Saturday, May 28, 2016

My almost perfect trip to the Mexican dentists

A month ago I broke a tooth. I don’t remember how it happened - just that quite suddenly I had a very large hole in my right bicuspid. I hoped I’d lost a filling, but when I went to my dentist at home he said, “Well, you’ve broken it, and the crack extends below the gum line. You’re going to need a root canal and a crown.”

I tallied the figures in my head for those procedures in Washington State and came up with an approximate $3,000 to have the work done. I asked my dentist, “Can this wait a while to be done? It doesn’t hurt.” He’s a patient man, my dentist, and he knows I get my winter work done at Dental Laser in Nogales, Mexico. He said, “I’ll put in a temporary filling to hold you over. If it starts to hurt, you’ll need to have it taken care of pretty quickly."

Ordinarily I would have taken my chances and waited. But I’m in the market for an “oral appliance” to replace my CPAP machine when I’m traveling. I’d called the dentist in my area who does that kind of work and asked him what would happen if I had the appliance made and then needed a crown in the future. He said, “As long as your teeth are in good condition when we make the original appliance, we can accommodate you.” So I decided to have the root canal and the crown done in Nogales.

I made an appointment for two weeks out. Dr. Alberto Quiroga would do the root canal between 9 and 10 a.m. on Friday, May 27. Dr. Karina Melendez would do the crown right after that. I had seen both of them before. I made my flight reservations to fly to Tucson on Thursday, the day before the appointment, and to fly home on Saturday, the day after. I paid a little more than usual - $450 - for the flight. I also reserved a small car. 

I’d decided not to stay in our park model at the Voyager, where we live in the winter.  The refrigerator had gone out a few days after we left for the season, and the man who does our summer care had had to throw out a bunch of spoiled food in the freezer, which had attracted bugs and required a bug bomb. We ordered a new fridge and it was delivered, but it’s totally empty. Plus, I’d have to take the Prius out of "driveway storage" for insurance company purposes. I’d stay instead with our good friends Joan and John.

Day One was perfect. Nice, smooth nonstop flight to Tucson, easy pickup of my red Mitsubishi Mirage rental, pleasant drive to my friends' house. John fixed me a lovely snack. I took a nap. We went to dinner at the Eclectic Cafe in Tucson, a new place for me since it's on the northeast side of the city and our winter place is in the southeast. I had Mexican Tortilla Soup - a delicious first for me - and a chicken and walnut and fruit salad. We stopped at Dairy Queen on the way home. I had a long, comfortable talk with Joan and went to bed.

Day Two was interesting. The 90-minute drive to Nogales was different from my past experience because I was leaving from a different place and it wasn't winter. John said, "Go down Houghton. Turn right on Suaharita. You'll see all those pecan orchards. Then turn onto I-19." 

I'd been on Suaharita before, in the winter, and noticed the miles of bare pecan trees. I didn't see them this time. All I saw was orchards full of leafy green trees. I had to remind myself these were the same pecans I'd been driving by in the winter for the last two years. I was glad I was by myself on this drive. My husband Art would have rolled his eyes if I'd made such a confession to him!

I parked at the Burger King in Nogalas, Arizona, across the street from the border crossing at Nogales, Mexico. Paid my $4 and got a glass of water. Walked across the street, down the ramp and across the border. Turned left, walked 200 feet to the dentists' office.

I checked in.

And took a seat in the waiting room.

Dr. Quiroga's assistant came for me in the waiting room and took me down the hall to his room.

Dr. Quiroga removed the temporary filling and did the root canal in 45 minutes. He explained to me that if I were a local resident - because work would be needed below the gum line - they'd cut into my gum and let it heal for two weeks before doing the rest of the work. But because I had flown in for only a day, they'd do a slightly different procedure that involved separating the tooth from the gum after injecting an extra numbing agent.  

