It just slipped right out of place as I was eating khao soi for breakfast and I slipped into shock. The implications of this were vast and slowly I began to understand what they all were.
The worst is facing up to my dental phobia, which has kept me from putting my money where my mouth is. That, coupled with an inherited talent for selective blindness, along with no insurance, has kept me from seeking the help that I badly need. Not something I'm at all proud of.
Next is the possibility that this will make me delay my trip back to the states. That alone is enough to engulf me in tears.
Then comes the question of where to seek treatment. Friends responded to Facebook and email cries for help and I began to google their recommendations. I decided that one private hospital was probably much like the others--except for Bumrungrad which is the gold standard and approaches US prices--so made an appointment at Paolo Hospital, which is the only one I've ever frequented.
One of my dearest friends in Bangkok persuaded me to try a dentist on my street first and obediently I set off for the House of Beautiful Teeth. As I sat and waited for my turn to be seen, I could hear the sound of a drill, and an old man came out of an office with his mouth stuffed full of cotton gauze. I made myself sit still, rather than heading for the exit.
A receptionist took my blood pressure, twice. "High," she said, shaking her head. She led me to a room where I was beckoned into a reclining position on a classic 1950s dental chair. "Rinse" she said, pointing to a paper cup full of water. It tasted as though it had just come from a faucet and there was a green spot on the bottom of the cup.
"Hold this mirror in your left hand and look," the dentist ordered. I took one look at my sagging chin and let the mirror fall to my chest. I recognized this woman who was poking into my ravaged mouth. She was young and pretty but she had the stereotypical dentist's myopia--look at the teeth, forget the person who owns them.
As I reclined awkwardly at full-length, she began to enumerate my options in fast and flawed English. Her mouth was covered in a face mask, which made her words more difficult to hear; I suddenly realized how much of my understanding in this country was enabled by reading lips. But I understood the word "extractions" and sat bolt upright, reclaiming a small portion of my adulthood.
"Oral surgery," she said, "in a government hospital. They are very busy there, so it might take more than two months. Our government hospitals are very good, but they have many, many patients to take care of."
Her estimate for a bridge with four extractions hovered around 20,000 baht or around 689 US dollars. The price was right but the extractions in a government hospital was more total immersion than I ever wanted. And I was uneasy about extractions in general.
Perhaps we parted friends, but I didn't really care if we were, especially after she began to discuss my blood pressure. I could feel it rising to apoplectic levels as I made my exit.
The consultation was free. I would have gladly paid a fee if I could have rinsed my mouth in clean water.