Actually, the special day began yesterday, precisely at 4:38 in the afternoon. Some people might find it strange that a special day begins with a gold inlay falling out of my top, left molar thanks to a piece of chewing gum that I was… well, chewing on. That was when the luck started: I didn’t swallow the inlay which –give or take a few- is probably around 60 years old. I have my marvelous dentist in Mexico City –Dr. Carlos Cornish who died quite some time ago- to thank for the long life of the inlay, and the chewing gum for the fact that I didn’t swallow it. I extracted the gold piece from the gum and placed it in a small container which I dropped into my purse so as not to forget it in case I could, by some miracle, find a dentist.
So there I sat, in front of my computer, on a Saturday afternoon, with a gaping (if I was to believe my tongue) hole in the second molar from back to front. Saturday afternoon!!!!! The borders of what was left of my tooth seemed terribly fragile and the hollowed out molar was sure to harvest at least half my dinner. What to do?
Internet, of course! What else? I typed “dentist Salies de Béarn” into Google. Four names appeared: 3 in Salies and one in neighboring Sauveterre. The three in Salies advertised opening hours only during the week, but the one in Sauveterre (a mere 10 kms away) had office hours up until 5pm Saturdays! If I hurried I would make it. There was a phone number which I dialed 3 times to no avail. I decided the dentist probably had both hands in someone’s mouth and couldn’t answer so I left a message saying I was coming and explaining as best I could the reason in French (my knowledge of dental terminology was definitely at its lowest point).
I loaded Salomé into the car, inserted the address into my GPS and… nothing. The GPS couldn’t find the street in spite of the fact that Sauveterre is much smaller than Salies. I tried again: same result. Ok, I thought to myself: I’ll drive there and somehow I’ll find the street. Upon turning onto the highway I saw a police car with a manual radar camera and pulled over to ask for directions. The officer seemed disturbed that I was interrupting his possibilities of catching someone speeding, but kindly asked me what I wanted. I wondered if he knew the street in Sauveterre. He pulled out his cell phone and began to look for it and I suddenly remembered that I had downloaded Waze recently even though I had never used it. I opened my own phone, typed in the name of the street and, Eureka, there it was. Thanking the officer, I drove off, Salomé in the seat beside me.
With Waze I immediately arrived at my destination and that was the first gift of losing my filling: I now know how to use Waze. The office was closed, however, and even though I knocked and rang the bell it was obvious internet had lied. I sat back in the car running my tongue for the umpteenth time through the cavern in my tooth and wondering what I was going to do until Monday (I had tried eating a cookie before leaving home and the hole had filled up with dough which convinced me that there was no way I was going to be able to enjoy a meal until the problem was solved).
Once again I went to Google and typed in “Emergency dentist Béarn region”. A site with a phone to call popped up. I phoned. A charming gentleman answered and, upon hearing my request, asked from where in France I was calling. I told him and he said I should call the emergency number: 15, SAMU, an acronym for Urgent Medical Attention Service in French. It seemed that this tooth-thingy was going to be a learning experience through and through. I dialed 15 and a very nice man answered immediately. I explained that I needed the number of a dentist on emergency call. The gentleman said he was sorry but there was no dentist on call for emergencies at that time, but he would give me the number of a doctor on call who could tell me what to do until I could get to a dentist. He gave me the number; I wrote it down and thanked him kindly for his service. Then I called the doctor. He answered immediately and I told him about my tooth.
He was very kind and sounded honestly sorry as he told me that there was nothing he could do. Then he said that I should call 15 again the following morning and ask for a dentist doing emergency service. I thanked him, wondering if it had only been Saturday that there had been no emergency service, and hung up. There was nothing more to do but go home with the hole in my tooth and the filling in my bag. Salomé thought that was a very good idea: it was way past her supper hour by the time we got home.
I drove back thinking I would probably have to wait till Monday and settling into the fact that I would have to eat with great care and spend time cleaning out the gaping hole. I noticed how thankful I was that it wasn’t hurting. I did my best to ignore the hole for the rest of the evening and made sure to empty it of all residues from dinner before going to bed. Then I had a wonderful night’s sleep.
In the morning, I first armed myself with the necessary vocabulary: molaire, obturation, trou, dente, and then –after breakfast- dialed 15 again. This time a lady answered and when I explained that I needed a dentist for an emergency (after all, it was now Sunday: the special day) she gave me a phone number to call and explained that a recording would tell me the names, the towns and the phone numbers for the dentists that were on duty that morning. She also explained that emergency dental service was only available from 9 to 1 (which was why it had not been available the previous afternoon).
