China, May 22, 2000
I love foreigner privileges in China, especially in healthcare.
There I was, lying naked in bed as I
stared at the ceiling lost in thought. It was morning and I was wondering
what I might do in Beijing today when the phone rang. Jingmei was calling
from a street phone, yelling for me to get my ass to downtown, for she'd
secured me a spot with a famous professor of dentistry.
Not understanding the rush, for I'm used to making appointments for my dental needs, I told her to chill and just make an appointment for me tomorrow. She yelled back that there are no appointments in a land of 1.4 billion, and I'd have to get to the hospital by 5am if I wanted to see the guy without her help. Reluctantly, I threw on my clothes and headed for the door, kinda ready to embark on another adventure, this one in Chinese healthcare.
I'd been to a Chinese hospital before, when I was applying for a job last October. I was told I needed a physical, really just an AIDS test and a very cursory examination, at one of the Chinese clinics devoted to foreigners and high-level government officials.
After fighting with the taxi driver, I was so mad, I made a wrong turn, and wound up in a general hospital instead of the elite clinic I was looking for. Oui! With a crazy kid leering at me in the front room, and a line leading to a bloodstained side room, that was a wrong turn I will not soon forget.
I did make it to the right clinic, thankful for the exclusivity that a foreign passport gives me in China and the exorbitant fees I had to pay. For around one Ben Franklin, I got an AIDS test, a glance by a doctor, and a chest x-ray. Not just any chest x-ray mind you, but a five second viewing of my heart beating and my lungs breathing. Yes, a TV x-ray that gave me a glimpse into my own mortality in black and white, while pronouncing me TB-free at the same time.
I wasn't going for a physical this time around though, I was headed to the dentist this morning to have a tooth yanked. Its been almost exactly three years since I was first told to have the lower left wisdom tooth pulled. At the time, I didn't trust the quack, I mean dentist, I was seeing in DC, so I just told him to fill the cavity that he found in the tooth.
His filling was shit, as was his chairside manner, and it fell out or the tooth broke in October 98. I don't know which cuz it wasn't until I went to the great French dentist in Moscow that I found out it was gone and the pain came from the last, not the next-to-last tooth.
That miracle worker rebuilt my tooth, but warned me it probably was gonna get infected under the filling because the decay was so near the nerve, he couldn't guarantee that he could get it all out without a full root canal. Not one for massive pain, we settled on the filling wildcard, and it was fine till this past January.
That's when it started again, the low pain with cold foods, the occasional 3am throbbing, and the hard realization all was not well in Wayan's mouth. By April, I knew what was going on, not that I was in a rush to face it however, not even when Jonathan told me. Only when I was sure that the pain would increase, and with my luck, quickly and when I least was ready for it. Like next month when I'm off to Korea for a new visa.
Today, with an ease and professionalism I was surprised by (but considering it was the top party hospital, it should be the best), out came the tooth (with modern equipment and ease, not pliers or a foot on my forehead). As with the medical clinic, I was treated in style as a foreigner.
In the end, I didn't have to rush to the hospital, for I could make an appointment. All I needed to do was pay several hundred times more than Jingmei did for a similar procedure last year, but still under $50.
The reason it took me three years and four dentists to do this, was not the pain or necessity of a wisdom tooth, both of which are minimal. What I didn't want to face, and with this irreversible action I must, is that I am growing older each day, and I cannot change the past, no matter how much I wish I could. So I went in denial and came out aware. The dentist gave me good drugs, but I wish the painkillers worked on my conscience more than my tooth.