Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Dentist Visit From Hell

I was assaulted by my dentist,
In the middle of nowhere Mexico, my filling breaks. With no apparent cause, an upper back molar, which for many years has been an amalgamation of tooth, silver and white composite, cracks and crumbles. A razor-sharp ridge and gaping hole remain. I must visit an unfamiliar dentist in a technologically-primitive town to explain my condition in broken Spanish and bizarre gestures that may not be understood.

The dentist's office is located in the garage of the dentist's house. Though the sign says he opens at 9 AM, it's near 10:30 when he cranks up the retractable door. “Un momento,” he says before disappearing. Thirty minutes later, he returns and points me into his rusty chair, for an examination with old unwashed tools more reminiscent of the carpentry channel than the surgery network.

but my dentist didn't look like Jennifer Aniston,
The tooth fragments must be extracted. With assumed authority of a doctor among peasants, he dives into his work without permission or (more importantly) anesthesia. I must not be a whimpy gringo. I must not be a whimpy gringo. My brain repeats the mantra behind fear-widened eyes as my fingers dig into the armrests and he digs into the roof of my mouth.

The loose stuff is scraped away. He reaches for a small, dense hammer to break apart the mass. Tap, tap, crack, keeeeerack! He grabs oversized pliers that could have been borrowed from a mechanic, except for the screw-down clamping mechanism. I taste blood. Women who find natural childbirth to be a novel spiritual experience, rather than simply the way most have done it throughout history, might want to check out Mexican dentistry for another all-natural life-affirming moment.

or have tools this clean and sterile,
After many fumbled and painful thrusts, he grips something then rocks it back and forth in the root canal. I feel nauseous. Much later, he pulls it triumphantly out and points me to the basin. I spit copious dark red goop. As I'm sighing and relaxing proudly, he explains this was just the easiest of three pieces. I reopen my mouth in stunned despair.

The second retrieval is merely an exhausting repeat performance. However, the third is apparently the longest root he has ever encountered with virtually nothing to hold onto. Most of his pokes and prods miss the mark but jab closer and closer to my brain. I wince, tear up and clench my toes. When he does get a grip, he twists and pulls to the breaking point, indicated by horrible sounds that throb in my head. This goes on for about thirty minutes.

or even tools this high-tech and modern,
At last, the chunk yanks free. While the dentist sits beaming like he had performed a streamlined medical miracle, I swoosh water around and expel a never-ending bloody flow. Something is wrong. The mouth goop also comes out my nose. I discover that the canal vacated by the tooth has been opened all the way into my sinuses. The dentist panics. While his words offer calming assurance, his eyes indicate awareness of fucking up.

He says he's going to the pharmacy and dashes out. I wait without anxiety. Crisis is so routine in Mexico you become numb to it. By the time my mouth fills with blood, he returns. He does something with cotton balls. He does something else with brown putty. He nervously works for ten minutes with needle and thread. I am more or less immune. After you spend enough time here, tragedy doesn't appear horrifying or unjust. It seems damn likely. Things going smoothly without incident feel like a strange, undeserved favoritism from above. Life in Mexico administers a general anesthesia, so oral surgeons often need not.

yet I did get a hole in my head at no extra charge.
When recovered enough to speak, I say nothing but “How much?” I stand, pay, and life goes on. As a parting shot, he suggests I might want to see an ear, nose and throat specialist about my newly-installed mouth-to-nose passage. “Gee thanks,” I mumble as the hole in my head makes a sucking whistle sound.

This post is an excerpt from the book Fresh Wind & Strange Fire: One Man's Adventures In Primal Mexico, coming soon to bookstores and online outlets.

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