I asked him about his education. "Six years of dental school in Mexico, two more years to become an endodontist. I hope to do further study in Pennsylvania." We talked about how some people in the US are concerned about the quality of dental work in Mexico. He laughed. "Some people think we come to work on a donkey and work in a shack." I heard about this place from a friend. It's all about word of mouth.

Dr. Melendez' assistant walked me down the hall to her office. She explained again that she'd be working with my tooth at the gum line. I got an extra shot in my palate - not too bad - and she did the work on my gum before calling in the technician. He took  3-D x-rays from which my crown was designed and created in two hours. 

I went to a cafe three blocks away for lunch while my crown was made. When I saw the crown I commented that it looked like something the Tooth Fairy might have left on the counter! 

The seating of the crown took 20 minutes. It was a little uncomfortable because of the work that had been done on my gums. Dr. Melendez wrote me a prescription for something a little stronger than ibuprofen. 

At the desk I paid $860 for my root canal and crown. NOT $3,000. I filled the prescription across the street for $9. 

The drive back to Tucson was uneventful. Joan and John insisted I lie down for a nap, with an ice pack. They fixed a lovely cold soup for dinner, and a salad. We watched the newest Michael Moore's latest film, "Where to Invade Next." Went to bed and slept for eight hours, waking up with no pain.

Day Three was hectic and almost all of that was because of me. I left John and Joan's in plenty of time. Drove down Houghton and turned right on Valencia. I knew I needed to fill the tank with gas before turning in the rental car. Finally found a gas station, struggled to locate the gas lever. Put the nozzle in the tank. Then saw the sign: "Insert debit card only." I have no debit card. Didn't want to go into the little store and pay cash. Decided to pay the fee to have the car rental place do it.

Couldn't find the Thrifty car rental place. Drove right past it, apparently, and circled around the airport where all the other car rental places were located. Must have driven past it again on the way out. Found a quiet side street and used my phone to get directions. It was .2 miles away, behind a parking lot, with no sign on the main street.

Pulled into the Thrifty lot with a tank slightly less than half full. The pleasant young woman told me the refill cost was $9.99 a gallon!!!, so I'd owe $50. I put on my most pleasant grandma face and asked if they could make any exceptions, since I might miss my flight if I went looking for gas. She said she would see what she could do. 

I went into the rental office and she told me she'd made a call and they could reduce the fill cost to $34. I thanked her profusely and said maybe I'm getting too old to travel alone! She laughed. While waiting for the shuttle, we had a nice chat about shopping for clothes (she liked the overshirt I was wearing) and how she helps her mom and her boyfriend do their shopping. When the shuttle driver arrived I thanked her for her kindness and she thanked me for being so friendly! She said I'd made her day.

At the airport, I went through security as a TSA-Pre. No shoes coming off, no baggie for liquids or gels, no laptop out of the case. However, my daypack went through the machine and they found two larger bottles of hair products that hadn't bothered the Seattle TSA people at all two days before. "Sorry, ma'am. I'll either have to take these, or you'll have to go back out to the main terminal and check your bag." I thought about the $34 I'd already paid for the gas and decided I didn't want to pay another $35 to replace the hair products. So my tiny little carry-on bag got checked and I went through security a second time. One of the TSA people asked me if I had a twin!

All in all, a most worthwhile trip! I got three days of sun, time with good friends, wonderful food, and a mouth ready for an "oral appliance" to replace my CPAP. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Some thoughts on silence

I've never been comfortable with silence.

When I was young I got the silent treatment from my mother. It felt like I'd be in solitary confinement for the rest of my life. But her silence rarely lasted more than a day or so. When she'd finally speak to me again I'd feel redeemed. I'd swear to myself I'd be so good it would never happen again, that silence. But, of course, it happened again. Many times. For years I thought the problem was me.

I didn't realize that all over the world, millions of other mothers were doing the same thing to their children.

I've realized that this kind of silence is "incoming". Other people's silence affects me. I take it personally.  Even now, in my seventh decade of life, when someone is silent I assume I've done something wrong.

