Friday, November 12, 2004


Aw, man, just when things were looking brighter...

But this is just a temporary glitch, I keep telling myself.

Two weeks ago, I was eating a tortilla chip and one of the little plastic teeth on my bridge -- which is basically most of my lower front teeth -- popped out. When I got home, I called the dentist. He was gone for two weeks. I was sort of glad; this is not one of my favorite people in this city. But I did need it fixed, so I made an appointment for this coming Monday, his next day in the office.

Then, last night, I was eating a salad, for heaven's sake, and the bridge just snapped. It's art. Unfixable.

The good news is, I already have my appointment. Also, no major dinner parties to attend; I can slop around here until Monday.

The bad news is...well, it's this dentist.

Last Feburary, I came down with the most excruciating toothache I'd ever had. It was so bad it was screwing up my vision, that's how bad it was. I called my doctor and asked him if he could recommend a dentist, because much as I trust the Germans, I want all my medical procedures in a language I can understand no matter how many drugs I'm on or how much pain I'm in. Sure enough, he knew one.

So I went to see the guy, and he took one look at me and told me flat-out that my life was in danger. I'd sort of read about this possibility, that you could have abcesses so bad that they could break loose and head for your heart and kill you in a second, but this guy was really, really persuasive, and the X-rays didn't lie: the abcesses were there. Anyway, he talked about how he could pull the bad teeth, fit me with plastic ones, and all at a price that wasn't so bad. I'd have to borrow the money, true, but I didn't see that I had much choice. He told me to come back so he could make an impression and start making the new teeth.

So I did, and as I sat there in the chair -- this office looks like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise -- he casually asked me if I wanted the extractions now or later. I said later, living dangerously, but it's a good thing I did. After he'd taken the impressions and informed me that I could come back in a couple of days for the bridge, he started in about money. I told him I'd be able to pay him, albeit not in two days. "Well," he said, "I'll do no further work until I'm paid. I've had really bad experiences with people in this city running out on bills, and I don't trust you." Instantly, I began to dislike him.

But what could I do? I was over the proverbial barrel, and he had me. The price -- €800 -- seemed very low, given what I'd heard elsewhere, but I still didn't have it. A friend offered to loan it to me, though, and so I was able to go back there and get my new teeth.

He sat me down in the chair, got out all these needles, filled them with anesthetic, and in no time, my head felt like a block of concrete. A very strange feeling indeed. And as I sat there feeling weird, he stripped off his rubber gloves and extended his hand in my direction. "Right. The money. Let's see it. Now!" I took it out of my pocket and he moved to where I could watch him count it, loudly snapping off each €50 bill and saying the sum. Four times. Then he put on some fresh gloves and got to work.

And this, and no other reason, is why I'm dreading Monday. A friend tells me there may well still be a warranty on the bridge, and I hope so, because I'm currently owed a bunch of money which hasn't materialized. If I have to wait until I have a few hundred Euros, I'm going to be gumming my food for a week or two. And, to be honest, I'd rather pay my landlord or the electric company if some dough comes in. But I've got to have teeth. And if he pulls this weird stuff again, I won't have any until someone pays me.

One thing, though: I've resolved that once this gets straightened out, I'm going to redouble my search for an English-speaking dentist here and give him my business. It's bizarre: most people fear the dentist because of drills and pain and so on. Me, I thought his array of technology was astonishing, and when he used it on me, it was totally painless, thanks to the drugs and his skill. When it came time to do the extractions and fit the bridge, I went down to his office -- a 45-minute trip -- had the procedure, and came back, all on one two-hour subway ticket. Of course, I was illegal for maybe the last 20 minutes of the trip, but that's how fast it all went.

Nope, it's not the pain. It's the bread.

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