As soon as I am dressed, I pack everything that I have used back into the suitcase, which is much easier to do now that I have expanded the lid with a special zipper. If I had done it at home, it would have been too deep to pass the regulation size and I hadn't wanted to risk having to check it. The evening before I was departing I had gotten very frustrated with myself for always having to pack a bag, no matter the size, until there wasn't a square centimeter of available space. I had stuff in my large purse that should have been in the suitcase (and it was making my purse too bulky and very heavy) but there just wasn't a hairs breadth of room. So I hauled the suitcase up onto the bed and, after I had promised myself I wasn't opening it again no matter what after a huge struggle earlier to get it closed, I zipped it open and quite rashly removed eight articles of clothing. Now that I am repacking it at the hotel, I look at the few items of clothing I have and think I may regret that move. It's really not much stuff for 5 weeks.
I take a last look around and then step outside into the amazing warmth and the orange-pink glow of a desert sunrise. The air is heavy with the scent I can't describe but love - I've only ever smelled it in a desert or tropical climate - part earthy, part plant, sort of a heavy smell. I can't describe it.
I check out with the receptionist and she tells me that the girl from yesterday has ordered me a cab for 7:45 as I had requested. I head over to their breakfast buffet but don't see much I fancy except for a small danish. I have that and a cup of tea as I get on the computer and write down the directions to the new dentist that he sent to me. I am still not that nervous about going and it's so odd. I should be half way to freaking out by now and I'm not even close. Just ever so slightly anxious about what awaits.
I pack up my computer just as I see a taxi pull up to the main entrance - and then keep going on through. I look over at the receptionist and she looks back at me, surprised. "He just pulled right on through, didn't even pause." she says. I go outside and look, and he's nowhere to be seen. We both can't fathom it. "Maybe because I wasn't standing at the curb, waiting?" I say. "No, no. They always stop and come in." A housekeeper standing around nearby asks what company it was. "Yuma Cabs, #33." she answers. "Well, I really need to get going. Can you please call me another one?" I ask. She gets right on the phone and orders one from a different cab company. Then she calls the first one and complains about the guy not stopping. She saw the cab car number and lets them know. She hangs up and says, "They didn't seem to care, 'oh okay then' and that was it." She asks me if I will be taking a cab much while in town, and I explain that I will be cabbing it to Los Algodones for the next few days. She says she has a friend who drives a cab, the one she just called for me, and she says 'wait one second' and calls her back. She tells the friend that I will be needing a cab all week and would she be interested in taking me. She asks what her rate is and then says and then turns to me; "my friend will drive you to Los Algodones for the week and she says it's usually $20 but she will do it for $14 for you." I am thrilled and say I'd love that. She tells the friend and then I thank her profusely when she hangs up. She writes her friends cell number on the cab company's card and hands it to me. I tuck it into my wallet. After about two minutes, a cab shows up but I can see that it's the same one that drove through a few minutes ago, #33. I walk out to tell him that it's too late, we've called another cab company and he tells me that he went around the back to my room. Oh well then, that's different - so I ask the receptionist to cancel the other cab and get in this one.
He drops me at the airport and I wait on the curb for the shuttle I ordered for 8:05. And wait. And wait. And wait - for twenty minutes past 8:05 as my anxiety mounts. I had asked for a shuttle last night when I called the hotel after booking the room online. He told me to call in the morning just before I needed it and I had called when I checked out. He assured me it would be there at 8:05. I am getting more frustrated by the second. I finally walk to a pay phone just down a few feet and insert my only two US quarters and dial. Nothing. So I hang up and pull down the coin release lever. Nothing. I hang up the handset again, several times. Nothing. Now I am really frustrated. I don't want to have to use my cell phone as it's just so expensive from here so I walk inside the airport to see if I can use a phone but there's no one about. I walk back outside and dig around in my purse for my phone and make the call. The same fellow I spoke to earlier tells me that he had a hard time finding a driver and he just left and should be here in about 3 minutes. I tell him that I tried to order the shuttle last night and was told to just call this morning when I needed it so that would lead one to assume there would be a driver standing by. He was all apologetic, apparently the clerk from yesterday had not left a note about it as he should have. I tell him I am on a time line here and needed it to be on time. He apologizes again, and I have no choice but to wait. The shuttle finally shows up 5 minutes later.
