Harp and Story

Another Irreverent Look at Cultural Differences

Pull That Tooth, You Say?!

This is the last Thailand post, for a while anyway as we are headed back to Australia on Tuesday… and this time we are at the beach in Pataya sipping “Land of Smiles” drink (a delightful concoction served to you in a whole pineapple topped with one of those ubiquitous umbrellas) on the open air veranda of the hotel.  Two out of our three weeks at Bamboo School I have been ill with some undiagnosed ailment, first thought was Dengue Fever, then viral infection, then severe allergies with horrible sinus infection, then parasitic pneumonia; the good news is that I am recovering thanks in large part to our trusty blood electrifier and chlorite capsules and prayer.

Before I begin this post I want to say that I am sure there are many good and reputable dentists in Thailand.  This tongue-in-cheek tale, (pun intended), is in no way meant to impinge those good dentists character or reputations.  I would say to you who might be contemplating medical tourism of any nature just be sure and do your research to help you find the most reputable doctor/clinic for your particular need.

I wanted to get some dental work done while in Thailand.  I need two crowns replaced, plus a few other things and prices here are a third of what it would cost me in the States so I did some research and found a highly recommended dental clinic in Bangkok that agreed to see me on the 10th of February.  When I told my husband that I had an appointment, he looked at me questioningly and said, “are you sure you want to do this again?”  He was referring to my last and only other experience with dentistry in Thailand.  Well, I fell sick the evening of the 8th, rescheduled the appointment for the 18th and when I couldn’t even make that appointment, my sweet husband said to me, “it might just be for the best.”  I was disappointed to say the least.  But now to help fill in the story, let me tell you about my first experience with Thailand dentistry.  I was going to give you a comparison experience, but we’ll just have to settle for a one-opinioned point-of-view!

Two years ago when we were helping out at Bamboo School I had a molar that was giving me grief; as it was one of my “wisdom” teeth, my thought was to just have it pulled.  I asked our friend Cat to point me in the direction of a dentist.  She recommended a dental clinic at a hospital in Bangkok.  I called and made an appointment. We got up around 2a.m. on the appointed day so as to get into Bangkok before traffic built and everything came to a grinding halt.  Arrived at the hospital about 6a.m, had breakfast in the cafeteria and then waited in the lobby until the dental lounge opened at 9a.m.  I was impressed with the dental offices waiting room, very clean, nicely decorated and comfortable; the staff was courteous and helpful and had a decent command of the English language.  So far so good I thought!  Just a few minutes after 10:00 the assistant to the dentist I was scheduled to see came into the lobby and called for me.  I obediently got up and went to her when I heard my name called.  So many scriptures come to my mind as I write this, one in particular, “as sheep being led to the slaughter,” is the most prominent!

We walked down one hallway and I caught glimpses of spacious examining rooms with modern equipment and all the amenities that make a visit to the dentist a relaxing, put-you-at-ease type of experience.  But did we stop at any of these rooms? No! The large spacious hallway made a turn and we entered a slightly narrower hallway with still more exam rooms; the color had turned from a soothing tan and brown to a blue.  If you think of grades that you used to get in school with an “A” being the best, we had now entered the “B” grade.  The exams rooms were still nice, definitely not as plush as Grade A, but still good.  OK, I thought, I can still do this.  But alas, school was catching up with me as the hallway made yet another turn and once again became narrower and the paint a bit more dingy, the exams rooms smaller and more sparsely furnished.  Finally after one more turn the assistant showed me into my exam room.  School was never hard for me; therefore I rarely applied myself to diligent effort.  If I liked a class I did well in it and if I didn’t like the class I didn’t apply myself; I see the error of that kind of thinking now that I am in my elder years, but walking into that Grade “D” dental suite all the years of school folly caught up to me in one big whoosh.  Payback time!

