A 2004 CLASSIC. OR DENTISTRY IN JAPAN

Folks, for the holiday I’m sharing one of the first blogs I ever posted. On MySpace, no less. I spent a year working at an entertainment park in Japan named “Huis Ten Bosch”,or “House in the Woods” in Dutch. It was reproduction of Amsterdam. In southern Japan. Don’t ask me why.  It’s a bit lengthy, but amusing if you enjoy that sort of thing. And a convincing argument for good dental hygiene. So without further ado, I present Dentistry in Japan.

DENTISTRY IN JAPAN
If dental matters bother you, or if hearing of another’s pain distresses you, please feel free to hit the delete button now.
First of all, I love Japan. I have found the people to be friendly, helpful and extremely courteous. They have helped me, both the cast members I have gotten to know and complete strangers, make the transition to living and working in Japan. This is in no way a diatribe against them or this country.
Second, I have bad teeth. I have always had bad teeth. My family, at least on my mother’s side, has always had bad teeth. And so, of course, I hate and fear the dentist. It’s not personal. If I were swimming in the ocean and encountered a shark, I would hate the shark. Maybe it’s a nice, non carnivorous shark. Maybe it’s one of those funny, happy, character-actor type sharks I see in the movies so often these days. I don’t care. I’m in the water and at it’s mercy. It can, and has been known to, inflict pain on people so I don’t relish meeting it and fear the encounter. In my life I have gone to the dentist sporadically which has of course exacerbated the problems when I get there. I’ve had 2, 3 and 4 cavity days. Suffice to say that these have not been the happiest days of my life. But in the past couple of years I have been good. Thanks to the dental plan at Knotts Berry Farm, I got much of the simple cavity work and tooth cleaning done.
And so, before I left the nurturing bosom of Knotts to venture to Japan, I took a last, covered by the company, trip to the dentist. Didn’t want to, didn’t enjoy it, got 2 cavities filled, but I did it. Did the right thing, guarded against the possibility of having problems in a foreign country, a stitch in time saves nine. You get the idea.
So I’m off to Japan. With all the problems, difficulties and challenges of putting up an entire entertainment program for an amusement park. All kinds of shows, singing, acting, doing stunts, doing “street time” ( some things are universal folks, like death, taxes, and if you’re working in an amusement park, street time). But the one thing the ONE thing I don’t have to worry about is dental health

Have I set it up well enough?