When I get to the hotel, I leave my bag with the front desk, call the cell number on the card and tell the woman that I just got her number from her friend at Howard Johnsons and ask her to come and get me. After hanging up I ask the hotel clerk if I can use the internet. She points to a couch and tells me to go ahead. I whip out my laptop and, once she gives me the password, send and email off to the dentist to tell him I am just waiting for a cab and, depending how long it takes me to get over the border, I will be there as close to 9:30 as I can.
The cab shows up and I climb in, grateful to finally be on my way to the border. It's about a 10 minute drive and on the way I chat with the woman about Yuma, how beautiful it is, the weather there, and she is curious about Vancouver. At one point she tells me we have just crossed into California. I can't figure out how. On the map I have been looking at, California is no where near the border between Arizona and Los Algodones. I need to check the map again.
We pull up to the border near a large parking lot. It's for all the people who drive here and then cross over into the small town. I pay her, tell her I will call when I am done, and then walk over to the sidewalk that I can see other people heading to from the parking lot.
Border Ahead; Sidewalk for foot traffic.
There doesn't seem to be a line up of any sort, but the sidewalk snakes around a building so it must be on the other side, I figure. There are three elderly women in front of me so I follow them. At one point they ask if I want to pass and I say no, I am following them as I have never been here before. We keep walking until, suddenly, we are on a street. I am confused. "Scuse me," I say to one of the ladies, "Is there no border guard to speak to?" She laughs, "No. Just going back the other way." I can hardly believe it; they just let you walk into Mexico, without any formalities? Okay then. As soon as we cross the road and head down a busy sidewalk, street hawkers call out to us to try to get us into the huge pharmacy right there. The ladies walk by without acknowledging them so I do the same. "Oh I see, all dental patients, eh?" says the handsome young Mexican man as we pass on by. "Listen to me," the woman says, "If you feel like buying anything, look at the price and offer half." "OK, thank you." I answer, "Well, I need to figure out where I am going." I say as I start to dig around in my purse for my notebook. "Good luck." she says, and doesn't break stride as she walks off with her two friends.
I find the dentist office without much effort, winding my way through dozens of street vendors crammed along the edge of every sidewalk. I think this place would be fun to explore if I had the time to do it. But I don't so I hustle along, scanning the myriad dentist signs on roofs, doors and walls, looking for The Smile Shoppe.
I find the office easily, thanks to Dr. Arce's excellent directions. Of all the one's I have passed, and that has to be at least 30, this is the most professional one I've seen.
I walk in and am greeted by a very handsome man sitting at the desk. Turns out, he's Dr. Roberto Arce. After filling out a form while listening to the TV show Friends playing on the small TV inset into a wall, he welcomes me into the back and into a dentist chair. He then takes 15 minutes or so checking my teeth, my bite, and my profile with my jaws clamped shut. When he's done he leans back against the wall and pulls down his blue paper mask. He asks when I lost the teeth that are missing and I tell him I can only remember when I had two out; one when I was 16 and the other 25 years ago. I remember that one because Ashleigh was two and quite ill - hadn't kept a thing down in three days, not even water and as soon as I got back from the dentist, mouth packed with gauze, we took her to the hospital because her pallor and listlessness had grown worse in the few hours I was gone and I was shocked. She was admitted for three days and put on an IV and I sat with her the whole three days - 8 months pregnant, sore mouth and all. Why I have no memory of the other three, you'd think I would - dental visits being such a traumatic experience for me, I have no idea. But then, maybe that's why - I've just blocked them.
