This story is completely true and yes, I'm alright. I wrote this just before Christmas.
The man I'd just started dating went home to Cleveland for Christmas, and the morning after I was preparing breakfast for myself at my apartment. We'd been spending a lot of time together, and a marathon 48 hours straight before he brought himself to the bus station. You're probably not surprised that I'm seeing someone new... but it seems to be going reasonably well, although we're both slightly terrified that we're going to do something to screw things up. This could be a good sign? Anyway, eggs in the skillet and a mix he made for me blasting, when there was a frantic banging on the door. I tried to ignore it; it might've been my landlord hammering upstairs. It continued. My upstairs neighbors are from Australia, and in the midst of their shotgun Portland wedding two months ago, they were getting a lot of packages and flowers. Everyone else in the building has normal jobs, and I'm usually the only person around to sign. I was really irritated to have my tomato, spinach, feta scramble with a side of bacon interrupted. The man banging on the door was holding a gigantic bouquet of flowers. I rolled my eyes.
"Hi! Guess that knocking really paid off! Amanda?" I almost fainted and vomited, simultaneously. I'm not even sure if I thanked the delivery man. The card read something sort of romantic about him being gone and me being here blah blah blah. I sat in front of my breakfast, basking in the glow of how thoughtful Cleveland was and how lucky I am to have him in my life (not just saying that because I know he's reading; also, HI!) I was already thinking about how I could turn this into a story about romance not being dead and how men seriously underestimate the effectiveness of sending flowers to a women. There wasn't much time before I had to leave for work, and so after texting Mandy and talking to Rebecca briefly, I started hoovering my breakfast. A huge bite including a well-done, thick cut slice of bacon... and I felt a molar crack in half. It started bleeding, and I couldn't close my mouth because the loose piece was jabbing into my gum... and I started flipping out. I called Janna in a panic and she found someone to cover for me. I felt my gum bleeding. My old Portland dentist was going to charge $70 to just look at it, and the sliding-scale place wasn't returning my call. I don't have health insurance, let alone dental. This being the holiday season, despite my best efforts to abstain... there isn't a lot of extra money in my checking right now... what if it was going to be expensive, what if I couldn't pay for it? I remembered a friend just got an awesome new job and said domestic partners were covered in her new benefits package. How much time would it take for that to go into effect and would she be into the idea of switching teams for the cause of my tooth? Completely overwhelmed, I started crying. Once I became hysterical, I called Angela. She's one of the many people in my life who won't freak out if I called them crying so hard I can't breathe. I explained that it was like a (bacon) earthquake hit my mouth. Part of my tooth was like California, sinking into the ocean, only my gums wouldn't let it. She talked me off the edge and I decided to walk to the store for a bottle of wine, a pint of ice cream, and some cotton balls. Eventually, the clinic returned my call and said they saw emergency patients at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.
It was awful. I couldn't eat. What about Christmas dinner, and why is it that terrible things always happen to me around the holidays? This year I was hoping to go to Mexico and skip Christmas, but then I lost my job. Was this the Ghost of Christmas Past, besmirching me? Has my negative attitude about the holiday season created a self-fulfilling prophecy? What about the fact that this happened less than ten minutes into sharing this really romantic moment with Cleveland? It's hard not to ignore the fact that I was eating a piece of bacon and he's a vegetarian, my least favorite of all his amazing qualities. He made pizza the other day and I said, "It'd be better if it had bacon." Seriously. Maybe it's not just karma from me focusing on his vegetarianism, maybe it's karma from all the slaughtered pigs in all the world?! The timing was so incredibly unfortunate. Quick, who has a copy of Omnivore's Dilema to loan me?
I called Cleveland from Rite Aid, and broke the bad news. After explaining that I wasn't in any serious pain and the panic attack was over, he joked that he was upset with me for managing to overshadow the flowers. I agreed, and he asked me to please cross out everything he'd written on the card and rewrite, "Get Well."
This isn't the first dental issue I've had. My dentist growing up was an awesome guy. Dr. James Davis, not to be confused with Jim Davis, the guy who writes Garfield. I know they're not the same guy because I asked him when I was 7. I had a lot of cavities over the years, so I was in there every few months, between six-month cleanings and subsequent fillings. Between the deep grooves in my teeth and my infatuation with Bubblicious gum, we joked that we were funding the new renovations at his practice. It also meant that he made exceptions for me, like taking out my wisdom teeth instead of referring me to an oral surgeon. He did my first root canal, and let me tell you- there was an abscess in my tooth once, and since I don't plan on bearing children, I know that this is the worst pain I've ever felt/will ever feel in my life. Even so, the dentist office was never a scary place for me. It was always just the place I went to get my teeth taken care of. But teeth are little bitches and after yesterday, I'm never going to trust another dentist ever again.
The night of the break, I had preemptively taken some pain killers before I gave my mouth the chance to experience pain, not realizing the tooth was already dead from a root canal a year before. I'd had insurance back then, and the cause of the root canal a chipped tooth, neglected for too long. (The tooth Dr. Davis did the root canal on is still fine, despite it being ten years and me still not getting a crown. He's that good.) Then I made some sangria out of a whole bottle of wine and drank it. For dinner, I had more painkillers, all of the sangria, and a pint of Haagen Daas ice cream. Ben and Jerry's was my first choice, but they all had too many things I'd have to chew. (Disclaimer: this was a special circumstance. I was alone, broken tooth, days before Christmas, unsure if I would be able to fix it or sleep, about to fall into a bottomless pit of despair. My drinking has been very responsible these days... apparently the holidays and broken teeth bring out my Catholic guilt, as well.) I rolled out of bed the next morning in low spirits, put on my boots, coat, and left for the clinic.
