All I Want For Christmas...
By Carol L. Bowman
. . . are my ten bottom teeth! I noticed the contorted expression on my husband’s face through the dim cabin light on our overnight flight to Frankfurt, Germany. His eyes were closed but he was whispering this children’s Christmas jingle, changing the words from ‘two front teeth’ to ‘ten bottom teeth.’ My shoulders shook with a silent laugh, as Ernie searched for ways to cope with his outrageous situation.
I tried to block out that ridiculous scene earlier that afternoon, but the dramatic images came roaring back. We were sitting in the United Club at Houston’s George W. Bush International Airport, having a jolly good time sipping spicy Bloody Maries and munching on snacks offered for lay-over United passengers. We’ve had enough experience with the tasteless meals served on transatlantic flights to grab as much decent food as possible before boarding the plane.
Excitement flowed between us, as we reviewed our upcoming 21-day itinerary to the maritime islands off the coasts of Scotland, Wales, and England. Relaxed and happy, Ernie popped a piece of Swiss cheese into his mouth. As I often did, I silently admired his straight, white, bottom-row of porcelain crowned teeth.
Suddenly his animated facial expression turned to one of horror. He put his hand to his mouth and then sat stone still with a clenched fist. He didn’t say a word, slowly opened his fingers, and there in his hand, laid his entire bottom-row of 10 crowns that had separated from the gum line in one complete arc. A remnant of cheese stuck to the bridge. He parted his pursed lips and revealed jagged, drilled-down stubs of his original teeth. No longer crowned with perfect porcelain caps, these nubbins were not a pretty sight.
The absurdity of the timing of this shocked us both. We had only one hour before we would board for our 10-hour flight. While Ernie anguished over what to do, I raced to the concierge desk, informed the staff person of the dilemma and inquired if there was an airport on site dentist. She squeaked out a measured response, as a hysterical woman, me, stood before her.
“No, I am sorry, the airport has no official dentist, but there’s a CVS on the first floor. Maybe you could buy some Crazy Glue.” My head swirled and my eyes bulged. Did she say Crazy Glue? Time to come up with plan B, I thought. No way would my husband survive toxic adhesive or three weeks as a toothless traveler visiting remote islands near the Arctic Circle.
While walking to the gate, I fired off an e-mail to our guide, Kate, who would meet us the next day at the Principal Hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland. ‘Urgent... We haven’t met yet, but my husband needs an emergency dental appointment as soon as we arrive in Edinburgh tomorrow. I’ll explain later. Emphasis is on EMERGENCY. Let me know if you can help.’ I prayed for a response before we boarded.
Our flight departed from the international terminal, which meant passing through another security check. I wrapped the precious porcelain piece in a small plastic bag and Ernie tucked it inside his shirt pocket. All the routine search measures completed−computer out, shoes off, pants’ pockets emptied, he proceeded through the scanner, lips sealed. BEEP. BEEP. “Sir, are you sure you have emptied everything from your pockets?” the TSA agent asked. OMG, Ernie had to place the clear plastic bag of teeth, a potential lethal weapon, in its own little x-ray tray.
Upon arrival in Frankfurt, while trudging to our connecting flight, I received an e-mail from Kate, ‘Will do. I’m just getting on a plane myself in Dublin to fly to Edinburgh.’ Ernie tried to show a glimmer of hope, without smiling, of course. An hour after we landed on Scottish soil and checked into the hotel, Kate provided the appointment for the Frederick Street Dental Clinic located within walking distance. With apprehension and uncertainty, we headed off in this foreign city in search of major dental repair.
A young, perky Scottish gal, Leila, who spoke with a thick brogue, expected us. No time for Ernie’s jitters. The dental chair waited. In walked a lanky, olive-skinned, mid-30’s man who introduced himself as Dr. Mohammad. “I get the feeling you’re not from Scotland,” Ernie quipped with nervous laughter.
“Oh, no, my friend, 100% Pakistani,” the Dr. responded with a sub-continent accent. Nationalities were stacking up like hotcakes in this International Dental Caper. Our Irish guide had referred Ernie, an American living in Mexico to a Pakistani dentist and a native Scot assistant.
After examining Ernie’s teeth, the detached set of crowns, the x-rays and assessing the frantic faces of patient and wife, the doctor offered the good and bad news. “Well,” he said, “I can reattach the crowns and I will use the strongest cement available, but I give no guarantees that the repair will last more than two or three weeks at best and the evaluation will cost 49 British pounds and the process of cementing will be another 350 pounds.”
Ernie and I silently eyed one another. I could tell he was doing calculations in his head and I used my trusty phone to convert pounds to US, $523.00. The cement must be mixed with gold. Since we’d be traveling for 21 days to remote areas, the dentist had hostages and he knew it. We both reluctantly nodded ‘ok’ and Dr. Mohammad proceeded with a contented sigh.
Relieved of both anxiety and money, we returned to the hotel and Ernie’s smile once again revealed a secured row of ten bottom crowns. I figured the ordeal was over. Not so fast, lassie. After four days touring Edinburgh, when we boarded the 90 passenger small ship, Corinthian for our journey to the northern islands off the coast of Scotland, the saga continued.
An infection with swelling had developed under Ernie’s gum, and since the teeth had been cemented in so tightly, the pressure became unbearable. Around midnight symptoms of fever and stress chest pain could not wait until morning. I woke the ship’s medical director, who instructed us to come to the Infirmary on Deck 2 immediately. Inside the physician’s office, Dr. Ana, only half-awake, pulled a sweatshirt over her disheveled hair, and rubbed her eyes to get oriented. She introduced herself as being from Serbia, adding another nationality to the treatment team. Despite being groggy and disorganized, she did diagnose the infection and sent Ernie on his way with doses of powerful pain medication and serious antibiotics. He recovered within a week.
Amazingly, the crowns remained solid until a month after we returned home. I was on the phone fighting with the Trip Insurance Company to pay our dental claim, when Ernie felt the crowns slip and slide again. But this time he could go to his regular Mexican dentist.