, I would feel her hold my hand and inject into the IV. I was always on the edge, aware of what was going on but not feeling the pain.
On my right hand, the IV (which she got with one stick, another fear); on my left hand, my lokai bracelet. I remember picking it up for a couple of bucks on a press trip. It's not at all pretty, but symbolic of my life as a whole. It's white and black round baubles: white = water from Mt Everest (Sometimes you're on the top of the world. Stay humble.); black = mud from The Dead Sea (Sometimes you've hit a low. Stay hopeful.). At this moment, I am both.
Dr. Meza walks out to Len about three hours later, assuring him of success and I would be waking soon. Len found himself on the end of his first very own crying episode. My waking "soon" became an hour later, and then afterwards, they reattached a crown and the day was over.
Tomorrow, we're back at 9 a.m. for root canals. It's always something . . .
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.
Three in the morning comes early for old people like me. Early works fine if you're going to the airport and headed to a bucket list destination for some wild adventures touring historical ruins and downing bottles of rare wines. But, considering this bucket list destination includes poking, surgery and lots of money, well, I'm not thrilled. But I'm committed so, in the words of Len, we go.
I first started researching Meza Dental last year when the first of my crowned teeth popped. I knew the inevitability of my unending exodus to a dentist office would be imminent, so I began the research to find a dentist or facility that could offer a permanent solution with a cost that would not include selling body parts! I had heard of medical tourism and the droves of people heading to various parts of the world to have procedures, both mandatory and elective. I wanted a price that wouldn't jeopardize all the other dreams and plans we have for the future.
I chose Meza because of their high rating, their timely communication and the reviews of their patients. Then, I chickened out. I would have more time.
Time gave out about three weeks ago when a front crown popped during Wednesday pizza night. No, the pizza didn't do it; time did. Reaching back into my inbox to prior communication with Meza, I reached out again. Since Hurricane Harvey had disrupted many of the schedules of their patients, I had an in. I took it. We began planning and here we are.
Last minute airline tickets are never a good idea, so we used miles. Keeping the cost down was a priority; we knew exactly how much we could spend. Our first week in travel would cost around $2,000 if we had to pay full price for airline tickets and hotel. By using points, we saved $1,600 and a week at the Suites Cristina comes in at $450 (that is, if you pay with cash). Only other expenditures will be food; all transportation is covered by Meza.
We chose Delta because of the points and the non-stop flight. Plus, booking was in between hurricanes (Imma and Harvey) and we didn't know what airports would be effected. Routing through Miami and Houston was dicey, so that proved non-stop was the sure choice.
The four-hour flight from Atlanta to San Jose was bumpy but non-eventful. Len handles bumpy much better than I. Add turbulence notices from the captain and two flight attendants (one in really fast Spanish which seems to be most urgent) to frayed nerves and well, you get a woman who looks at her fit bit and watches her heart rate numbers rise. Len rather enjoys watching me squirm. Then, I squeeze his fingers and he goes silent.
After a hour long immigration line (people from all over the world are definitely traveling to Costa Rica), we are met by Jose, our driver for the week. Prompt and polite, I can tell he is going to calm me. We share the ride with a couple from Atlanta. Jay is back for his six-month follow up and the completion the process. It was exciting to see his excitement as the process comes to a conclusion. He will be here for two weeks, just as I will be in March. I'm sure we'll see him during our week at the clinic.
As we leave the airport area, the normal signs for hotels and attractions are augmented by those that read dental services. We are in the right place.
We're staying at Suites Cristina, a residence hotel that works very closely with many dental groups in San Jose. As we said earlier, this is big business, and a number of companies are benefiting from the economic impact. "If you build it, they will come" -
After a walk to the nearest market (it's an allusive Wal Mart), load up on water, Coke Zero (no sign of Diet Coke anywhere), chips and salsa and yogurt (Jay said it's a necessity after surgery), we are in for the night.
It's 6:15 p.m.; we're exhausted. We've lost two hours in our day and it feels like we've been up for days. We walked next door to Subway (yes, forgive us for not eating local, but we did order sandwiches from someone who spoke no English so we we're really sure of the outcome - but, we got it done and they smiled), ordered carry-out and walked the block back to the hotel. Our two-bedroom suite is home for the week, and tonight, it feels like it's a perfect fit.
We meet Dr. Meza tomorrow at 1 p.m. We begin with a consultation and from what I understand, he'll jump right in. I exhale deeply and realize this thing is about to get very real.
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.