Anyhow, he starts to explain what has happened to my bite due to the missing teeth, and it's a lot. Most of it I knew as I've been feeling the effects of it for years. He is very thorough in his explanation of what is wrong and what he wants to do to fix it. He says I need all crowns. The teeth have worn down because they have shifted and are hitting the teeth above and below in all of the wrong places. The way they were made to fit together no longer is happening. The damage is extensive and he says that he wants to replace all of my upper teeth with crowns and bridge the two gaps. I had read that many dentists in this town will try to get you to let them do root canals on all of the teeth they want to crown, as it's a great money maker for them but it's often not necessary. I wait for him to tell me that I need root canals, but he never does. In fact, everything I had listed that I wanted done in order of priority, he now lists to me and in the same order. He says that he wants to do only the top jaw today as my available time is limited and it will take a big favour from his lab, which is run by a friend, to get all of the crowns made by Wednesday. He knows I have a flight out that day, but not until 5, and says we will start early Wednesday morning and I will be done by 1:00. He explains the three kinds of crowns he uses. One is metal and porcelain, one is just porcelain, and another I didn't really grasp what it was but he said, although it was the most expensive option, he didn't recommend it. He recommended, and I wanted, the porcelain. He then sits down to assess the cost of what I need and I sit there and pray it's not more than I have budgeted.
I had $6000 for this, but now that I have to spend $600 on a hotel instead of $280 at the B&B, and thus have to cab it each day as well, I have shaved $500 off of that amount and it worries me because I really felt I needed $6,000. After a few moments he shows me, on the chart I filled out, the teeth that need crowns, the ones that will be part of the bridge, and the total cost. It works out to $300 per tooth and $900 each bridge, which comprise 3 teeth each, the one missing and the one on each side, so basically 16 teeth at $300 a tooth. Including Xrays ($20!!!) and the temporary I will need until the crowns are made, the total is $5,740. That puts me over my budget. I ask him if he would give me a 5% discount for paying in cash instead of a credit card and he readily agrees and that brings the entire bill down to $5,400. I am thrilled. Just thrilled. From the get go I had planned on saving $5,000 to have this done and then the number $6,000 kept coming up in my head. I couldn't shake that number so I took it as from God and saved $6,000. And now the entire bill for this including the extra I will pay for hotel and cabs will be almost exactly $6,000. I am in awe of how God is taking care of me through this whole thing. First having TLC screw up so badly that, despite my total frustration and anxiety over that, worked it out so I get the dentist my friend was so happy with; and now showing me clearly why I had $6,000 stuck in my head.
I agree to the fee and the process begins. He takes some Xrays, and then freezes my entire upper jaw. Six hours and three rounds of novocaine later, I have pegs for teeth. I will skip the gory details, and there really aren't many. The worst part for me was when they took several impressions. I have an easily triggered gag reflex and when I bit down and the excess hit the back of my throat, ACK! And that happened three times. He was extremely gentle; told me to raise my right hand if I felt any sensitivity and when I did, immediately put more freezing in. My back was giving me a LOT of trouble in the chair so he had his assistant bring me a pillow for it, and let me get up a couple of times to stretch it out. All in all, it was about as good an experience as one can have in the dentists chair, I would think. Certainly the best I have had by far.
I am fitted with a temporary which looks like the teeth part of an upper denture plate, they are polished a bit (they're still pretty rough feeling) and I am done. I then get to pick out the color the crowns will be. He shows me the color he likes because he thinks it is the most natural but I can clearly see the yellow tinge to it and I don't like it. I tell him I work with actors who all have beautiful white teeth and I want the same. He asks me what I do for a living and I tell him, the short version. Earlier, while he had his hands in my mouth, I had started laughing because I could hear Phoebe singing one of her awful songs from the TV playing in the reception area and he had asked me if I liked the show and I nodded yes. Now I tell him I have worked with Matthew Perry and he is surprised. He then says I will leave on Wednesday with the smile of a movie star and hands me a little bar with four much whiter teeth on it, arranged in a row from really white to slightly less white. He explains that there are many shades of white; white walls (and points to his which are definitely on the cream side of white), white shirt, white toilet. I pull the whitest tooth out of the four, "that is white toilet" he says and I laugh. I hold that one and the one next to it up to my own mouth. I like the whitest one. I expect he is going to try to insist I go less white but he says he wants me to be happy and I can have whatever I want. I am very happy. He then asks if I want solid white or a little translucent on the bottom edge, a more natural look. Translucent, definitely. That makes him happy.
