It All Started with Sunscreen

Gaby is my crazy Brazilian friend. (If you do not have one of these in your life, it is second only to having a gay best friend.) We met in Fiji and it is somewhat of a miracle that we are such good friends as our encounter started with her lecturing me about not wearing sunscreen. Because of my extremely pale complexion I am often asked if I am from Canada, Alaska, Seattle, or any other convenient place where there is little sunshine. Anytime we go somewhere that even has a hint of sunshine, people become extremely concerned about my super-whiteness and over the years countless well-meaning people have advised me about the importance of sunscreen. I know all you melanin-enhanced folks out there are just trying to help, but please trust me that I wear copious amounts of the stuff. How do you think I stay this pale? Truthfully, I only come in two skin tones – burnt and pale. I have suffered the consequence of going out without sunscreen enough times to now be deeply committed to my sunscreen regimen. I use obscene amounts of sunscreen, and can go through an entire can in a single poolside outing. Given my own obsessiveness in this matter, it gets to be tiresome when the umpteenth person in a row says something like, “Oh my God, I hope you are wearing sunscreen.” And adding a charming Brazilian accent does not actually make it any more charming.

So, poolside in Fiji, Gaby says to me in a charming Brazilian accent, “Oh my God, I hope you are wearing sunscreen.” I sigh and reply that indeed I am wearing sunscreen. Fast forward to the next day and I remain my pasty self and Gaby has suffered such severe sunburn that they have to call the resort medicine man in to treat her. She was not actually wearing sunscreen. I did not realize it then, but this was the start of a beautiful friendship. Aside from that encounter we did not interact much in Fiji, but our two traveling groups somehow merged into one and we left the trip exchanging everyone’s email addresses.

Gaby sent out a few messages and I believe even sent me a Christmas card that first year. She sent out a broadcast invite for people to come to her home in Carmel for a gourmet dinner she was preparing. I knew she was a chef, but little did she know that I needed little to no excuse to jump on a plane and fly to CA for a weekend full of fine dining. We replied with an enthusiastic yes to the invite and we were even welcomed to stay with her and her husband, Carlos, although somehow we did not have any more contact until we showed up at their doorstep the day of the dinner. I would come to learn that this is often how things work with Gaby. The details sort themselves out and it’s often best just to plunge ahead into whatever is in front of you.

From there, we became the kind of friends who spend long hours in deep and meaningful conversation when we are together, and often otherwise go months without talking. When we see each other, the conversation picks right back up where it left off, and here we are still talking and laughing together 10 years later.

We flew down for a visit this weekend with no agenda other than to see a little sunshine and enjoy their company. Most of the weekend was very relaxing with a bike ride along Monterey Bay, watching movies, and generally catching up. We did decide to go to a local restaurant, 1833, for drinks and appetizers.

On the way home, we drove past an Asian massage parlor that was advertised as open until 11pm. This was not in a shady section of town, in fact it was just a few blocks from where we stopped to get some frozen yogurt… Gaby thought this was fascinating and decided that we needed to determine whether this was one of those establishments that offers more ‘gentleman’s services’ than it does massage. So, we drive around the block and pulled up in front of the place in their black Mercedes. (If you are going to go to a massage parlor of dubious reputation, you might as well arrive in style.) Gaby orders Brian to go inside, check it out, and report back. He hesitates and decides he is not so sure of this mission, so Carlos agrees to go with him and off they go. A few minutes later they re-appear, hop back in the car and we make a speedy exit. “So..?” Gaby asks. Brian and Carlos confirm that indeed they could have gotten far more than the standard issue massage and in fact the lady behind the door (no reception desk in the waiting area, just a door with a little window that the ‘receptionist’ looks out through) told them to come back in an hour, well after closing, and they would be ‘taken care of.’ Gaby wants to know how much it costs for these extra services, but in their haste the boys forgot to ask. Gaby is indignant that they went all they way into this place and failed to find out the most important piece of information that people were sure to ask when she shared this news – the price.

I would love to say this is an unusual event for a trip to see Gaby, but really, it is pretty much par for the course. Things go along quietly and suddenly at 11pm on a Saturday night, it is imperative that we learn whether and how much the nefarious local massage parlor charges. (Once, I made the mistake of telling Gaby that it’s bad luck to give a knife as a gift without getting a penny in exchange so we had to venture out to a friend’s house at midnight to get said penny before they were on a flight early the next day.)

Sunscreen comments aside, how can you not love a person who drags you to massage parlors in the middle of the night just to find out if they are actually the other kind of parlor?  The answer is you can’t, and really, why would you want to..?


