Well….my last two posts were informative, if not somewhat boring for those without a particular interest in plants, or at least peony. With that in mind I thought I would take the opportunity to relate a fun-filled story of my dental experiences recently here in Beijing.
I have been cursed with horribly poor quality teeth–I’ve been told by many dentists and my life experience certainly has born that out to be true. Over the past couple weeks I have been plagued by a toothache that has come and gone and I had recently purchased some antibiotics and antiinflammatory drugs to try to really knock it out. You see, I also have dreadful fear of dentists and the idea of seeing a dentist in China sounds about appealing as stepping in front of a moving bus! Combine the two and you have me trying to manage an infected tooth with herbs and drugs so that I can survive it until I return to the US and get some treatment I feel confident about.
Well, as you can imagine, what with my medical knowledge and experience, I was doing pretty well at this. However, on Tuesday night at dinner with my girlfriend and a visiting CouchSurfer (see couchsurfing.com if you don’t know what this is) my tooth–actually the entire left side of my head caught on fire. Not in a literal sense mind you, more like the sensation you might experience if someone were to drive a red-hot railroad spike into the side of your head. I graciously bowed out from the dinner table and stumbled home in what I believe to be the worst pain I have ever experienced. With tears streaming down my face and and sounds emiting from my soul that probably had the neighbors worried about whether there would be a gut wrentching smell seeping from the doors and windows in a week or so, I took some of all the drugs I had, including a hydrocodone (I had been saving these for use only when needed, I figured if this wasn’t the time, there never would be a time). Then I drank some tea I had prepared that included: danggui, baizhi, tianqi, huangqin, chuanxiong, gancao..(白芷，当归，三气，黄芩，甘草)..followed by using a half a dozen watermelon frost tablets (西瓜霜片) in the affected area to try to lessen the pain.
About the time I finished all this my girlfriend and our new friend returned home and off we went to the hospital, yipee! It was, of course, 9pm and after stopping at a clinic and two hospitals we ended up on the other side of the city at Beijing University Dentistry Hospital (北京大学口腔医院) . Of course by this time I was feeling a little better, or at least I didn’t care as much since the hydrocodone had kicked in pretty good. This is, however, where it got fun for me. I was seen almost immediately by a very sweet man who was happy to try out his limited English (I was not in a very good state to try to communicate anything meaningful in my mother tongue, let alone Chinese). He did a fantastic job of getting into the tooth with very little discomfort to me and within 10-15 minutes was done! Of course, I needed to go back, but at least he was able to get in and relieve the pressure that had built up so much under the tooth that I couldn’t bite down without that tooth being the first and only tooth on my bottom jaw to touch the upper jaw. And all this for about $13!!!
Now, let’s be honest, my mouth still hurt for the rest of the night, but when I awoke in the morning, groggy from the drugs, my mouth really didn’t hurt all that much, a little sore perhaps but not really pain, at least relative to what I had experienced.
So today I returned to the same hospital for further treatment, and this time in a very different state of mind. To my surprise (and delight) the hospital was very new-looking and clean. I have been in a few hospitals here and my experience is quite contrary to the sight I feasted my eyes on today. Although my anxiety around having dental work did not vanish, my anxiety around having work done here in China evaporated immediately.
I will walk you, briefly, though today’s experience. First, I already have been to this hospital so I have a “book,” which has information about what I had done to my tooth two days earlier. I paid 5 yuan (>$1 to register) then went up to the 3rd floor. I found the nurse to help me navigate where to go and I told her that my Chinese is not very good in hopes there is someone in there that speaks a little English (I figure this is not the kind of place where you want to misunderstand or be misunderstood). She led me in to a doctor, a very gentle woman who speaks less English than I speak Chinese, but nevertheless this is better than nothing at all. I told her that as long as I am here, there is another tooth that I know is problematic and would she work on that one too. She briefly looks into my mouth and tells me to go down to get x-rays. No problem, I went down and have the pictures taken (after paying 24 yuan, which is about $3.50) and return to the dentist (from the 1st floor to the 3rd floor). Of course, I was supposed to wait for the films, so I go back down and wait. After sitting there for about 15-20 minutes I start wonding what is going on, especially since I see people going in to get the x-rays and when they are done leave the area. I even followed one woman out thinking that maybe there was another area I was supposed to go to pick-up the films. But that woman just walked into the woman’s bathroom. Finally, I get up and ask the receptionist and she looks at me funny, calls another woman who tells me that they are outside. “Outside?” I say, looking at her with what probably appearred to be complete confusion, and it was! So, in a very kind way she grabbed my arm and led me out to a small table ‘outside’ the room where there were a number of small envelopes and asked the woman standing there if there was one for me “林青阳,” which is my name here in China, at least in any situations where using an English name might lead to problems.
Upon returning to the dentist chair was subjected to a root canal, which is unpleasant no matter where you have it done and within an hour she had finished with the main problematic tooth. She did not do the other tooth because she felt it would be too much to do in one visit. This treatment, which is only the first of several, cost me another 42.6 yuan (>$6).
Now I don’t know how much the rest of the treatments with cost, but this is very effective and what I would consider excellent treatment for very little money. I don’t know what it costs to get a root canal done in the US or other Western countries these days but I would venture to geuss it is around $300-$500!!! Why? Well we need to, of course, figure in cost of living etc., but even then I estimate that the whole thing will cost less then $30 and that puts this at less than 10%. So, for those interested in medical cost issues in the US and other countries you may wonder if there isn’t some sort of real problem where someone is making a lot of money at the expense of those of us on the receiving end. Personally, I lay the blame primarily on the insurance “industry,” which I list as the largest scam in the world….but I won’t get into that here.