Thursday, September 1, 2011

Before I Sputter Out

I love Korean health care. 

I do. 

Procedures and surgeries that would cost thousands of dollars in the States (sans insurance) cost a few hundred dollars here.  By and large, doctors are skilled and facilities are clean. English communication leaves a bit to be desired, and Korean doctors don't like to tell you any more than you absolutely need to know, but having seen various doctors, dentists and optometrists, I can tell you from experience that I trust the Korean health care system. I'm not saying no one gets screwed, or that they're perfect...just that in my experience, they're pretty good.  

I guess I do have one story of pain and fear... before I share it with you, though, I want to say that I've seen 3 dentists in Korea in 3 different cities, and I believe the story I am going to tell is an isolated story of incompetence. I have seen two other dentists who have been knowledgeable, professional and skilled.  

So, without further explanation, I'd like to share a story I originally wrote around a year ago, about a time when we thought Novocain didn't work on me. 

On Friday, I was eating a slice of pizza, when a chunk of my tooth fell out.
I wasn’t planning on going to the dentist this weekend.  You see, we had Moto neutered Friday night.  So we had told all of our friends we were “out of commission,” knowing we needed to stay home to watch Moto all weekend.  We told them they could come to our place, but we weren’t going out…until the dental accident.
So this morning I went to a dentist here in Pyeongtaek.  It was…an interesting experience.  He took x-rays and told me that I needed 1 (perhaps 2) root canal(s), in addition to a number of other lesser fillings.
The trouble began when he gave me the novacaine.  My mother is allergic.  Dentists give her xylocaine.  I had quite the opposite experience.  It didn’t work at all.  I didn’t feel a thing.  He came back after 5 minutes and gave me another dose, thinking I just needed a bit more, when the first wasn’t working.  After the second dose failed to produce an effect, he proceeded to tell me that the anesthetic doesn’t work for some people.  He said that if we were to continue, I would just have to endure some amount of pain, until he could apply novacaine directly to the nerve.
Not having any other apparent options, and thinking that since this was a very nice facility it would be the same anywhere I went, I went ahead with the procedure.  He drilled away the decayed tooth on both teeth, and then said “I am now going to drill a hole to expose the nerve.  This will hurt.  You need to try to endure it.”
I screamed.
If you’ve seen the scene in The Lord of The Rings, in which the orcs are torturing Gollum, and he screams “Shire!” “Baggins!” then you have an idea of the decibel range we’re talking about here.
It hurt like few things I’ve ever experienced.  It may have been the most pain I’ve ever felt.  The drill vibrated against my nerve and sent shockwaves of pain throughout my entire head.  I clenched the armrests and my knuckles turned white.  When it became unendurable and I screamed the loudest, he stopped, giving me a break to catch my breath.  He told me he was almost finished and that once the hole was complete, he could bathe the nerve in anesthetic and the pain would subside.  When I was ready, I exhaled one last sigh, and the two of us shared a laugh (I laugh when I’m in pain).  He finished the painful drilling, and then painfully injected the novacaine, which worked when applied directly. After he had finished with the hole, he put temporary fillings into both of the cavities, and we finished.
I have to go back on Monday.

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