Saturday, February 2, 2013
Before I left for Seoul I had some dental work done. I had one crown replaced and had some concern about another one that was bothering me. Every now and then it would hurt so I had the dentist look at it. He x-ray’d the tooth but couldn’t find anything on the film. He suggested that I have that crown replaced before leaving. I replied that I’d heard there were good dentists in Korea so I really wasn’t too worried. He looked thoughtful and after a few moments said, “Yes but the problem is finding one.”
We agreed that I would wait a month to see if the tooth bothered me any more before I made up my mind. I feel that sometimes dentists will make a decision based on their next vacation, rather than the true need of the patient. I had no more problems with the crown in question before I left, so didn’t return to the dentist.
It was more of a disappointment than a surprise when the crown started to bother me recently. I hoped that the pain would go away, like it had before, so that I could have the crown replaced when I returned to Portland for the summer. As the soreness and discomfort grew my realization that I would need to see a Korean dentist became evident.
The school booked an appointment for me at a dentist that was close-by. Other teachers had gone there and said that the dentist was “alright.” Maybe my first warning should have been that the dental clinic was located above McDonalds. But, here it is not unusual to have any variety of businesses share a building. I went up the dingy and dimly lit stairwell to the third floor and was relieved to see that once inside the door of the clinic the space was clean and modern looking. I filled out paperwork and waited only a moment or two before I was escorted in. Before I could complain a full head x-ray was done of my skull, a practice which I dislike intensely. An x-ray of the offending area would have been sufficient. Then I was taken over to a chair. There were five or six chairs lined up parallel to the window, each with a small divider separating the areas from one another visually. One could see the feet and legs of the other patients.
I met the dentist, who had prominently displayed his diploma from a good American university. That gave me some confidence. I met the dentist and talked to him a little while. His English was good and he seemed pleasant.
He took a look at the tooth that I complained about and announced that it must have been my new crown that I had gotten before I left. Despite my telling him that it wasn’t, he had made up his mind. He asked me if I was sure that was the offending tooth, as it could be one to either side of that tooth. I confirmed what I had originally told him. He started to go to work, and then as an afterthought mentioned that if I needed him to stop I could raise my hand.
He began to drill and luckily the novocaine was working. Then he stopped and in an agitated manner got some pliers (!) and started to yank over and over on something in my mouth. Now it’s important to understand that this happened very quickly. He was yanking so hard that I feared him breaking one of my front teeth. I put up my hand, but to no avail. Then I started wildly waving my arm around. He told me not to touch anything so of course I immediately did! The drill bit had come out of the drill and was stuck fast in my tooth. It must have stuck up at least an inch! I was alarmed at that point, but one can’t just walk out with a partially drilled tooth, complete with drill bit protruding! He went to work again, and my fear was realized...he yanked so hard that the pliers hit one of my front teeth and gum to the point that my gum was bleeding and the tooth hurt. Back to work he went, as industrious as one of Walt Disney’s cartoon beavers! He made the root canal, made the mold for the temporary, and the permanent crown, had his tech glue the temp in and was ready to send me off. I complained about my bleeding gum and sore front tooth. I should interject here that in Korea one never seems to question anything that the doctor does. I put on my coat and met the receptionist at the desk. The dentist came out then and said that he was going to give me an antibiotic and some pain medicine. He had written the prescription and when he handed it to me I mentioned that I am allergic to penicillin. (Keep in mind that one doesn’t fill out any paperwork related to medical history when they go to the doctor either!). “Oh, hmmmm.” He replied. He didn’t seem disturbed that he had written a prescription for a drug that I was allergic to...just stood and mumbled a few names of antibiotics before he decided on another one. Having been to the doctor before I know that the patient is normally just handed a list to take to the pharmacy (in Korean of course).
The last time I had been to the doctor I had thought I was simply receiving an antibiotic (low dose- five days...no surprise that it didn’t work). What I received were little glassine packets that the pharmacist puts together with four pills in each packet. In addition to the antibiotic was a pain pill, decongestant, and a pill for the stomach, I learned later. In addition to the glassine packets I was also given a strip of foil packets that contained a liquid. Each packet had a picture of a frog on it. This was to combat cough. Five products for a cold?!
So, now experienced, I asked him to tell me what each item was on the prescription list. I got not only the antibiotic, but additionally tyleonol, and “something for my stomach.” I looked questioningly at him and he stated “Yes, that’s how we do it here. I don’t know why.” Great. OK, time to go. I took the subway back to my neighborhood and hurried to the pharmacy. It was very cold and the wind was blowing. I went into the pharmacy and dropped off the prescription. About ten minutes later the pharmacist was calling “Kristi Yang, Kristi Yang.” I was a little surprised because that is a women that I work with. (While in the dental office I heard someone talking to the dentist about KIS, the school where I work),as I was leaving but didn’t know who it was. I thought...that’s interesting...apparently Kristi Yang was at the dentist when I was and she received a prescription too. Again the pharmacist started calling “Kristi Yang!” I looked up and she was looking at me with a big smile on her face as if to say “Can’t you tell we are calling your name.” I looked around and Kristi was not there. Then I walked over and the pharmacist tried to give me the bag. I explained that I was not Kristi. Finally I got my identity card out of my billfold and showed it to her. There was no prescription for me. I was told...go back, go back.” It was almost 7 and I knew that there was no way that I could make it back to the dental clinic before they closed, even if they did stay open that late. I suggested that they phone the clinic (of course not speaking Korean this was in pantomime). They agreed, I got out my identity card again and they used to to explain the dilemma. Eventually they realized that the prescription was meant for me, but the wrong patient name was written on it. Another hmmmmm. I got my prescription, sealed in the neat little glassine packets and headed home.
Over the next few days my front tooth hurt and I was worried about loosing it. One night as I was getting ready for bed the temporary crown fell out. The next day at school I was allowed to leave early to get the temporary glued back in. I mentioned that my front tooth was still hurting. His reply was to tell the tech to have it x-rayed. At that point the x-ray wouldn’t have saved the tooth. It may only have served to have revealed damage that he might have done. I said that I did not wish another x-ray and he acquiesced. The day after that I went to have to permanent crown placed. It was very high and the dentist drilled and drilled and drilled. Finally he took it out of my mouth and shook his head. The tooth had the look of having fallen into a garbage disposal! So, they took another impression and I was instructed when to return. Upon my return the tech took the crown and cemented it into my mouth! I was shocked that the dentist hadn’t placed the crown and that he would have his tech glue it in quickly before I could even determine how it fit. Of course it was too high too, but the dentist said “Oh, that’s how it should be...you’ll get used to it.” I was far from confident.
Let’s just say that after two more visits and a number of tears, after having suffered fairly intense jaw pain I gave up! In Korea one pays for just about everything before the work begins so I didn’t even have the recourse of not paying my bill. I won’t even describe the challenges with the insurance company after that.
What did happen is that the school is no longer recommending that clinic. Four other people within a two month period also had major problems with the same dentist!
Human beings are adaptable and I learned to hold the right side of my mouth in a way that minimized the discomfort. When I got back to Portland during the summer I was able to have my new crown ground and adjusted. Relief!