Wednesday, March 17, 2010

8 Hours in America

During the summer before my senior year of college I had minor gum surgery, and though I was living in Los Angeles at the time, I flew back home to the Bay Area to have it done. And so I’d say the longest I’ve had to travel for the most proportionally insignificant dental appointment was 8 weeks later when I had to make a special trip so I could open wide for the dentist, and he could nod and say, “Looks good!” And that was it. Today’s was a shorter trip for an entire dental cleaning, so I think the old record stands, but on the whole, today still qualifies as absurd.

It’s standard Peace Corps procedure to have a routine dental check-up and cleaning around mid-service. In some places, this check-up happens within the host country. There’s a dentist that comes through Samoan on occasion who meets the Peace Corps’ standards, and when he’s here, volunteers are encouraged to go to him, but he’s not here right now. Most of Group 81 got their routine check-up when they went back to The States during the holiday season a few months back. But a few of us stragglers missed the travelling dentist and the trip home. So we move on to plan C: Pago.

In December I visited American Samoa for 2 days to take the LSAT. This time I went on the Peace Corps’ dime, so my trip was significantly shorter and all business. In fact, on all of my customs forms, in the “reason for stay” area, I checked the “business” box each time. When I had to confront the U.S. Customs lady, the interaction was short . “When do you go back to Apia?”

“Today at 4:00 p.m.”

“That’s a very short trip. Why did you come?”

“To go to the dentist.”

“Ohhhh. Talofai.” Poor baby.

I walked out of the airport, hopped in a taxi, and headed to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Tropical Medical Center. The government hospital has a sprawling campus, and by sheer luck I happened to walk into the correct office on my first try. I registered for hospital services (non-resident, Apia status), and paid my $10 US, and they headed me in the direction of the Dental offices.

The Peace Corps Medical Officer here in Apia told me I should be able to finish with all my dental business by 11:00 a.m. I was still confident of this holding on to the door knob of the dental offices at 9:30 this morning. My heart sank when I opened the door to find a long narrow corridor with a bench on one side that resembled an at-bat Major League Baseball dugout with coaches and players standing all over the place, everyone hoping to bat next. This was going to take a while.

2.5 hours and 30 pages later (Why can’t I finish “The Odyssey”?), they called my name, and I went to sit in the dental chair. I handed the doctor my Peace Corps paperwork, which he was less than thrilled to see. His examination was cursory—in lieu of the normal recitation of numbers, “2-3-2, 2-3-3, 3-4-2,” he filled the sheet with “0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 0”—but he seemed nice enough.

Jenny 80 and Joey 80 went to Pago yesterday for the same dental check-ups, and so the hygienist had all sorts of questions for me about the Peace Corps and why we’re all showing up for dental appointments and what we do and how much we get paid.

Though the doctor’s examination was cursory, the hygienist’s cleaning was unforgiving. I admit the ruggedness of the Peace Corps lifestyle enables a more lax system of personal dental care, and I atoned for all my flossing sins when the water pick came through. Then the polish, and finally the fluoride. I haven’t had to gargle fluoride like that since I was 11 years old, but whatev. It was nostalgic. Don’t worry, Mom. No popcorn or blue Slurpee to wreck the moment.

In the short time I had left before my return flight, I took the bus back to Carl’s Jr. and stocked up on American fast food. It was great.

To my great disappointment, I was unable to find any store that sold Guinness, though I swear I remember seeing it when I was there in December. Oh well.

BusyCorner, I’m sorry if this second trip to American Samoa disappoints you as much as the first, but my time was limited.

I hope you’re all well. Pictures below.

I sat right behind the cockpit again.

My school and the plane's landing gear.

Apia and Apia Harbour from the air.

Bus in front of Carl's Jr.

Lyndon Baines Johnson Tropical Medical Center.

This sign is so close to my header. They couldn't go with "Afio Mai"?


Unknown said...

My kids get a brightly colored round sticker that says "Don't give me anything to eat or drink for 30min, I just had a Flouride Treatment!" lol. good job on the 0-0-0s

Nancy said...

I love your blog. I was at the dentist twice this week because I've been nominated to head to the Pacific in early September, so had to get everything shipshape.

My mouth is a bit sore, but your story made me laugh. Thanks!

Mom said...

I'd be happy to send you some dental floss. We paid a fortune for those teeth! I'm happy to hear that you passed on the popcorn and slurpee after the flouride. That poor kid at KMart is probably still having nightmares.

Dad said...

The Odyssey, huh. I was planning on the Iliad soon. I read Edith Hamilton's simple translation of the Odyssey many decades ago,... My eyes still water when I think of part when Odysseus returns home and his old dog recognizes him by smell and then dies, knowing he can finally rest.

Tia was interred today. We went by Avo's and MaryO's resting places since they are near Tia. Beautiful day on the Hayward hills.

Love you, Kid.

Unknown said...

Actually, that is really funny! I had a softer version of your story and here it goes: It happened when I was still studying as secondary college in Seattle University and I got a phone call from my mom. She said that I had to fly back to meet my Summerville dentist in South Carolina. I was laughing that my Mom scolded me even if we were on a long distance line. Imagine flying from Seattle to SC just to have a dental visit! It was really long and tiring! Yet, as the saying goes, mothers know BEST, my Mother won the discussion and I, with few shirts packed had flown in between distance. Later, I had known that I needed to visit another good dentist in Moncks Corner to recover some records I needed to transfer to my new one. Well, I gained something in that story; a free trip, a free vacation and a discounted new implant!