It was carnage. I could feel the scalpel yanking out my tooth. But there was no pain. I was under local anesthetic.
The problem with going to a dentist in a foreign country is always the fear that they’ll see that you’re a gringo – the cash register will go ‘Kaching!’ in their ears – and in an attempt to squeeze as much dosh out of you (dosh = London vernacular for money) they’ll take out all of your teeth. Leaving you with nothing to chew with and nothing for the Tooth Fairy either. Luckily that didn’t happen to me. Just the one. One stubborn wisdom tooth at the back was all they got.
The pain and inflammation hadn’t disappeared – so in the morning, I decided to go for it. I’d done some prior research and none of the dentists in Valpo looked respectable. One office looked like a garage and another dentist sounded like a member of the Russian mafia. So looking a little further afield I found the following:
Not bad eh? It looks professional, and they have a website and its not far from Valpo and they have a big yellow smiley face. So I got onto the train early this morning. I was expecting a rush of commuters but then I remembered I wasn’t in London. When I arrived in ‘Quilpue’ – a sleepy little place just outside Valpo I found the clinic closed (I was early). With nothing to do but take a stroll to dribble away some time I found another dentist right next door to the clinic that said “Emergencias” in big friendly bold letters. It was a smaller practice but still respectful looking. I decided to ignore it and continued my walk. On my return the clinic was still closed. I took another look at the smaller neighboring practice. It’s always difficult to form an opinion by aesthetics alone. What will the dentist be like? Will he speak English? Will he be a criminal / murderer? Am I safe? These thoughts all flow through your mind when you’re alone in a foreign country and putting yourself in a vulnerable position. The practice also took American Express and VISA cards! And I think seeing those familiar logo’s – that flash of something familiar – must have pushed me forward because I found myself crossing the rubicon and I tried the door. But it was closed at which point I was about to leave but then the secretary appeared from behind the glass door and opened it for me.
And once you’ve made that decision it’s hard to turn back ain’t it?!
“Do you speak English” was my first question
She gestured apologisies with her hands that she didn’t. But she beckned me to come inside anyway. The dentist himself was inside. Did he speak English?
No – but he quickly beckoned me to his office and gestured that it didn’t matter as English speakers have the same teeth as Spanish speakers! True.
He took a look down my mouth and told me what the problem was. From his hand movements I could tell he was saying I had Pericoronitis. So my self-diagnosis was correct. He then signaled with his hands that my wisdom tooth would have to be pulled out. I knew – after having done the research – that, that would probably be the case. I asked him when? And he said: “Ahora” – Now!
Right – drive through dentistry eat your heart out! I was a little taken aback because, I suppose, I was expecting a lengthy consultation, and then another appointment. The best bit was when he told me how much it would cost. The whole lot for $50,000. Awesome!
Now, before you have a heart attack, the Chilean Peso uses the ‘$’ symbol, so $50,000 is in actual fact $50,000 Chilean Pesos’ and not US$ – Phew! (I knew that – you didn’t)
That amounts to about US$ 100 (or GBP70). So that’s USD100 for a consultation, x-ray and the yanking out of one wisdom tooth. Just to give you an idea the price quoted for me by someone in Santiago – for the check up only was $50,000 and in Peru someone had quoted me US$ 250 for the whole procedure. To be fair the Peru quote also included a blood test, an initial consultation, the surgery itself and then an extra check-up afterwards.
But it’s only a tooth! It’s not open heart surgery.
And the dentist – a Dr Carlos (not the Jackal) Enrique Diazn Uribe looked professional and competent enough to my amateur eyes. I noticed he had various certificates framed on the wall, and the office had all the equipment and mod cons – and he would do it right now – for a bargain price! So I said yes. If you must!
I’ve never had my tooth taken out before so I admit I was a little tense. But once he had injected me with the Novocain (local anesthetic) – I didn’t feel a thing. He was doing all sorts of things down there! Jabbing away and I was oblivious to it all. Many people don’t like going to the dentist – there is something about someone probing down there, that frightens people terribly. I’ve never had that phobia and I was fine. Novocain is quite amazing!
So – after having taken out my wisdom tooth, that was it. I didn’t feel any stupider afterwards. My wisdom was still there. He handed me a pair of green surgical gloves filled with cold water to dab to the side of the mouth. He gave me my prescription: Ibuprofen, Amoxicillin and Clorhexidine oral mouthwash and I shook his hand, waved goodbye and took the train back to Valpo with my mouth firmly shut with a gauze to stem the bleeding and a surgical glove next to my chin – looking no doubt like a right idiot. Or, as Brian Cox would say: looking daft.
I’m back now, and hopefully I’ll be able to drug myself to recovery. Normal service will resume.
Next stop Norte Grande – the Atacama Desert – and then it’s over the border by foot to Bolivia. Home of the Revolucion! Viva la Revolucion!
N.B: Talking of the revolucion I had a couple of Argentinians stay with me in Valpo and the conversation naturally turned to Che Guevara (he was Argentinian after all). To my surprise they told me that Che is not revered in Argentina – rather, though he is not despised as such, he is definitely not liked very much. ‘What did he do for Argentina that we should worship him?’ – ‘He was a gun for hire and he fought for whoever paid the most. A hired mercenary’ they said
‘That’s how he ended up dead in Bolivia’ they added.
The hero worship of Che Guevera (Che is not actually a proper name in Spanish it roughly means ‘mate’ ‘bro’ ‘pal’ ‘dude’) that goes on in the West is very puzzling to South Americans. They don’t understand it. He stood for Communism, and the only real communist country in SA (i.e. Cuba) is a manifest failure. Well, I’ve been there and I know that the people are not happy. The system imposes its will on the people. And the system doesn’t listen. I agree a lot of state systems don’t really listen – but some less so than others. To my Argentinian friends and to some of my South American friends in London – Simón Bolívar is a more appropriate hero if you need one. He stood for the struggle for independence from the Spanish yolk – and he succeeded.
‘Che was just a preening show off!’ the Argentinians say.