Friday, December 09, 2005

I'll buy that for a Złoty!

Last Wednesday night, I was visited by a resurfacing arch enemy, the toothache. Mind you, I don't have your average set of teeth. Nearly every dentist says I can thank my birth parents and their kin for my set of choppers. As my mom recently wrote, "Your teeth have always been rotten." Thanks for the support, mom!

This ache wasn't your run of the mill tooth pain. This was an old mercury crown from I'm not sure how many decades ago, and either it, or what was left of the tooth below it, was loose. For the last year this tooth would ache for a few days then go away. Only once before while climbing in the French Alps did the pain get bad enough to take some killers. Wednesday was different.

As the night progressed, the pain worsened and stretched from my lower jaw to my neck, middle of the back of my head and then continued down my spine. Did I also mention a fever? This little loose tooth came on with a vicious infection that sent me spiraling towards a black hole of misery. I was freezing and sweating, my hearing was amplified so any noise was supersonic, my loose tooth had to come out, so out came the pliers...but to no avail. Back to bed, still freezing with a half meter of covers on me. I was so cold that my teeth, as sore as they were, were chattering uncontrollably. I even used a sock. Jill slept through all this, by the way...

5:30 a.m. she wakes to my convulsions and moans and takes my temp: 103.7 F (39.8 C). Not good. We (she) scrambled and started making calls for emergency dentists that would hopefully speak English. My condition was surreal, much like when I was experiencing high altitude mountain sickness after summiting Denali (Mt. McKinley) in 2003, I could move and make decisions, but my motions and thoughts were slower than a snail. Jill thought I was going to drown myself in the bathtub as I couldn't physically quite get to the tap to shut it off.

Dentist #1 was a lovely Polish lady who hung up on her. #2 spoke just enough English to say the doc wasn't in. #3 repeat of #1. #4 was Lux Med and they said come in ASAP. Small vicotories.

Even in my state, I was still fearful of what this Polish medical experience would be like. The hospitals here haven't had any good press here for nearly a century. At the clinic, my stomach didn't agree with the mixture of sterile hospital smell and the cigarettes being smoked in the entry way, three times, so at least they knew I wasn't kidding about being sick. From then on the clinic did a marvelous job of providing someone who could translate for us and take care of this bastard child in my mouth.

I was smart enough to bring my dental records and x-rays from the states. I thought the Polish dentist would just want to yank it, but he actually wanted to save it. Turns out it was the last tooth on that side that hadn't had a root canal yet! So I ended up getting the old crown pried off and got the fastest root canal I've ever had in my life. The implements (files) were similar, but not as coarse, and he didn't take the time to continually widen the hole, but he did keep dropping in the toxin they use to kill off the rest of the living tissue. The work was complete in 10 minutes. No gloves, no assistant, no sucking thingy hanging off my lip, no soft rock/classical music. But unlike the states, where it'd be a thorough scouring for hours and a temp put on the same session, he left my new hole in my tooth wide open, refused to give me any antibiotics and told me to come in the next 2 days for a 'rinsing' of the hole. If things were bad, then he'd issue the antibiotics. Oh, and I had to eat with a wad of cotton covering that side of my teeth. For comic relief, try it sometime when you're trying to impress someone like the in-laws.

The next three daily visits (an extra was required, apparently) were all with different dentists at the same clinic, and all had various forms of poor English. Since it was just a 'rinsing' no translator was really necessary. The last woman dentist (2 male, 2 female, btw) put in the temporary fill after re-poisoning the tissues again and sent me on my way to schedule the next appointment, where we'll prep for a crown. My pain and misery reduced relatively quickly, but it took several days to recover from the high fever, as I was still weak on Tuesday (6 days).

And the cost for all this suffering and modern Polish dental medicine and procedures at a private clinic, where they didn't even bother asking if I had insurance (was it that obvious?!)?

50 Złoty! ($15)

Hopefully it's not a 'you get what you pay for' experience, but so far so good (no infection, yet!).

Perhaps I'll invest in a new set of Polish choppers while I'm abroad!

Bring on the novocaine!



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