There was no doubt I was learning a lot of ‘how-to’ from a simple loss of a filling; I was beginning to enjoy the adventure. I dialed the ‘magic’ number and listened to the four names rattled off. For the first one, I had trouble understanding the name of the town where he was situated; the second one was in Navarrenx (a town I go to frequently for my osteopath and that is but 30 minutes away); the third was in Biarritz (over 40 minutes away and necessitating the use of the toll highway) and the fourth was all the way to Saint Jean de Luz, over an hour`s drive. As the towns seemed to get progressively farther away from where I live, I decided to try the first one whose name I could not make out, hoping it would be the closest.
I called, the dentist answered and informed that he was in a town 10 minutes outside of Pau, so it would be farther than Navarrenx. I thanked the dentist and explained I preferred going to a town I knew. Then I called Navarrenx.
I had to dial 3 times before getting through, but when I did it turned out the dentist was a woman called Natalie Marin. I have liked everyone I have ever met called ‘Natalie’ so the signs were propitious. Dr. Marin asked if I could be there at 11:45 and I felt such joy that I very enthusiastically cried into the phone: “Of course!” Then she explained very carefully where her office was in Navarrenx and we hung up.
I had a dentist appointment; there was a lovely woman dentist that was going to fix my tooth… and it was Sunday!!! What more could anyone want in life? But my special day had just begun. I practically waltzed off to my morning coffee with Salomé in tow and even decided to gift myself a croissant this very special morning. From my coffee friends I learned that “obturation” was not what a filling was called (although it is French and the dentist understood perfectly when I used it, it apparently is too scientific for everyday usage), but rather plombage which having the prefix “plomb” (lead) probably points to the fact that that metal was used to fill teeth in the beginning.
At 11 o’clock on the dot, I danced my way home, climbed into my car and drove lickety-split to Navarrenx for my Sunday morning dental appointment. Although I imagined that the service was going to cost me a pretty penny, I couldn’t have cared less: anything was worth paying to have that hole in my tooth filled in.
Natalie Marin turned out to be a slightly thick bodied lady probably in her late 30’s or early 40’s who had studied dentistry in Belgium. She issued me into a beautifully clean and modernly equipped office with a lovely pale blue dental chair. I opened my bag and took out the filling. She turned it over in her fingers and said: “Ah, c’est un anlai”; it took me a few seconds to realize she was saying “inlay” with a French accent. I laughed and nodded. “And it is about 60 years old” I said.
As I lay back in the comfy blue chair, I noticed a kind of television screen visible only to the patient, where a video of colorful tropical fish swimming amongst bright corals was displayed. “To make your patients relax?” I queried. She nodded, smiled and then gave me the best news yet of the day: “I believe I can replace the original filling perfectly as it isn’t at all damaged.” What joy!!! My 60-year-old filling can go right back into my 75-year-old mouth! Who could ask for more?
With the first slight contact of the drill in the tooth (to clean it) we both knew my molar was very much alive. I had barely said: “Novocain please, I am a coward when it comes to dental work” when she had the needle in my gum and before I knew it everything was asleep and I felt no more pain. She cleaned the tooth, cleaned the filling and –miracle of miracles- my mouth was just as it had been before the mischievous chewing gum. I was so happy that I smiled from ear to… well it was sort of a lopsided smile; you know the kind I’m sure. I told her three times how happy I was.
My joy was such that I couldn’t wait to pay her whatever the cost. I was in for a surprise. She sat at her desk and opened her computer; after consulting something she told me the amount. I couldn’t believe it! I asked her to repeat thinking I had heard wrongly; no, I had heard it right the first time: € 28.73! If she had said €280 I would have paid it gladly, but 28 euros, dental work, on a Sunday no less!!! How in the world do these people live! My lunch was going to cost more than that. I took €30 out of my wallet and when she said she didn’t have change would I prefer to pay with a credit card, I told her it was fine. But no, she got up and went for her purse and found the 1 euro 27 centimes that was missing.
It was barely 12:15 when I climbed back into my car complete (tooth filling and all in less than 30 minutes) and completely ecstatic! My tooth was fixed and I had found the most incredible dentist in the world. ‘Thank you, thank you, I’m so grateful’ I said out loud as I drove away. And then, as if the universe had not already given me enough, I came home to a beautiful bouquet of flowers I had recently picked or rather pilfered from the community vegetable gardens where they just wither and die.