Desert dentists – not one for the squeamish

We had planned to only spend 4 days in San Pedro, but on the second night Marie developed toothache which by the third night made signs of swelling (although this was probably contained by the freezing cold temperatures at night and our room being like an ice box). My self diagnosis was a dental infection (despite having a check up at the dentist’s before we left). Luckily San Pedro forms the hub for small local villages and there is a basic medical centre here. Even more lucky is that they have a dentist who can do basic dentistry. A quick trip there on Saturday morning confirmed my diagnosis, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories were prescribed and we thought, great sorted. The dentist wanted to x-ray me but couldn’t do it that day so told me to come back at 8:30am on Monday, at that stage I was still thinking of heading to Bolivia on Sunday and not bothering…

IMG_0910Spent the rest of Saturday in pain and most of Sunday watching my face swell while lying in a hammock sulking because Bolivia was clearly on hold until its all fixed. Monday morning and the dentist is pretty alarmed to see my swollen face (although weirdly as it swelled up the pain reduced) says that the antibiotics aren’t working and that I have to go to Calama, the nearest town in the Atacama desert a couple of hours away, as she doesn’t have the kit to sort me out here. She did sort me out though with an appointment for the end of the day with someone good, gave me the address and packed me off with my x-ray and a note about my treatment so far.

The scenery on the way to Calama is so amazing and other worldly that the bus journey was still quite fun.

So we rock up to this dentist who it turns out doesn’t work on Mondays but was seeing me as an emergency case. When we went in he had this translation website pulled up on his computer but he speaks a little English to go with Emma’s little Spanish (my Spanish is slowly improving so I can understand some things). He explained that his assistant is pregnant so he hadn’t called her in so it was just us and him. He was a really nice guy and the best most gentle dentist I’ve ever been too and very highly qualified even for complex oral surgery judging by the certificates on his wall.

I’ll skip most of the gory details, but I was in there for 2 hours and had to have 3 injections because the anaesthetic was wearing off so its only fair that I get to share some of the details. He said that I had a 1cm ‘gobule’ which we take to mean abscess. Luckily it was above one of my only teeth to have a root canal filling so he just drilled a clean hole through the filling to try and drain it through the tooth (which seems to be the preference if they can), can’t say that it was overly pleasant but that was probably more to do with the fact that he spent an hour trying that way and it got very boring after a while.

So after an hour of not being able to get it to drain he announces that he will have to resort to option 2. I said don’t tell me, just do (assuming this to be a really nasty way) and apparently he mouthed to Emma ‘oral surgery’. So he changed all of his equipment to new stuff, even his gloves, rested a surgical tray on my chest (I couldn’t see it, I shut my eyes at the dentist’s because I don’t want to see what instruments are going in my mouth) and I could hear all of these instruments being opened above my head and put in the tray. 5 minutes later and the infection was out. I so wish he had just done it that way to start with, so quick and I didn’t feel a thing. Emma who had watched the whole thing (particularly because the dentist kept saying come look and trying to explain to her what he was doing) says he made a small little cut and then put a tiny tiny spoon in afterwards to check it was all gone (by this stage she was stood at the other side of my head watching fascinated).

So that was it done! However, I was still left with a hole in my tooth so he explained that while ideally he would fill it back in straight away my face was so swollen that he couldn’t be positive that it had all gone or that more infection has yet to come out so I need to go back and see him on Wednesday, when he’ll assess it but may still not be able to fill it.

2 hours and 2 procedures later and it only cost approx NZ$150! Amazing! And he gave us a gift – 2 tablets out of his back pocket for pain relief. Not sure what they are but he was legit so they’re probably just strong and/or expensive.

Anyway he said that I also needed to go and have a penicillin injection. It was about 6:30pm at this stage, but after Emma enquired he was like yes yes they are open 24 hours. Turns out that he was sending me to the local A&E and I end up in a full trauma room with defibs and all kinds of life saving equipment hanging off the walls, lying on a bed having a penicillin jab in my arse! For some reason it gave us uncontrollable giggles.

Then we traipsed through town to find the pharmacy to get this other stuff to help keep my holely tooth clean. Which was fun with no map, but after asking a local she walked us most of the way there. Calama town was busy and bustling, totally the opposite to San Pedro but we still managed to find our way to the right bus terminal with no map. Better still while technically we had missed our bus as usual it was late.

It was an epic day but I was fast asleep by 10pm and slept like a baby. No pain or brusing at all.

So here we are stuck in San Pedro until the swelling has gone and the tooth is refilled. Might be out of here by the weekend or it might be another week or so. All I know is that there are worse places to be than in this cool little town in an amazing desert with fab cheap dentists…

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