With Pliers and a Foot on My Forehead

2000 > China

I love foreigner privileges in China, especially in healthcare.

You wanna tell him a tooth needs to go?
He no like hospital too
No, Mister Candyman, you can't make this pain taste good.
Not today, Mr. Candyman
Yes, Mom, I do brush and floss after every meal (okay, maybe not _every_ meal)
Too much ice cream & fruit
Some daze are better than others on Sanlutin
At least my smile is still there
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

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

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.