I just saw a Ukrainian dental surgeon. And it's only 10:30 AM!
|Pharmacy booty: Catafast, Cifran, and Dr. Reddy's Cetrin|
Although I much prefer to ignore problems like this and just hope they go away, last night's frantic midnight Googling of "pain in back teeth" (and that terrible scene in Castaway, you know what I'm talking about!) convinced me to wake up early today and see the dentist. D and I, like naive Americans, assumed that we'd see a receptionist this morning and at best be able to schedule an appointment for tomorrow.
There are two dental clinics nearby that we've passed a million times before. D vetoed the first one for looking too sketchy. Instead we headed to a large clinic with an old plaque for identification in place of a flashy modern sign. People are always coming and going from this place... that's good, right?
Inside was a maze of corridors. We found the reception room and almost immediately were in front of the receptionist. She asked for name, patient ID card (nope), and passport (nope). I was amazed that she had NO COMPUTER- she was taking notes by hand and recopying them in a notebook! Although I probably shouldn't be so surprised, this system was also in place at the immigration office, OVIR. Anyways, she struggled with my American middle and last name (D made me do the talking) and when she asked for my first name I totally freaked out and said "Katya". Katya is a nickname in Russian and it must have been quite strange to be writing this on a formal document. She directed us to another woman behind a desk, who then took my patient book, expressed dismay over my choice of Katya ("why not Yekaterina?"), and charged us 10 uah for another slip of paper.
Immediately we were sent into a different room, this one behind a frosted door. It opened into a large area filled with dentists, chairs, equipment, and patients. I tried to get a count- at least 12 stations. No walls, everyone just busy doing their own thing.
A woman in scrubs took my slip of paper and sent us away to the coat check. Ah, the coat check. An essential part of any Ukrainian experience! We returned to the dental room and, again with no wait, I sat down in the chair and the dentist began peering and poking about in my mouth. This only took about 3 minutes. She put down her tools and informed us that a wisdom tooth was beginning to emerge and while she thought it would be okay, we should go see the surgeon to make sure.
On one hand I was cheered by this- yeah!! Almost 30 years old, it's about time I got some wisdom! :p On the other hand, ehhhh, not so excited. Surely I had already enough material for a blog post, no need to see a real surgeon, right? Promising myself that I'd write about the experience in this blog was how I worked up the courage to even get to the dentist in the first place. While writing about the dentist can be interesting, I had zero interest in writing about anything to do with surgery. Zip. Zero. Nada.
But then I remembered that scene from Castaway, where Tom Hanks' character didn't go to the dentist and later had to remove his tooth with an ice skate and a rock after getting marooned on a desert island.
Off to the surgeon's we went.
He was past the coat check, at the other end of the corridor maze, behind another frosted door. Again we opened the door and found ourselves in an open room, this one with 3 chairs, 3 surgeons, and several nurses. One chair was available. The surgeon was sitting at the counter reading the newspaper. He took my slip of paper and asked about my strange name. "A foreigner?", he said, "From America? We don't treat foreigners here. You'll need to go to another location." Our faces fell. "У тебя страховка?", he asked, and then repeated in English, "Insurance?" We shook our heads.
Something must have changed his mind, for he stood and motioned for me to sit in the chair. He grabbed his instruments and began examining my molars with a mirror and pick. "Is this the first time you've had this pain? Do you feel it at night?" "No, yes", I responded as well as I could in Russian with my mouth wide open. "Ah-ha! You understand everything I say, don't you?" he remarked pleasantly. I could smell the cigarette smoke on his clothes and breath as he stood over me. He decided that while the tooth was indeed growing in correctly, he'd need to make a cut to... and then I lost the translation. But since he was assuring me of this and D (my back-up translator) offered no interference, I went with his authority and nodded.
AND THEN HE SUDDENLY GRABBED A GIANT NEEDLE!!!! I have no needle phobia but this needle literally appeared out of thin air. I was thinking oh, we'll schedule an appointment, blah, blah, blah. In America these things take forever. The idea that a medical professional could diagnose a problem and treat it in the same day is literally an alien concept.
"Calm down, calm down, good, умничка (smart girl)" and then bam!, in went that needle into the back of my gums. And it HURT! My body went rigid in fear.
I guess I should be grateful for the painkiller though. Last night D and I were discussing dental work in Ukraine. "I'm so glad we're here right now", he said with confidence. "There's no way we could afford to have any dental problems if we lived in the US." He's right. His family has always come to Ukraine to get dental problems fixed. In 2007 he saw the dentist and had several cavities filled for $200. Meanwhile my American dentist wanted $800 per tooth to fix my cavities! (And I couldn't help but notice his nice car out in the parking lot.) D's father just came to have some dental work redone for thousands less than he would pay in the States. So I had this glowing view of Ukrainian dental practices... until last night, when D revealed that all his dental work as a child was done with no anaesthesia and the drill used on cavities was an ancient old contraption with multiple belts and revolutions so slow that you could count them. He recounted, "One day my sister came home from the dentist- 'They gave me a shot! I could hardly feel anything! Incredible!' and I was amazed at the idea you could avoid the pain." At that point, the lure of dental tourism abroad began to dim for me.