Here are some examples:
  • I communicate with my adult children mostly by text. If I don't hear from them within a day or so, I think they don't want to talk to me because I am a bad mother. 
  • My husband is a morning person and likes to spend a couple of hours in the first part of the day eating breakfast, reading the paper and working the crossword puzzle. If I start a conversation he sometimes gets annoyed. I think he cares more about the Seattle Times than he does about me.
  • I send a Facebook message to a bereaved friend. She doesn't respond for two days. I think it's because she thinks I am a nuisance.
If I were reading this in someone else's blog I would probably laugh. It's obvious even to me that people are just living their lives. They're not being silent to punish me. The adult me knows that. The little kid me doesn't.

Here are some legitimate reasons why other people might be silent:
  • They are busy doing things besides texting. Like reading or sleeping or camping.
  • They are spending time alone, in quiet.
  • They are grieving.
  • They feel guilty or ashamed or embarrassed or afraid.

"Outgoing" silence is a different matter. I do this a lot. I'm a talker, but not always.

Here are some reasons why I might be silent:
  •  I am writing. This blogging business takes time and care, and so does the other writing I do. I am within myself and there is no room for anyone else in there.
  • I am having a conversation. I rarely answer my phone when I'm sitting face to face with someone else. I want my complete attention to be on what's going on between us.
  • I am keeping a confidence. In the vault of my heart I carry the secrets of my family and friends. Not the "elephant in the living room" kind, where we keep the conversation light and just don't talk about important stuff, but the secrets that keep people awake in the night until they find someone safe they can tell who will hear them without judging. Listening to someone else, and carrying their confidences, is just about the most important gift I can give them. 
Recently I discovered a secret someone else has carried for nearly 40 years. I do not even know the person, but I know how important my silence is to them, and I will remain that way unless they choose to talk about it.

I am a grownup now, and I know the silence of others is not about me. It is about them.

Friday, May 13, 2016


I am finally home in Washington, in body and mind and spirit. It took over two weeks this year, longer than usual. That might be because we stayed longer - three weeks longer than the four months we stayed last year. I need to remember, for next year.

I had interesting comments to last week's post called "Adrift":

Mona said, "I had turned to one of my sage friends during a period of angst, looking for consolation and commiseration. She said, 'Good. Stay with it and see where it takes you.' And like you expected, trust that you are just where you belong."

Tom said, "Thank you for this post which reminds me that we all have the same problems. Transitions are often difficult, and it's hard to give up things, whether they are favorite activities or piles of old stuff that often hold so many memories."

Jann said, "Any change can be hard. It's a process. I try to remember that each stage of change brings its own challenges. It gets even more complicated when you go through a lot of different changes at the same time and need to work through the stages for each of them. I have to reassure myself when I feel nervous or unsure that it's just the process...ride the wave, you don't know where it will take you."

Madeline said, "...I agree with your friend who says you need to release first so you can say YES to new happenings as they come up--I am in an in between space right now too..but it's feeling good to have a bit of NOTHING on my plate for a while!!"

And Barbara said, "I have always called that feeling 'The late arrival of my soul.' It is as though my body is here but my heart and soul is still back there. Thankfully it does pass and I let go of one to regain my life at the other."

So, what are the learnings from this?

1. Transitions are hard. I'm giving up the known and taking on the unknown. I can't go back to where I was because life has moved on.

2. I have some choices. I could decide to stay home all year, or to move someplace else and stay there all the time. I am not making that choice because of Arizona winters with sunshine and without arthritis and because of Washington summers with its sunshine and glorious green beauty. With the choice to have two homes, I get the transitions. Nothing is all good, all the time.

3. A transition may involve where we live, our health or the health of others, our friendships, our financial situation, or other factors. There's not always a choice. But when I talk or write about my own experience, people around me listen and empathize and share their own experiences. I am not alone. We are all in this together.

4. With the ending of my two community responsibilities, I've gained some extra time. To sit in my garden and read or meditate, to nap in the afternoon if I'm so inclined. To spend less time planning and more time relaxing. And to remain watchful for the next Right Thing I know will present itself.