He tells me to come back on Wednesday at 8:30 and gives me a painkiller to dissolve under my tongue right there, and then 8 more to take home with me. He says that my purse was very heavy (it has my laptop in it) and because I had taken two Xanax earlier and am still feeling quite unsteady on my legs, he sends his assistant to walk me to the border with strict instructions, in Spanish as she speaks very little English, to carry my purse. I pay him the full fee, which lightens my money belt considerably, and we set off. When we get to the border there is a long line of people waiting to cross. The sidewalk has a canvas cover so that one is in the shade, which is nice. The assistant leaves me there and I spend the next 5 minutes saying no to all the vendors hawking cheap jewelry to their captive audience.
All of a sudden, someone takes my arm and I looked around, startled. It is the assistant, she has come back, and she holds out a note to me. It is from the doctor and says that I've just had extensive dental work done and due to my condition can not stand in the sun so would they kindly let me ahead of the line. She then keeps the note, holding it out for anyone who needs to to see, grabs my hand and pulls me forward in the line past all of the other people. They look a bit startled but then one look at me and they all step aside. I guess I must look awful because not one person complains, they just let us by. She never needs the note. When we get to a turnstile, as far as she can go, she hands me the note and indicates that I should use it to get in front of the dozen or so people ahead of me. I thank her in Spanish, she smiles at my effort, and leaves.
I can't get up the nerve to ask people ahead of me to let me barge through. Two women come through the turnstile behind me, who I had just passed with the help of the assistant, and ask if I am okay. I say I had just had a lot of dental work done. They look very concerned and say I looked pale and like I might pass out. I do feel very shaky. I am leaning against a wall to help out with that. They tell me I should go to the front of the line but I just can't do it so I wait and the two of them keep an anxious eye on me. I get through the customs in about 5 minutes and without any problem at all and as I walk down the long walk between some buildings, suddenly another woman appears from behind me. She asks if I am okay. I say I had just had a lot of work done. She asks me if I am driving myself and I tell her I need a cab and does she know where a pay phone is. She pulls out her cell phone and I give her the card from earlier and she dials it in and hands the phone to me. The cab driver is on another run and can't be there for 20 minutes so I say that's fine. I hand the phone back to the woman and thank her and ask if I could give her some money for the call but she waves that off as nonsense and then tells me I should wait right where I was for the 20 minutes as there is no shade out by the road. So as I wait, two fellows come out of the customs office without their wives, who are being held up because they bought stuff. I chat with them a bit and turns out they are both from B.C. - one Vancouver and the other one of the Gulf Islands (can't remember which one, I was drugged at the time but it began with 'S'). I ask if they are down for dental work but turns out they both have a home here that they winter in. Nice, but I think if I were going to do that I'd choose Palm Springs. Although, to be fair, I haven't seen much of Yuma yet.
I wait another 15 minutes or so once I get out to the sidewalk, feeling very faint, and finally she arrives. When I get to my hotel, the clerk calls someone to help me with my small bag so I really must be looking rather ill. When we get to my room, it overlooks the pool from the second floor, and inside it's lovely. For only $10 a night more than the Howard Johnson, this is a HUGE step up. I am under strict instructions to rest so, after a few minutes on the computer, I resist the urge to try out the pool and lie down on the luxury pillow top bed with high thread count sheets (certainly not what the Howard Johnson had) and probably the softest, fluffiest pillow I have ever laid my head on, and fall promptly to sleep. It's 6:30. At some point I wake in pain, take a pill, and drop back off.
I wake up again to use the lav, and see that it's after 11:00. Wow. I really must have needed that sleep.
I am back off to bed. The mouth is sore, my gums are purple/blue from the bruising I guess, and a few teeth feel sensitive. But when I smile, which I can't do very well as my top lip looks vaguely like Angelina Jolie's and not in a good way, for the first time I can recall I have straight front teeth and no gaps on each side. They aren't the best looking teeth at the moment, but they will be by Wednesday afternoon!