HOW I BECAME A BELIEVER IN MEDICAL TOURISM

Having my Wisdom Teeth Removed in Colombia

To be honest, I travel because I want to see the world, not because I want to have a surgery. But thousands of people travel out of the country every year for the medical care they cannot otherwise afford.

Growing up, I didn’t have dental insurance. My parents spent our money on food, school, computers, books (can you spot their values?). Honestly, I probably went to the dentist two times by the time I was 20. And when I got my first “real” job, I wasn’t delighted about the paychecks as much as the insurance. That meant I could go to the doctor whenever I wanted and take care of my teeth which I had neglected. I went to the dentist three times this year: a cleaning, removal of cavities, and then removal of more cavities. I’m honestly embarrassed by the number of cavities I had, but not by my ability to take care of my teeth by removing them. After insurance, I paid more than $900 removing cavities, and I’ve literally run out of dental insurance for the year.

Now my wisdom teeth are coming in. My dentist told me about them 8 months ago, that they have to go or they would cause me pain and damage my other teeth. And we were going to take care of them after the cavities. I’ve been putting them off and putting them off, and now I have regular headaches. I can see them coming through the bottom of my mouth. They’re crooked and pushing on my other teeth. They’re not welcome here. But I don’t have insurance.

All four are impacted, and the average cost of extraction in the US is $600 per tooth. Although my friends and family have told me that number is too low. Anesthesia costs and additional $250-800. I simply cannot afford it.

Yesterday, I went to the dentist here in Colombia, a friend of Luisa’s family, recommended by her father. I’ll admit, I was terrified. The consultant did not speak English, and my Spanish is worse than shaky (though improving vastly). The consultant was adamant that I did not need general anesthesia, and I was unsure of my ability to “be tough.” Still, they asked me a lot of questions about my medical history and concerned, the consultant walked the 4 blocks with me to the medical lab to ensure I got adequate blood work done. Then we set the schedule, I’d be having surgery to remove all 4 wisdom teeth with only local anesthesia tomorrow (this morning).

I haven’t said it yet, but I am terrified of the dentist. My dentist at home knows I hate her, and she does not take it person. Yesterday I cried a few times out of fear for today. I did not know what to expect. I was afraid, and even more afraid of panicking in the dentist’s chair with a drill in my mouth. The family that I am staying with did all that they could to tend to my nerves, talking to me, consoling me, reminding me where the tea cabinet is. And this morning, Luisa took me out for a delightful breakfast with aromatica. (I took a toothbrush with me to make sure there were no leftovers hiding for the dentist). But this morning, I was still shaking.

My experience? My doctor was amazing. He sat down with me to explain all of the risks, being careful to make sure I understood every word. He spoke slowly, and calmly, and when he saw a nervous tear run down my cheek, he wiped it off and began teaching me breathing exercises. He informed me about the whole procedure, including making me aware of when I would hear gross noises, feel a lot of pressure, when they were cutting, and when they were cleaning. He asked me how I felt often and was patient listening to my super slow Spanish. He commented on my facial features, telling me I was beautiful. He asked me to play music for everyone in the room, singing along to the songs he knew. After ten minutes into the surgery, I was nearly completely calm.

I have four fewer teeth in my mouth, and although he told me to stay in bed with ice for three days, my cheeks are not swollen like the pictures I have seen of my friends and family, and I am in great spirits. Yes, my face hurts, but I’m happy with the surgery. Medication, surgery, everything. $350. As my doctor reminded me, “a small price for having them out, and now longer having to deal with them.” He was referring to the discomfort of the procedure, but the whole process shocked me as being a small price with a big return. Would I travel for medical procedures in the future? Definitely.