But back to the surgeon's chair. While we waited for the anaesthesia to take hold, he began discussing my life with D. "What does she do? Oh, teach English, uh huh." He came back to me and began practising his English- "Все правилно, everything is correct, right?" Unfortunately that was the end of the English lesson. He ordered me to open wide and went into my mouth not with a knife, but with a freakin' pair of scissors. Snip, snip, snip, went the scissors. Quite violently, mind you!! I silently thanked the deity of all dental work that I couldn't feel whatever it was that he was doing. More snip, snip, snip and finally he was done.
There was a stop-the-bleeding bit, then a lecture bit and a small piece of paper was handed over with the names of several lovely pharmaceuticals. "No exercising, no hot baths, no chewing on the right side, do you understand?" Now I can watch America's Next Top Model with no guilty I-really-should-be-exercising-instead-of-watching-TV feeling : ) We asked him where to pay and he told us to pay him directly. We asked about the little handwritten patient book and he said it was worthless. I think it got left on the counter near his newspaper.
So, overall summery:
- Yes, it was all done in Russian.
- Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes (to get an appointment, see a dentist, see a surgeon, have work done!)
- Cost for registration: 10 uah, approx. $1.20 USD
- Cost for dental work: 100 uah, approx. $12.25 USD
- Cost for medicine at local pharmacy: 80 uah, approx. $9.80 USD
- People were friendlier than I expected. The surgeon was gruff but polite.
- Shockingly, at the reception area I wasn't asked why I wanted to see a dentist. This means I never said it was an emergency, they were just willing to see me anyway.
- Um, it was all clean but it wasn't hysterically clean. No gleaming equipment, no big display of this-is-a-clean-needle, this-is-a-sterile-mirror, but everyone did wash their hands in front of me and use gloves. No dental bib for the patients either, you're just sitting there in your street clothes.
- Overall, I'd rate this a positive experience. The language barrier was a little bit intimidating, as we couldn't have much discussion of the what, how, and why (no second opinions, just straight to it!) but I felt like I was in good hands. Hooray for Kharkov dentists!
The dentist prescribed antibiotics and put a little piece of antibiotic-covered something in my mouth. On Saturday I'll go back and his assistant will remove it. Please keep your fingers crossed for me! :p
For my Ukrainian readers, here is how the system is different in the US (although I've had very little work done, only 1 or 2 cavities filled, mainly teeth cleanings):
- the dentist always sees you in a private room or a cubicle, never in an open space.
- usually you see a dental assistant, then you briefly see an actual dentist.
- loooong waits: first you schedule an appointment (usually a week to several months from today), on the day of the appointment you wait in the lobby, then wait in the chair for the assistant, then wait in the chair for the dentist, then the assistant again, then you pay at the front desk. Same- day service is very rare, only for dental emergencies (if that!)
- the size of your wallet determines the quality of care you get (probably the same here in Ukraine, I know). I used to work with refugees and they would have to use the public (government) health clinic. It would take ages to get an appointment and then they'd only get the bare minimum and probably have to schedule another appointment for more care. And you still have to pay, it's not free. Meanwhile, last year I saw an ad for a local private dentist- he was having a "new patient special package"- cleaning, exam, x-rays. It only cost about $200 (1600 uah) and the entire time he was trying to sell me $15,000 braces to "have a Hollywood smile." Ugh.
- There's a law that says non-English speakers are supposed to be provided a translator (on the phone or in person), but this often doesn't happen because hospitals and clinics don't want to pay for it. Instead, usually patients bring a family member or friend to translate (just like I did here).
- Maybe this Ukrainian dentist just had older equipment, but he told me to spit in a little trash-basket. In the States the dentist always has a suction tube and they stick it in your mouth and suck out saliva, blood, etc. I prefer to spit on my own; the suction tube is just weird and you have to wait for the dentist to remember to use it while you sit there uncomfortably.
- American dentists emphasize cleanliness and sterility. Everything is shiny, needles are unwrapped right in front of you. And the patient always wears a dental bib, a long piece of paper that covers your body and protects your clothes.
- Sometimes there's a picture on the ceiling to distract you while the dentist works.
- You MUST MUST MUST have ID. And if you don't have insurance, well, you'd better cough up all that money in cash right at the receptionist's desk or you probably won't get the appointment. The only other option is to sign up for a payment plan.
- The American dentist usually gives you a free toothbrush at the end of the appointment :P