Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Infection in My Bone? No, I'll Take the Navigator

I went to see my dentist this Tuesday last. It was a routine visit. I didn't expect any problems, and there weren't any.

My dentist is a perfect fit for us. He's a retired lieutenant commander of the U.S. Navy, and has been in private practice as a civilian for over 15 years. He keeps a simple, but clean office and most of his staff are family members. He drives a used minivan, which improved my opinion of him greatly. Any medical professional that keeps overhead reasonable is good in my book. But, perhaps the biggest reason he is a perfect fit for us is his blunt honesty. Years of military service as an officer paved way for this man to be black and white -- no gray areas. He tells it like it is, and that particular character trait brings me to my point...

So, I was sitting in the hallway, as the doc, his staff and I have become really simpatico. His hygienist was working on my two girls.

Enter Mexican patient, about 28, casually dressed and in quite a bit of molar pain.

The doc does what he can to speak in Spanish. He can find his way around it fairly well. The gist was this:

Mexican patient (whom I'll call Pancho) had a bad root canal with a questionable dentist in a border town. He claims he only paid $100 for the procedure, which is about $1100 pesos, maybe more. Doc, my dentist, told him that was too cheap for any good work to be done.

Understandably, there is some American dentist bias in my doc's appraisal. No doubt. After all, ya can't make a living cleaning healthy teeth -- only. Nevertheless, what really struck a chord during this affair was what happened next.

Regardless of what was or not done with border town dentist, a problem existed NOW. X-rays showed a pretty bad infection, one believed to be penetrating the bone tissue, the same that holds our teeth in place.

Folks, I've buried one man who didn't take care of a bad tooth -- no joke.

So, instead of Pancho taking care of this problem -- now -- with the local American dentist, he kept lobbying for his border town dentist, claiming cost would be considerably less and he trusted him more (the whole race thing came flaring up). My doc got irate, without being rude. He told him like it was and warned him of the dangers of letting this thing go for any amount of time.

Pancho claimed a trip to the border town was imminent, and he'd take care if it then. My doc finally conceded and sent him on his way with a prescription for an anti-biotic, ordering him to fill that prescription, at the very least.

Now, I understand both sides of this story. On the one hand, I've traveled to Mexico exclusively for medical care, when the system here failed me and/or cost was a factor. But, but, I have family in medicine. I have an uncle whose a highly respected practitioner and will have my best interest in mind.

For the American dentist's point of view, he's not happy to lose patients, revenue, etc., to Mexican practitioners. I mean, we're not necessarily close to the border like El Paso, for instance. So, for a patient to prefer to make the drive to a Mexican doctor, incurring cost in doing so, feels like slap on the face and further numbs any race relations which may have quenched in recent decades.

The best is yet to come...

Sometimes Mexican people (or other immigrants) have legitimate needs. The United States affords (although I'm not sure how much longer) people with needs many, many opportunities not available in Mexico or other countries, perhaps any countries.

Nonetheless, not all people have needs. Some come here with the system knowledge and abuse said social system of assistance.

Though Pancho did not ask for any proverbial meal tickets from the dentist here, he refused treatment in spite of his advice that the infection was serious. I'm inclined to think he can't afford it.

But then I happen to walk out of the office the same time he did. And this is where I shake my head and realize some things will never change.

Pancho walks to a fairly new -- if not brand new -- Navigator. Yes, the Lincoln luxury SUV. Sitting in the passenger seat was Mrs. Pancho, clad in fashionable clothing, burning cellular minutes like there's not tomorrow. I know, as a seasoned consumer, that on the low of things, that SUV, complete with insurance (unless Pancho pays cash for things), gas and maintenance sets him back $1,000 a month --easily.

Judgement. Yes. I can't deny it. I'm not free of it, nor free of frivolous spending. I live with three women, remember?

But, we do have enough common sense to take care of our teeth, certainly if there is a problem. Until recently, my wife and I drove two used cars that amassed 20 years in age; nearly 400,000 combined miles. We finally gave in and bought a Dodge Caliber. It's pretty sweet.

I guess my message here is this: It always amazes me how much people are willing to sacrifice their well being for material things. Again, I'm not free of that thinking in some ways, but I blame Capitalism for this in some regard. That Navigator sure is sweet. No, it's pretty damn impressive, and anybody looks good in one.

But, as the girls and I walked to our 2000 Chevy Astro, in dire need of a new tranny, and with 160,000 well-driven, memory-enriching miles, I couldn't help but feel good that all three of us got a clean bill of molar health.

I hope Pancho took the meds. He'll resist medical care here, but his drive to the border will certainly be sweet.

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