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 . . .
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.