Still like a silly sheep I sat in the dental chair – which reminded me of the dental chair and office I went to as a child, things not having changed much in 50 years – when I was told to, took off my glasses when requested, sat up for the bib to be tied around my neck, swished my mouth with water and waited patiently for the dentist. Presently she came in, a tall Asian woman with a good command of English.  “What do you want done,” she asked me.  I told her the “wisdom” tooth, bottom right was causing me grief and I wanted her to pull it.  She told her assistant to take an x-ray and she left the room.  The assistant came with a heavy lead apron that she placed over me, there was no protective covering for my neck, then positioned the film in my mouth and the camera against my cheek; she ducked out of the room to snap the picture, but had to come back in three times as the camera wouldn’t maintain its position and had to be readjusted.  Finally she got the picture she wanted and after a few minutes the lady dentist came back and said it was a bad idea to pull the tooth as the one on the top would lose its partner to chew against and all that was wrong was that I had a cavity or two.  She’d take care of the cavities and I’d be fine!  Maybe it’s a better analogy to say I was more like the frog in the hot water, with the temperature slowly getting turned up not yet realizing that soon it would be boiling!

I agreed to her plan of action, I had only known good, kind, benevolent dentists my whole life, I didn’t realize that there are dentists who enjoy inflicting pain on poor innocents!  What I am about to relate is true, every word of it, just as it happened, no embellishments, I promise!

The bib I was wearing was flipped up over my face so I couldn’t see anything; there was a round hole though, for accessing my mouth through which the dentist could work.  I was wondering about the anesthesia, when was that going to be administered when I heard the high-pitched whine of the drill.  You’ve got to be kidding, I remember thinking, certainly this woman isn’t going to drill in my mouth without anesthesia!  But that was precisely what she intended.  At that moment I deeply regretted every “D” I had ever gotten in school.  You could have applied yourself, Shirley, it was in you to do so, oh why oh why had I not.  Woe is me, poor soul, my rewards for being a slacker student – a “D” dental room in Thailand!  Take note kids, study, apply yourself, it pays off later in life!

“Why didn’t you just get up and leave,” you might be asking.  Well, I have wondered about that myself and it seems like when I am confronted with some kinds of difficult situations that involve the authority of medical people I just lose my brain and ability to think independently or answer questions intelligently.  It’s the sheep to the slaughter thing…

“Open your mouth,” she says, and I do.  In comes the drill, rrrr, rrrr, I am feeling it, things are getting sensitive, when suddenly she takes the drill out of my mouth and grabs my cheek with her thumb and fore-finger and begins to shake me.  “Relax your jaw,” she scolds me, “Relax your jaw!”  When I, under sheer force of will relax my jaw enough to please her, she goes back to her drilling.  It doesn’t take long before in an exasperated tone of voice she once again firmly grasps my cheek between her thumb and fore-finger and shakes me demanding that I relax my jaw!  I am not a violent person, but I did want to relax her jaw about then! 

Oh Father in Heaven, what did I get myself in to! I prayed as I valiantly attempted to obey her commands in an attempt to reduce further injury to my tenderized cheek.  Three times she stopped her drill and grabbed my cheek and repeatedly throughout the procedure she beleaguered me with her demands.

The assistant seemed to have forgotten what her responsibilities were as she neglected to keep my mouth suctioned.  During some part of the ordeal I was ordered to “not hump my tongue” which was an impossible task with my mouth filling up with tooth drillings and water.  The assistant finally realized her negligence and got the suction working – that helped, and soon the lady dentist finished her drilling, finished her yelling, and proceeded to filling. 

Tap, Tap, everything good?  I can make you a bridge, she said, you know for that hole in your mouth…

I dumbly shook my head yes, and consented to a bridge for that hole in my mouth, (Which BTW I don’t use, it never really fit right, but the price was good for all that that counts); I have got to learn how to say “no” to medical authority, maybe that’s why I usually avoid them… she wanted to do my crowns, but I was out of money, which is sometimes a good thing…to be out of money that is.

I was ready to get up from her chair; things weren’t good, but she’d had enough of me and I was finished.  I have often thought what it would have been like if she had actually done what I originally requested and pulled my tooth.  I guess they used to do it without anesthesia!

Was it any wonder then that my husband said, “are you sure you want to do this again?!”

Maybe that’s why I got sick, maybe God was looking out for me after all!


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