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