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.
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 . . .
I have horrible teeth. Always have and always will if I don't make changes now.