I mentioned that I was having dental surgery on Friday. There’s a story behind that surgery that connects many dots of my life. In my early 20s while a student at UMass the left side of my face became swollen and inflamed in pain. Two ER visits, a dentist visit and finally an X-ray later it was discovered that I had an infection in the root of one of my molars and required a root canal.
After graduating from college in 1996, I knew that I was going to apply to the Peace Corps. However, my stepfather passed away on December 2, 1996 and I put my Peace Corps (PC) application in a drawer because it didn’t seem right to leave my mom. Eventually she found it and told me to apply.
I sent in the application sometime in mid 1997. Applying to the PC is a long process for some of us. There is a medical exam, dental exam, lots of paperwork and an interview. I sent in all the paperwork as well as the medical and dental which included full mouth X-rays. My interview was in Boston in August 1997. By February of 1998 I was getting antsy. I wanted to move on with my life and was ready to take off for distant places whether with the PC or on my own to teach English.
In early March 1998, I called the PC headquarters in D.C. I was congratulated and told I had been invited to serve in Armenia. I told the woman that I hadn’t received anything in the mail. She put me on hold and when she returned she seemed nervous. She explained she shouldn’t have given me that information over the phone. She also mentioned I should have received an envelope from the Dental Office. I hadn’t so she transferred me to that department. I was told that it had been sent a couple of months ago and indicated a problem with the tooth I had the root canal on a couple of years earlier.
The invitation to Armenia finally arrived. The group was scheduled to leave at the end of May 1998. I eagerly began seeking as much information about Armenia as I could including connecting with current PC volunteers in Armenia via a very bare bones newsgroup on the internet. I was really excited to go especially after communicating with people who were already there. They spent vacations traveling to Greece or interesting places within Armenia and the summers sounded beautiful.
While planning my departure to Armenia, I was also being scheduled for the dental procedure to repair the root canal. I had periodontal surgery at the beginning of April. I can’t remember how it worked exactly, but by the end of April I had been told I could not go to Armenia because I would not be dentally cleared until my mouth was completely healed. My dentist wouldn’t clear me until June. I was devastated.
The PC recruiter in D.C. assured me that once I was cleared he would work on placing me somewhere else. However, when I called him in June 1998 with the news that I was finally cleared by dental, he was dealing with 4 PC evacuations out of unstable countries. His priority was placing those PC volunteers who wanted to continue their service. In our conversation he mentioned a new PC program in Mozambique beginning in the fall of 1998. I expressed my interest and he immediately apologized saying that I wasn’t going to be on the list for the new Mozambique program.
I hung up the phone and immediately called my boss at the time. He was an African American Studies professor at UMass Amherst. He also ran a scholarship program for black students in Durban, South Africa. I had been involved in organizing his trips to and from South Africa. Together we wrote a letter to PC to explain why I thought I would be an asset in PC Mozambique.
I sent the letter and waited. I waited and waited. Finally I called and spoke to the recruiter. He told me he received the letter, but was very sorry he couldn’t invite me to serve in Mozambique. I thanked him and told him I really couldn’t let PC keep me in limbo any longer. I fibbed and said I had an opportunity to teach English in Guatemala. In all honesty I could have gotten a job in a hot minute teaching English in Guatemala as jobs were plentiful then.
That evening there when I got home there ws a voice mail from Dan, the recruiter, welcoming me into PC Mozambique. I screamed!! I knew without a doubt that this was where I was supposed to be going. Armenia never felt like a good fit, but Mozambique seemed to have everything I was hoping for in a PC experience.
My PC experience is another story for another day, but suffice it to say my time in Mozambique was life changing. I loved my life in Mozambique and not just because I met my husband there. I was truly happy and comfortable there. I met such beautiful people. The food was delicious. The weather was hot. The beaches nothing short of perfect. I ate mangos and papayas from the trees in my yard. Most importantly I learned to relax.
Prior to leaving many friends and family members “warned” me not to get married over there in Africa. I laughed. I wasn’t exactly known for dating. And who goes into the PC with a goal of getting married anyway? I certainly didn’t, but it happened. Orlando and I will celebrate 14 years of marriage this September.