5. Hospice for the dying is a merciful thing. My friend passed away on Monday, without pain and surrounded by love. I mourn the loss of this lovely, kind woman but am so glad she did not linger. I still think grieving alone is difficult, but I'm grateful that I have friends to grieve for.

Mostly, I need to trust the process of transition and know my soul will eventually arrive back home, wherever that is. As my friend Barbara says, "It always does. It is attached by a long silver thread."

It is finally good to be back home again.

Friday, May 6, 2016


No, I'm not on a boat. But I am in transition and I don't like it much.

I knew it would take some time to adjust to my life in Washington State after four and a half months in Arizona. But I expected to be finished with that by now. And I'm not. Here's why:

  • The weather is different. The rainy season is ending but there's still enough moisture in the air to make me feel my arthritis.
  • The terrain is different. It's hilly. When I take my two-mile walk in my neighborhood I'm getting aerobic exercise. When I ride my bike in my neighborhood I'm panting by the time I get to the main street, and I'm in the very lowest gear. It's a good thing, I know, but I'm not used to it yet.
  • The traffic is worse. Sometimes I have to wait for nearly a minute at a stop sign before I can make a left turn across traffic in my neighborhood.
  • Friends are not within walking distance, except Jennie next door. Today I drove nearly a half hour to meet my friend Bev. Granted, we went to the beach at Mukilteo, but still.
  • My house is three times larger than our place in Arizona. I notice everything annoying. Like carpet that needs to be cleaned (done this week). Like dingy colors in our bedroom (most of it got replaced today). Like weeds in the garden (hired grandson Kyle last weekend).
  • My house is full of STUFF. I get the urge to declutter, to make Goodwill runs, to donate books to the library and old glasses to the Lions Club. I can only do a partway job, though, because my husband Art is not a declutter. He is a saver. When I think about the possibility of downsizing sometime in the next five or ten years, I feel exhausted by the idea of how much STUFF we'll need to get rid of.
That's just the whiney part of adjusting. Here are the harder parts.
  • I like to be busy, but things change. I've been mediating in small claims court for my county for a couple of years now. Last year I led a team of three to five others every other Tuesday. But I'm gone for a good chunk of the year. The dispute resolution center where I volunteer needs a lead who is there year round and can be consistent. That's not me. So I will still mediate, but I won't be the lead. It's good for the dispute resolution center but it was an intake of breath for me. 
  • I've been the liaison between 27 Massage Envy clinics in the Puget Sound and the State Massage Board for the last year or so. That role will probably be ending by the end of the summer. Legislation has happened and I won't be needed in the role I've been service. Another intake of breath.
My friend Deb points out that if I want to say "yes" to things that come along, I have to have enough space in my life for it to happen. So letting go of the things that are changing does that. But at this point I haven't said "yes" to anything new, so I'm slowing down a bit. Yesterday, for example, I didn't do a thing except order a new refrigerator to replace the one with the broken compressor at our Arizona place. Well, not exactly nothing. I read, I went for a walk, I took a nap. But my days are rarely like that. I know there will be comments on this post about "Well, you should rest and take it easy from time to time. You're retired, after all."

There's another thing. I have an Arizona friend who has just today gone into hospice. She's in Illinois now, being cared for by another Arizona friend who also lives in Illinois. My winter Arizona community is being kept informed as to the friend's condition. But we're not in Arizona now, where we can support each other. We're in Colorado and Michigan and Florida and Canada because we've all gone home. So each of us is alone with our heavy heart. Email doesn't quite cut it in a grieving group. I'm doing solitary grieving and I wish I weren't. 

Come to think of it, I'm not actually adrift. I'm between. I know where I've been but I'm not exactly sure where I'm going. But I suppose that's always the case, really, isn't it?

In the meantime, it's spring! We have little baby cherries and apples and pears and blueberries in our garden, and the strawberries will be ripe in a month. I look forward to a delectable summer.