This semester has brought with it a few challenges. The first and most traumatic was the removal of one of my wisdom teeth. Before I joined Peace Corps I was required to have a dental screening. During that the dentist could not or could barely see my wisdom teeth on the X-ray. One year later, one of them is pushing up against the adjacent tooth causing a pocket of bacteria to form and terrible pain to follow. After an assessment at the dentist, in which they (without any oral numbing gel) cut open my gum and poured saline in to clean the bacteria out we took x-rays and it was decided that the tooth needed to be removed (and the sooner the better). Luckily, the first week of October there is a holiday in China, the perfect time to have the surgery. I had to cancel my Friday classes to come into Chengdu to go to the dental hospital. This was my first experience, ever, to have any surgery, let alone in a foreign, developing country…so I was nervous, to say the least. Then, everyone seemed uninformed about my condition. I sit down in the dental chair and the dentist starts pointing to the upper left corner of my mouth. I point to the lower left corner. He points to the upper left corner. Then the Peace Corps doctor (a Chinese doctor that works for Peace Corps) tells me that the dentist is saying the upper left should be removed. Now the upper left has breached the surface but it isn’t necessary to remove. I told her that the lower left is causing the problems. I understand enough of the dentist’s Chinese to know that he is saying the he can’t see anything. I then explain that the tooth is under my gum, thus you cannot see it. Then they say they need to have an x-ray. I said we already had x-rays (I assumed the PC doctor had a copy from the dentist, but no).
So I am waiting for the results of my x-rays and I hear the PC doctor talking about me on the phone. When she hangs up, she said she just called the dentist and confirmed what I had said about my tooth. The x-ray was further confirmation. The words the PC doctor say after that really hone in on the moment “it’s a lot more serious than I thought.”
You can start to imagine my feelings at this point. Utter terror. Nobody seemed to have a clue what was the matter with me, I am having surgery in a developing country where I can barely speak the language, and then…”you should sign this waiver (that’s all in Chinese and I cannot read) that says in case you have nerve damage or something like this, the hospital is not liable.” Well this waiver, that I indeed signed, had a lot more written on it than just nerve damage (by the way, I didn’t realize nerve damage was a potential hazard for wisdom tooth removal). So now all these horribly frightening scenarios are going through my mind.
Then, the chair they put me on has spots of blood, and the sink next to the chair is covered in blood from the previous patient. I am mortified by this. But my attention is quickly turned away by the arrival of a 12 year old giving me a shot. Okay she wasn’t actually 12 but she looked young to me, fresh out of medical school I assume or possibly even a student (since this school was affiliated with the medical university). Nobody bothers putting oral numbing cream in my mouth before jabbing this 3 inch long needle into my gum and cheek. But it seems she was new to this because after the 3rd jab the actual doctor comes and takes it out of her hand and shoves it down hard 2xs into my mouth. Ouch!