Not only did Mozambique introduce me to my husband, it also gave me a dear friend. For my first year in the PC, I had a site mate. Well when you live in a small house with lots of down time and no tv you become friends really quickly. Amelia and I learned so much about each other in a short time. There was no such thing as TMI! However, when she was offered an opportunity to move to the capitol and work with the Ministry of Education after a year we both knew we were ready for an independent experience. Our friendship has stood the test of time and I cannot imagine having gone through my first year of PC without Amelia.
Upon my return to the US the pesky tooth required an updated crown. Then a couple of years ago I felt a twinge of pain in that area and the memory came flooding back. I knew it was an infection so I called the dentist. A quick X-ray confirmed it and after a short discussion with my dentist I decided to pull the tooth. I couldn’t justify anymore expensive root canals. My dentist who had nothing to do with the previous procedures showed me exactly what the problem was and admitted that the job not done properly.
In a matter of 30 barbaric seconds a dental surgeon yanked the tooth out of my thankfully numb mouth. It was horrible. I cried briefly because I couldn’t believe the manner in which it was done. I left with a wad of gauze in my mouth and a nauseous feeling in my stomach. Later on I would run my tongue over the gaping hole and feel a sense of sadness. That tooth had cost me a great deal of pain, anguish and money, but it also changed my life forever.
I was assured by my dentist that the issues did not stem from poor dental care. I refused to leave the hole as is because I didn’t want my top teeth to shift as the bottom teeth had shifted. Before I could address the missing tooth I had to straighten my teeth. A word to anyone with teens in braces…insist that they wear their retainers or get a permanent retainer placed behind the teeth. I had braces at age 10 and they were removed by age 12. I wore my retainers for a bit, but then orthodontic care fell to the wayside as did my retainers. By not continuing to wear the retainers my bottom front two teeth began to spin inwards towards each other.
I wore Invisalign from October 2013 until Friday. I now have retainers which look similar. I have to wear them as often as possible for the next 6 months and then I will go to nighttime wear only.
With Invisalign completed we could now discuss the gaping hole wear my molar once sat. I had two options – a bridge or implants. I say implants because the space is large enough to fill two teeth into it. I honestly don’t know what happened to the other tooth or if there really was another tooth. My dentist sent me for an CT scan of the head to determine if implants were a feasible option. We sat in his office and he explained that implants were possible but I would need to have a sinus lift to add more bone in which to “implant” the new teeth.
My dentist is truly enthusiastic about his profession. He admitted that he was just learning to do this procedure and offered to do it for free. I just had to pay the cost of materials. He said he would invite a more experienced colleague to assist. I had faith in his abilities so I said yes. Friday was the sinus lift and first stage of the implants. The procedure took 3 hours. I am a ridiculously good patient. I don’t flinch or whine. I am totally still. At one point I even got drowsy! It went really well, but my face is really swollen and uncomfortable.
I honestly think the worst part of the surgery was the post op instructions. Before beginning the procedure Dr. Fox told me I could do any crazy pounding exercise. I thought he was kidding because he knows I’m training for a marathon. I said, “what like a 20 mile run on Sunday.” He thought I was kidding. I reassured him I wasn’t joking and he forbade me. He and his colleague told me absolutely not, no 20 mile run. No running for at least 48 hours and then only a short run if the swelling has subsided. My eyes welled up with tears. Not only was I mentally ready for my 20 miler the weather is amazing.
At the end of the procedure he told me I should stick to a liquid (smoothies, juices, broths, pureed soups) diet for 2 weeks and then a soft/liquid diet for another 4 weeks. I have numerous sutures and the area really needs to heal without any potential trauma. I will do anything I have to in order to heal properly. This tooth has cost me more money than I care to think about.
In 6 months I will at last have the implants and this lengthy tooth saga will at hopefully be finished. When I recount the story of “the tooth” it’s difficult to be resentful of the money spent (quite possibly a down payment on a house) and the pain felt because I wouldn’t have the one thing that means more to me than anything in the entire world…Carlos.