Monday, August 20, 2007

The Tooth Of The Matter.

Bucharest, Romania

So, my worldwide friends,

I am once again in Eastern Europe for those who didn’t already know this.

My American English has almost automatically dropped away into an old familiar cadence I call Eur-o-peen Ing…leash. No, not Brit. That’s a language and rhythm all its own, and a bit of all right it is, that, but that's not this. This is a slower, clipped language that individuates each word for listeners who know English at various levels, any of which are indeterminate, and who may or may not understand words like “individuate” and “indeterminate.” So if my words seem a bit oddly paced, it will be, I think, because now I am thinking in this rhythm and may well be typing in it as well. (But put me in the presence of another American – few and far between so far – and I fall back into our pace and jargon in a flash.)

I am struggling to learn Romanian, a language which will be of absolutely no use to me anywhere else in the world, but which, without, I am separated from a world of nuance and subtext which is critical for the work I am now doing. One of my colleagues here lovingly presented me with a Romanian dictionary for children 4 to 7 years old. She’s gotten it about right. After a thousand walks around a long Northern Virginia block before I left, much to the dog’s delight, repeating by rote 654 Romanian vocabulary words like “pasta de dinst” (toothpaste- which you will see is coming in handy right now) I can speak like a native. A native, slow 4 year old. Well, maybe not that well yet, but I have plans.

So, here I am, sitting in my car, yes I got a car immediately, in downtown Bucharest, outside of a radiology clinic for dental x-rays. It was right out of every Ami’s nightmare, (to have to have Eastern European dentistry) because I bit into a piece of crusty bread at lunch on Thursday, and heard the crack of an already fragile back tooth.

The tooth is now gone, and I have survived the myth of Olga, the supposed communist dentist, putting one foot on your mouth and, with both hands and a pliers, yanking out an offending molar. Instead, I had Dr. Mihai Mandaj, a charming gentle man who didn’t overload me with too much Novocain the way lawsuit-nervous US dentists do, and who took pains, all puns intended, to explain exactly what he was doing and going to do and did, in words I barely understood, as he relieved me of the offending, fractured fang. I don’t know what the general state of dentistry in Bucharest is, but if this nice dentist is any indication, the US practitioners could take a lesson or two.

The Romanians also don’t give you too much pain medication after an extraction. Or any, apparently. Yikes! Guess you need childbirth in this country to get good drugs. Mere dental extraction pain is expected to be tolerable, so no free codeine laced Tylenol samples or prescriptions for this sissy American. Here’s the surprise: there was very little actual pain. And most of it confirms a theory of mine that the pain in the dentistry act comes from forcing a spit-load of too much Novocain fluid into your gum with a needle meant to calm large horses. A bit of acetaminophen, which I brought with me, a touch of mind-body meditation which I carry with me internally for all occasions anyway, and I’m fine.

Now I wait for the Medident to open for my x-rays, and then Dr. Mihai will build me a bridge that will cost a few hundred dollars instead of the thousands I could expect from the practitioners in urban Virginia.

More about what I’m doing here and what a good time I’m having doing it when I come back downstairs. And less, I hope, on the joys of Eastern bloc radiation.

Oh, yeah, I’m sitting in the car typing on the company laptop war driving (“borrowing”) someone else’s wireless network. I hope that isn’t a jailable offense here.


Ok, I’m back, and in the office during a lull. And as long as we’re talkin’ teeth, here, I might as well take you up the stairs with me to the radiologie.

For those of you who are Europophiles, you already know that etaj (floor) 2 is actually on the third floor. No lift, er, sorry, went Brit there for a moment. No elevator. That’s odd for modern Bucharest, but, hey, this is an old building. So, up in the dark THREE flights of stairs, not two, in shoes not perfect for the foot that caught all the weight of the IKEA bookcase yesterday when I dropped it– well that’s another two stories, but for later.

Now this is beginning to feel like the ooh-ooh scary part of a James Bond movie about the Soviets. I hand in my form from the Dentist, which for all the world looks to me like a brochure for this place, and then realize that Dr. Mihai has scrawled something on it in that semi-Cyrillic number style we Westerners think of as out of Paris Art Nouveau. A description of what he wants 'rayed, I hope, and not an invitation to sell me into white slavery. Nah, he wouldn't do that.

The place was filling up, and three or four slim Romanian attendants dressed in angel white, but with Eastern European scowls were alternately standing on a chair flicking switches on a fuse panel and calling all the names of the people who came through the door in no particular order I could discern, pretty much using the same code as in the US. Or so I thought. Nope. On closer inspection, it turned out to be pretty much first come, first served, party order, except for exceptions like me who couldn’t speak Romanian, and who needed to wait for the Andreea/Irina who remembered enough of her party/high school English to be able tell me to start breathing through my nose, and actually get me to understand and start breathing through my nose.

Oh, boy. Dr. Mihai’s office looked like it hadn’t been re-habbed in a few decades, but this place? I think if Gorky or Trotsky had ever come for a visit and needed x-rays, THIS is the building he came to. Inside the only room that actually did have electricity – with who-knew-what-animal chasing a succulent, out of reach stack of hay around in a circle to drive a water wheel and a donkey engine – the x-ray machine glowed green and only seemed a bit overwhelmingly terrifying from the outter room!

I felt trapped between “I’m supposed to be here or I’d be somewhere else!! Ommmm.” and “Ommmm…igod, how many accidental roentgens I will be sending through my medulla oblongata for the sake of bridging over troubled orthodonture?!”

There I go again, underestimating the Romanians, and how quickly they have chosen to crawl out from under Moscow’s yoke. On the other side of the white tin paneled room out of some 1950’s anti-commie B movie was one of the best 360 degree surround x-ray machines I’ve ever seen. So maybe the sign I’d translated, as I practiced my burgeoning Romanian on every outdoor board and grocery weekly throwaway and wall sign I could find, was correct. Maybe they were “the 100% most visited dental radiologie in all of …” I ran out of translation time when they called my name, but it probably finished…”Bucharest.” Or maybe “Romania.” Could have been “most of the planet” for all I could read. Nevertheless, the “aparat” was state of the art, and didn’t I feel foolish?

So, I waited a few minutes while the next lineup of x-ray enlightenment seekers filled the side-chairs, then I was handed a 9x12 envelope and a bill for 37 RON.

That would be a full mouth x-ray in under 10 minutes for …wait for it…$15.83!

Yup. Sixteen bucks.

Wow. I hope none of these guys ever get to hear about the American Dental Association. Or any other D Association while I am still in need of friendly, low cost bridge building. I mean, hey, I’m probably going to be here for another few years or so anyway, eating the local food, right? So I might as well eat it with the same kinds of choppers the natives sport.

I’m sorry. I started to tell you that I am back in Bucharest, and I planned to tell you about my new swell job that pays well and provides my apt, car, internet, travel and lunch Monday through Friday, and to share some pithy aphorisms on how much things have changed for the better since I was here in the beginning of 2004, and, of course, invite you over for a visit.

Oh, well, I’ll save it for next time. I’m already twice or six times over the limit of the average attention span for an email. So for now, La Revedere (like the Italian Arrividerci). keep reading and I’ll have you speaking Romanian like a slow 4 year old native well before your plane lands at Otepeni Airport for your visit.

Loves n hugs,



inda_ardani said...

hi there, what a long post ... such a long day you had, isn't it? :)
well, i'm a dentistry girl looking around and see your blog incidentally ... in your leisure time please visit my incidental notes :>

mitzoaca said...

yep, quite long post here..
but i got to the end of it.(the blog and article)
welcome back to the jungle!