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Pandemics And Root Canals and Hornets, Oh My!

If you are anything like me then after eighty days in near-solitary confinement watching your species go insane over this century's bubonic plague while Earth’s richest and most powerful sociopaths blatantly gaslight democracy out of existence—you need some diversion. After you see murder hornets invading Washington State while mindless racism and riots vent lifetimes of both righteous indignation and misdirected anger as they swallow your homeland’s last remaining shred of integrity—you need some excitement!

How about finding a working dentist with first- world knowledge in a fourth-world country during a lockdown where people are afraid to shake hands much less put those hands into each other’s mouths? Wouldn't a bunch of root canals be a fun thing to do while waiting for this experience to turn the corner and become the zombie apocalypse we’ve all been anxiously awaiting? Can you think of a more fun-filled activity to engage in during a time when clinical depression is considered normal than the painful procedure so many sadists view as their go-to form of torture? I certainly can’t!

Apparently, my teeth can't either. The few natural teeth left in my mouth have gone rogue. They scream like mindless infants among the many silent, space-age implants housed in the rest of my jawbone. Severe pain distracts me from both hash pipe induced hibernation and golden meditations. It is one of the very few things that could inspire me to attempt something that seems to be impossible—finding a high level professional with a strong knowledge of cutting edge procedures and some sterile, modern equipment in a country where I don’t know a single word of the native language. The dentist needs to be willing to risk exposure to plague by diving into a foreigner's mouth. This foreigner comes from the nation with the planet’s highest plague-related death toll. This treatment needs to happen in a world that is shut down, and in a part of that world where the phrase “a strong knowledge of cutting edge procedures and sterile, modern equipment” has never been part of the vocabulary.

Sometimes you get lucky. Doctor Samdup’s Mon- lam dental clinic has an internet presence that includes an email address. He answers emails quickly and opens for emergencies even during a pandemic.

During our first meeting, he shows more than enough dental knowledge and humanity to inspire my confidence. Doctor Samdup seems to be a wonderful and very talented person. The office has only one other employee. His younger brother, Chungdak, is now his dental assistant. The dentist lost his actual assistant when she returned to her small, distant village as soon as lockdown began. Chungdak knows his way around the dental office pretty well. Tibetan refugee families are

tightly knit. Chungdak has no doubt been watching and learning from his elder brother since birth.

There is a high risk in this situation that doesn’t involve the dentist. The high risk is with administrations that control mandatory closing of businesses such as the laboratory that makes the crowns.

There is a five-day wait after the root extraction before lack of infection can be verified. That verification allows the remains of the rootless teeth to safely accept crowns. A lab makes the crowns during that five-day gap. Teeth lose most of their core strength when the central nerve (root) is extracted. Nothing is left in the middle but a vacant canal. Teeth left in such a fragile condition, without a strong permanent crown to offer protective cover, could easily shatter. If there is a sudden forced shut down of the lab, it could leave unprotected teeth at high risk for a long period of time.

Decisions such as whether or not to shut down a business are often made on the fly amidst the uncharted waters that have engulfed our lives. The administrative authorities around the world, within government and business alike, have shown a lot of confusion about what an appropriate Corona procedure is and exactly how to implement it. Actions that affect everyone everywhere are sometimes decided by very small groups of people doing guesswork in offices and boardrooms. They can’t be altogether blamed for this. Most political, social, and medical functions are on new ground. We all suffer a shortage of accurate information. There is also, at times, a lack of any knowledge as to what to do with accurate information even if it appears in a recognizable form.

Folks in authority often suffer from and function with a dangerous confidence without clarity. To be fair, so do many folks that aren’t in authority. Confidence that is stained by arrogance and ignorance will not allow its host to admit just how little he or she actually knows. This can result in some very half-baked and counterproductive decision making.

All these factors are currently making life, and my dental procedures, very unpredictable.

Again, sometimes you get lucky.

The lab stays open and everything goes smoothly. Two short weeks after first entering the Monlam dental clinic, I discover that it is possible to have fun getting four root canal procedures done and a bad tooth pulled. Doctor Samdup has the heart of a Mother Teresa, the knowledge of a dental scholar, and the skill of a top-level dental surgeon.

Those of you residing in the West will think the following is a misprint. It is not. Four root canals, four crowns, and an extraction costs less than five hundred US dollars here. The same procedures and prosthetics anywhere in America would cost somewhere between five and thirteen thousand dollars. It is very unlikely that the dentist performing these procedures in America would be any more talented than Dr. Samdup of the Boudha section of Kathmandu.

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