Tuesday, April 27th. My first day off in 3 weeks. We’ve just opened all the major shows. I was enjoying a bowl of Champon. Kinda like the best won-ton soup you’ve ever had, made right in front of you to order. And while I’m enjoying this day off treat, this long awaited present to myself for a lot of work done, my tooth, the top furthest back on the right, goes sensitive. No huge deal. Like I said, I have bad teeth and this one has been occasionally prone to sensitivity.
However, it doesn’t go away after brushing with my favorite “sensitive teeth” toothpaste and actually gets worse, until Wednesday night I am up all night with a toothache. So there’s a problem. This tooth has a filling in it already, but maybe it’s something under the filling. Only one way to find out. I know, some of you are wincing already. But look at it from my perspective. Take a small sliver of bamboo, shove it under your fingernail and try to sleep tonight. Tomorrow morning you will be surprised how anxious you will be to do something, anything to deal with the problem. That was me on Thursday morning.
So I call the entertainment department and tell them I have a problem. They tell me I have 2 problems. One, my tooth. Two, Thursday begins Japan’s Golden Week. What is Golden Week? As best I can make out, it’s the week that, for no reason that anyone has yet explained to me, everyone in Japan stops working and goes someplace else. Why? because it’s a rule. In Japan, a rule is a rule. Japanese people feel about rules the way my old theater company (Rude Guerrilla) feels about violence and nudity in shows. If it’s not there, they will find a place to put it. If you put an official looking sign on the road to Huis Ten Bosch ( the amusement park I work at) that said “Give this caucasian 1000 yen”, you would be rich by noon.
So my problem is that all of the dentists are somewhere else. They’ve left, with their dentist wives and dentist children and they are staying in dentist ski resorts up north in Saporro. However, Taramoto-san, ( a wondrous woman who I am convinced actually owns the park and just hires men in suits to be a figurehead, sort of like a small, Japanese Wizard of Oz) tells me that she has found a dentist who either forgot it was Golden Week or actually lives in Saporro and had to come here for the holiday.
This woman I will refer to as Dentist #1. They put me in a taxi ( this dentist is a 20 minute ride away, in the city of Daito) with Interpreter #1, Yumiko. An additional concern of mine is that we get paid on the first of the month, so I have about 5000 yen ($50). I ask if they take Visa. Yumiko smiles and says that if there is a problem, she will take care of it. OK, fine. Now I am a foreigner who has the bad taste to get sick on Golden Week, who needs an interpreter because he can’t speak the language AND can’t pay his own bill.
So we get to the dentist. Yumiko pays the driver and we go in. The first thing you do in a Japanese dental office is take off your shoes and put on slippers that are approximately child’s size 6. Then you shuffle over to reception, where they give you a form to fill out. That is, Yumiko fills it out after asking me all of the pertinent questions, like “do you have any sexually transmitted diseases?”. And you wait.
We take x-rays, and she says it looks like there might be something under my filling. (OK, just as I thought). More about dentistry in Japan, they do most major work in stages. A root canal could mean 4 or 5 visits. Don’t ask me why. It’s a rule. So if we open up the filling and the work has to be done, I’m committing to going back to Dentist #1 in Daito as opposed to going to a dentist right next to Huis Ten Bosch, walking distance from where I’m living. Yumiko tells me they can get me into that dentist the next day (Friday) and that other cast members have used him. OK, I can read the writing on the wall. They’d like me to hold off and go to the other guy. Seeing that we’re (ultimately) spending my money, a $40 cab ride 5 or 6 times sounds a little steep.
So I say “Sure, we’ll wait until tomorrow. But in the meantime, could you give me something to stop this jackhammer from pounding into my cheekbone?” That wasn’t what I actually said, but I thought it. “Ah, so, so” says the dentist, and hands me 6 pills. She tells me that she’s not sure, given my size, that these will work as well for me as for a Japanese person. She doesn’t say anything else on the subject, like what MIGHT help or anything, but she does express her concern.
Her concerns are nothing if not well founded. One sleepless night later, it’s Friday. My appointment is at 5pm, after which the dentist (let’s call him dentist #2) will be boarding a late train out to Saporro. Earlier in the afternoon, a fellow cast member hands me some ibuprofen and says “sometimes they don’t use anesthetic”.

More about ibuprofen later.

I expressed my concern about paying for dentist #2 to Interpreter #1 (Yumiko) and she assured me it would be taken care of. I would be paid on Saturday, but paying for dentist #1 had almost depleted me. But as I’m being driven to dentist #2 (a 2 minute drive), by interpreter #2 (Jun), I feel compelled to ask whether the money thing has been dealt with. Jun looks at me in surprise and says “well, maybe they’ll let you pay later” My stature is now reduced to where I have to stand on tip toe just to each the doorknob.
New dentist, new interpreter, same size 6 child’s slippers, same x-rays, same questionnaire (“No thank you Jun. No sexually transmitted diseases, thanks for asking”) So he gives me a shot (Thank the dear Lord!), takes the filling out and discovers there is a need to “scrape the living pulp out”. ( Japanese for root canal) but this will, of course, be done in stages. He’ll do the cleaning out and put a temporary cap over medicine that he puts in the hole in my tooth. I ask, “like an antibiotic?”. By the time that goes through Jun to the dentist and back, the answer is “Yes, it will be medicine.”
Folks, you have to trust something. This man represented an honorable profession and an ancient culture. If he says that it’s medicine and it’s what I need, who am I to doubt him, shaming him, his family and the entire Japanese culture with my western scrutiny. Of course it’s what I need. I say “OK, it sounds good to me”, and we go through the procedure. As I said, it was basically painless and I was just happy to have the hard part out of the way. So as I was getting out of the chair I ask what he can give me for the pain I will probably have in the next day or two ( I’ve done this sort of “root canal”thing before) He says “Oh no, you may have a little pain tomorrow but none after that and what you’ve been taking should be fine.” After we get through the process of telling me that I can pay the next time I come in (Sat. May 8) Jun picks me up in the palm of her hand and carries me to the car. Me and my ibuprofen.

If you don’t care for profanity, skip this paragraph.

