In the past week I spent five hours in a dentist's chair with my mouth wide open, listening without comprehension to Thai talk radio. At the end of my third visit, I was told that my root canal was completed and to return for my post and core on the 28th. That was 18 days away, which means I have 2 1/2 weeks of roaming about with a gap on the left side of my mouth.
However, that five hours of dental attention cost me 200 dollars US, including somewhere around six x-rays. And I didn't have to take so much as an aspirin for any pain later on. And the anesthetic wore off within a half-hour or so of my visit, with no fat-lip syndrome.
It's a trade-off--time versus money, efficiency versus pain. I never thought of culture influencing medical care but it does. I was visiting a friend in Bangkok's leading hospital; behind the curtain that divided the room into a two-bed unit, a pretty Thai girl disappeared and then many happy giggles and murmurs and sighs and tiny moans formed a backdrop to the conversation that my friend and I were having. Not something I'd be likely to hear in the states, but why not?
My upcoming post and core will cost me 100 US; my temporary crown will be 30 dollars. The time estimate is four to five visits, which I now know can take from an hour and a half to two hours. If I'm lucky, they will be back-to-back the way my root canal visits were, but I have no idea if I'm going to be lucky that way. However, I know I can afford the time that this will take and I'm feeling confident that it isn't going to hurt me. That alone is worth a lot.
There are dental clinics in the expat areas of town where doubtless these procedures are done in a more timely fashion, to satisfy the demanding schedules of Westerners with deeper pockets than mine. I am receiving care in the dental office of a private hospital, which has equipment of the highest standards in a setting that manages to be both professional and home-like at the same time--a Hello Kitty organizer sits on the counter beside a gleamingly sterile sink. It is far beyond the neighborhood clinic which was my first foray into Thai dental care, as doubtless Bumrungrad and the expat clinics are beyond the hospital I've chosen. We all find our comfort levels somehow.
The lessons that accompany this time of my life aren't altogether comfortable. In my impatience to be finished with this, I confront the willfulness that has governed my life. In my discomfort with the weeks of a gap in my mouth, I recognize the vanity I never thought I possessed. In my disappointment at the delay in my return to the states, I have to understand that leaving is what I have practiced all of my life. None of this is easy; all of it is probably valuable. It slowly becomes clear, under this clouded Bangkok sky.