The woman who took my x-ray asked me twenty times if there was any chance I could be pregnant. Apparently x-rays are really dangerous to your unborn child. I wouldn't know this, because I do the mental version of plugging my ears and humming when someone said unborn child. I assure here that there is NO WAY. She made a joke about the Wise Men, commenting on the unlikelyhood of there being another immaculate conception, seemingly because she was relating her sexless life with my own. But I'm really just on the pill! Not pregnant! But if someone asks you twenty times in one day if you're positive of something, it's normal to question yourself. So I had a brief panic attack, lasting only until the dentist walked over...
I'm still wearing my coat and scarf. The dentist does not introduce herself, but she's a petite Indian woman in her mid-thirties, about three months pregnant. Hopefully she wasn't around when the x-rays happened. She asks me how long ago I had the root canal, I said either one year or ten, because I don't know which tooth is which. She looks at me like I'm insane. She does not sit, she does not ask me how I'm feeling, if I'm in any pain or discomfort. The broken tooth needed to be extracted, but they couldn't do it. But she didn't explain why, until I asked. I needed to see an oral surgeon, and then starts telling me about the other cavities that I had which needed to be filled. It's not specified where the oral surgeon is, if the sliding scale is going to apply, or even who the oral surgeon is. She calls to see how soon then can take me, but they're closed until Monday. I start sobbing uncontrollably in the chair. There is a loose, broken tooth in my mouth. It's loose like your baby teeth got loose. This was also not going to help my recurring nightmare, the one where all of my teeth fall out. I can't close my mouth and I can't chew, and she's telling me it was going to stay like that until at least Monday? I flipped out and started crying hysterically, wearing my coat, reclined in the exam chair.
The nurse/hygienist comes over. I don't know who she is, because she doesn't tell me. She's about 50, Asian, with some sort pouffy 80's hairdo. Apparently this place is big on Affirmative Action. She asks me if I have insurance. No. Not even Maine Care? No. One would think these people would understand that not everyone qualifies for Maine Care, not everyone is approved, and homeless people and teen moms would take priority over me. She makes me feel guilty for my broken tooth and for not getting a crown and not taking better care of my teeth. She makes me feel guilty for making the dentist feel bad when I started crying. This makes me cry even more because none of these things were my fault or within my control. In the next room over, I could hear a man talking to a young girl and her parents about her teeth. The man, presumably another dentist, was cordial and friendly and very helpful in explaining thouroughly everything he noticed about little girl's teeth. This assured me that it was possible to get quality care at Community Dental, and that it wasn't a company-wide policy to treat their patients with disregard.
The dentist comes back and tells me she can remove the broken piece and give me a filling- a temporary fix. This is the best news I've heard all day, but she doesn't tell me how much it'll cost. At that moment there was $140 dollars in my checking account, and if it was more than that, I'd probably just have to run away.
Usually, when a patient needs to be injected with Novocaine, they put an orajel-like substance on the gums, leave it for a moment to numb the area, and put the needle in. She puts the orajel on, but immediately goes in with the needle. Luckily, I'm not freaked out by needles. She takes the broken piece out and removes the old filling. There was a sharp edge to be filed. They rinsed and suctioned, but did not put in a new filling and didn't explain why, not that I was even sure why it was necessary in the first place. Some of the water sprayed onto my hand, jacket and the floor... this has never happened to me before (sounds like my first time!) When she was done, she put some paper towels on the water and told me to be careful. She handed me the paperwork to give the oral surgeon and walked away. She did not tell me when the novacane would wear off. She didn't tell me if I should expect bleeding or swelling. She did not tell me if I couldn't eat for a certain amount of time, or if I should avoid hot or cold beverages. She also didn't tell me a time frame to be sure to see the oral surgeon. She just walked away.
I get in line to check out, and the nurse walked by me three times, ignoring me all three times. The line took forever, which gave me a lot of time to think about how completely awful my experience was. The receptionist tells me it's going to be $75, but doesn't explain the sliding scale or ask for proof of income, which I had. I hand her my debit card and start crying, again. All I wanted to do was get out of there.
My friend Brandon said he saw me walking down Brighton Avenue, which is a weird place for me to be walking, especially so early in the morning. The bus came right away, but I decided to not get on. I was hysterical and everyone on the bus would've thought I was insane. Brandon pointed out that most of the other people on the bus were also insane, and they would've just assumed that I was learning to speak Homeless. I told him it was too bad he didn't beep and wave, because I could've thrown myself in front of his car.
If this was an episode of Seinfeld, I would chalk it up to the fact that dentists aren't real doctors so they were never taught bedside manner. It's not their fault, they just don't know. But I do think dentists are real doctors! Okay, so these people work in at a non-profit practice that sees a lot of low-income people. They probably don't make a lot of money in comparison to other people in their field, overworked and underpaid... but that does not give them the right to treat me with disregard, disrespect and all kinds of other words that start with un and dis. Not that it should make a difference, but I've asked other dentists to tell me about the worst mouths they've seen. There are meth addicts who's teeth were crumbling out of their mouths and people who'd never brushed their teeth in their entire lives. My cavities and one stupid broken tooth are far from the worst they've ever seen, but all of their patients should be treated with care.