Friends, ibuprofen is a pussy.
The pain I had in my mouth for the next two days took ibuprofen’s lunch money, kicked it’s ass and sent it home crying to it’s ibuprofen mother. Sleep? Oh no, there was no sleep, there was laying in my bed and watching the clock turn. But the whole time, I had faith. “ Bob, it’s a root canal.What he said notwithstanding, root canals hurt for several days. Leave it go, he’s safely in Saporro now, enjoying Golden Week. See if anyone at work has something that can help. What I got from one other performer was “you’re not exceeding the recommended dosage of ibuprofen, are you?” I resisted the urge to drop him right there.
I love our show director, Derrick. Derrick had Tylenol and Tylenol PM and lent me some. I don’t care what he does for the rest of his life, I will always love him. Sunday night I was able to get some sleep. But when I woke up Monday I felt kind of odd. So I looked in the mirror and what did I see? Well, the right side of my face looked like, well, my face. Cheekbone, dimple, if that’s what you call that crease coming down from my nose. You know, my face.
But the left side? Well, those of you who knew me in my large (260lbs +) days would have recognized the one on the left. Cheekbone? nope. Crease? uncreased. Dimple? undimpled. All I needed was a couple more chins and it would have been Bob Tully circa 1985. (minus the hair of course).
Pain is one thing. But looking like John Merrick (The Elephant Man. Sorry, I just can’t flaunting some of that book-larnin) just won’t do at an amusement park. I go to work, walk into Taramoto-san’s office and simply look at her. She looks back at me, not comprehending for a moment. Then her eyes get very wide and she goes for an interpreter. An hour later, they tell me they have found a dentist in Sasebo ( another nearby city) who was evidently thrown out of Saporro for being drunk & disorderly and I would be seeing him on Tuesday . That would be today, my “off-day”.
More Tylenol / Tylenol PM from Derrick (may everything he touch turn to gold) and off to bed. After work, of course. Lots of funny looks, from co-workers and visitors alike.
Today dawned bright and early. I got a phone call at 9:30 telling me to take the 10:17 train to Sasebo and meet the interpreter, Taiko ( Yes, that’s interpreter #3 on your scorecard) and go to the dentist (all together now, dentist #3). Then I got a call at 9:35 telling me a cab would pick me up at the hotel. After informing caller #2 of caller #1, caller #2 called me back at 9:50 and said yes, I should take the train, which I now had to run to catch. Caught it, got there , met interpreter #3, found the clinic, put on the child’s size 6 slippers, got some new x-rays ( I was now beginning to glow from the constant exposure to radiation. I’m thinking of buying a lead-lined shirt for future visits) answered the questionnaire ( Oh God how I wanted to tell Taiko about a long bout in a Thailand brothel that resulted in myriad sexually transmitted diseases)
Then the dentist took off the temporary cap with a drill and cut my gum open to swab out the infection around the tooth. How do I know he did this?
BECAUSE HE DIDN’T USE ANY f@*%ing NOVACAINE, THAT’S WHY!!
Yes, yes I saw him coming towards me with the drill and said “umm, what’s he doing?” Interpreter #3 said “ He’s going to take the temporary cap off to look at your tooth”.
I expressed my concern about putting a drill inside my fully sensitive mouth and the look I got from him was half “it’ll be alright” and half “ what a pussy”. He said that if I feel any major pain I should raise my right hand. Uh, what? If I need to use the restroom I’ll raise my right hand. If I experience major pain, I’m going to raise my left hand, forcefully, into the area of your groin, how about that? Then we will both feel the urgency of the situation. How does the sound?
That’s what I wanted to say. What I actually said was “Oh, OK”, and bit down on my self control for several minutes. No, it wasn’t horrible, but feeling someone cut into your gum was no Golden Week in Saporro either. The we were done, he told me that an infection had set into my gum from the cavity , but it could be dealt with antibiotics.
Antibiotics.
Hmm.
What a novel concept.
Since I had been paid on Saturday, I could pay him myself, saving myself that jab to my self esteem.

So, it’s Tuesday night here in Japan. I sit, typing, doing laundry and listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn. I sit with my swollen face (not good, but it’s not awful) We’ll see what tomorrow brings and what the bosses say. My next appointment is Sat., May 8 with dentist #2 ( I know, I know, but you have to have faith, and at least he used novocaine.)
I don’t know why I felt compelled to write this rambling missive. Maybe a week of sleepless nights and feeling like I have more chemicals in me than Northern Iraq after Saddam got done with them. Maybe I miss writing . Maybe I miss home. But if you know me you know I’d rather be here , going through all this, than be safe , and bored, at home.
Congratulations, you made it through the whole thing. I’ll write part two after I’ve lived it.
Take care, and brush after every meal.
Bob

P.S. There was a “part 2”, but it wasn’t as funny and this has been long enough.

Talk soon, Bob

 

Bob

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