Put your money where your mouth is

Last Thursday afternoon, as I stood in my bathroom flossing my teeth with one of those cool new flossing picks, the floss got stuck. Badly. So badly, in fact, that to remove the floss, I had to go fetch a pair of scissors and cut out the shredded floss from between my teeth. Wtf??

I got a flashlight out. I’m uninsured, and unemployed. I’m also in denial about the state of my teeth. They are terrible. I have several fillings (from a youth of neglect), but beautiful white amalgam maintains a veneer of perfect dental health. The flashlight revealed something different. In the molar responsible for slicing apart my floss, I could see a deep V depression in the back quadrant of the tooth; if I poked at it, it wiggled. My stomach dropped in panic. It didn’t hurt now, but damaged teeth are notoriously volatile: it could be a matter of hours to several months before my mouth would explode in pain.

I looked up the info for the University of Washington’s dental clinic — could they do emergency care for a low-income patient? Did they have a sliding scale? It was also 4:56 on a Thursday afternoon. I needed care urgently, tomorrow. Gaaaah. The UW provided care for a reduced fee, but only took regular insurance. They did, however, direct me to the King County Neighborhood Care Centers (www.neighborcare.org), and provided their phone number. I called — dental appointments were booked through January, but I could do an emergency walk-in on a first-come basis in Georgetown the next morning. They opened at 7:15. Sign me up.

I trucked out to Georgetown the next morning, getting up at 6:30 to make it. I arrived to find six other people already queued up, all of us waiting for spaces to open up in the schedule. One woman looked like she was in miserable pain, she didn’t smile or speak at all for the four hours that we were there. The others who came and went, they reminded me of the people I’ve met riding Metro and Greyhound — none possessed any obvious markers of wealth, but nor did I see any that met the visual postcard standard of “poverty”.

I was so impressed with every aspect of this clinic. It is housed in a cheerful renovated brick building that has loads of visual charm. The waiting room has every quality of a normal doctor’s office, but with more comfortable chairs. (Quite serious! I noticed a tacit awareness of the eternal patience that is required when receiving public assistance, and in this instance, the chairs were a nice touch.) It was almost a kinder experience than visiting my family dentist. The staff were warm, friendly, patient — at no time was I made to feel like I was a poor person, or that there was anything shameful about my circumstance. It was an “everybody” sort of place, with little pretense, but lots of gentle dignity. With the exception of some instructions from the dentist on how to better care for my teeth (“try to eat all at once at a meal, then brush afterward instead of snacking…”) it was an amazingly non-judgmental experience.

Even better, they fixed my tooth. They x-rayed it, pulled out the filling that I had, apparently, cracked. (“When the filling cracks, it usually does so for a reason. But good news! You came in to see us early, and there is no decay!”) And, they filled it. No, I don’t have a discreet white filling in there, because those are more expensive — nope, if you look in my mouth, you’ll see a silver filling where Dr. Nguyen and his assistant Gerri patched me up. Weirdly, I’m actually a little proud of it — it’s the only obvious blemish in my mouth, but I also feel like it will remain an honest reminder of this time in my life. And it was no more painful than seeing my regular dentist.

If this is what my tax dollars are going towards, then by all means, let us empty our pockets! It has been a struggle to accept that I need this kind of help, that I need unemployment insurance, but thank the county, the state, the government, and finally, the taxpayers that it is there in my moment of need. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is narrowing right now, and such public services enable us all to feel a little richer.

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~ by ecp on November 24, 2008.

One Response to “Put your money where your mouth is”

  1. Well, it sucks that this happened, but it’s good that you were able to get it fixed so quickly!

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