More Agony, Same Teeth

Or, rather, same tooth – the infamous #27. Don’t know what number has been assigned to your teeth?  Neither did I until I got to spend so much quality time talking about this particular tooth with various dental professionals. A lot has happened since The Agony of the Teeth and if you go back an re-read the post there is a little clue that all was not well in my final paragraph about the pain being worse after the root canal than it was before. I’m happy to report that the only real agony I’m experiencing these days is to my pocketbook and even that is more a nuisance than actual suffering. In fact, at this point this post feels a little more like it should be called, “middle class white woman whines about toothache,” but for inquiring minds here is the story…

After returning from Hawaii in March, I felt better, but not what you would call great. I was still living on ibuprofen and a few weeks after the procedure when it didn’t seem like I was improving, I called the dentist but they reported that sometimes it can take a long time to fully recover. It was a rough few weeks at work, but eventually the pain faded into the background and I moved on with my life. It was still kind of awkward to sleep on that side of my face, but I just adjusted the way I held the pillow and kind of figured that would be the new normal. Fast forward to June and I did the Seattle Rock N Roll Half-Marathon with my friend Sandy Hickey. Sandy is a photo-taking maniac and she took roughly 1 million pictures of the two of us at every stage of the race. As I was looking over them at the time I noticed that the same side of my mouth as the root canal was crooked in every picture (you can see two of the pictures in my half-marathon recap). I emailed the photos to the dentist and asked if that was something I should be worry about, and he suggested I come to see him, oh, say, right away. He took x-rays and I knew immediately that all was not right. There was a very brief, almost imperceptible, pause and for that moment all the sound (and oxygen) were sucked out of the room. I like to call it the “oh shit pause” which is the brief moment when the medical professional takes a quick breath and prepares to face the patient. When he came back around to my side of the chair, I already knew bad news was coming. That bad news was that there was ‘something’ there, a lesion (dentist-speak for they have no idea what the hell it is) and he referred me to an oral surgeon.

Off to the surgeon I go where they take another x-ray. The technician announces that he’s sure I’ll need a CT scan, then proceeds to take my blood pressure where he remarks that it is a little high. Maybe in his universe CT scans are no big deal, but in my world, that is something scary that only happens on TV shows like House (and if you watch that show you know bad stuff always happens in the CT and MRI machines). I meet the surgeon and he shows me the “thing” on the x-ray and says (surprise, surprise) that I need a CT scan. Another referral, this time to radiology. The upshot is that it could be a variety of things, but regardless it has to come out, and good ‘ol #27 is at risk for having to be removed altogether, but we’re all optimistic so we’ll leave it (for now).  On August 26, I had minor surgery and had what turned out to be a garden variety cyst removed. Ironically, the recovery from the surgery was much easier than the root canal. I did not need anything other than ibuprofen for the pain, and even that was minimal. Eating was a challenge with the stitches, but aside from one ill-fated attempt to eat a grape, I managed quite well on chocolate shakes and mashed potatoes. Today, I am pain free. My jaw is still a little stiff and I do still use my modified pillow sleeping position, but there is a lot of work going on in there as the hole left behind heals itself  and it will take a few months for everything to go completely back to normal. My smile is much improved if not exactly symmetrical just yet. The surgeon told me to come back and see him in 6 months (March 2012) and if all goes well, it will be a boring visit and we can officially stop obsessing over #27.

I recently went back to my regular dentist for my 6-month check (amazing to think this whole  process has been going on for that long) and of course I had to cap it all off with a couple of cavities, so I got to see him two days in a row.  The dentist remarked I must really love him since I come to see him so much and I told him, nothing personal, but I didn’t want to see him again until next year thank-you-very-much.

In my typical style, I have been anxious to share my woes with anyone and everyone, but in what must be a cosmic lesson of some sort, every time I have started to talk about it I discover that the person I’m with has suffered injuries or surgeries far more extensive or serious than me. In what has to be one of my most classic foot-in mouth blunders, I was blathering on to my hair dresser about how I had maxed out my dental insurance and was having to pay the rest out of pocket. I caught myself and commented that she must not even have dental insurance and she told me, in fact, she has no health insurance at all. I won’t rant about healthcare in America. Okay, maybe just a teeny rant – I don’t have all (any of) the answers to how to manage healthcare, but there is something that somehow seems fundamentally wrong with the notion that on top of having to cope with whatever medical ailment you have, the uninsured have to also cope with how they will pay for their care, or if they can actually afford to get any.