Big Dental Updates
Today marked my 4th appointment at the Mesa Dental School with my student dentist, Rakhee. Today we discussed a variety of plans for my long term care based on all the X-rays, consultations and numerous tests during my screening. When I first filled out my paperwork during my awkward first appointment I wrote that I thought I could pay 300-800 dollars a month towards whatever my options were. honestly, I had no idea. Part of my fear of never dealing with this long ago was because where I grew up, and WHEN I grew up, the only stories ever really of going to the dentist were of people getting all their teeth out, regardless of condition and getting dentures, which I have never wanted, even if it was "better." Listening to the conversations that first day, I felt like what was being discussed was trying to save the mostly complete teeth I had and get me upper and lower partial dentures, for around 5 grand I think. While I was excited to have that first appointment go so well, meet Rakhee and have hope for the first time in years, I still hoped that something else could be done. I have dealt with so much for so long, I simply do not wish to deal with dentures for the rest of my life.
In last week's appointment trying to get a better idea of what was on the table for me, I asked hypothetically about implants, at least for my 3 definite front teeth that needed replacing, if that was even an option. As it turns out, I am an ideal candidate for implants because I am young and have virtually no bone loss, but they do cost like $2,000 per tooth. Upon modifying my plan to accommodate 4 front implants and rear upper and lower partials, this brought my cost to about $13,000.
Although for someone who's never really had more than like $1,500 at one time in his life, this number was a little intimidating, since last week a few awesome things have happened, and I put a lot of thought into where I'm at as far as my commitment to this transformation, my comfort and trust in Rakhee and the school, and the nature of support and creative fundraising ideas on the table so far, and frankly, I think 13 grand sounds pretty easy. It is a little stupefying to me that I can even utter a sentence such as that, but given how much has changed so quickly in the past few months with my overall body image, income, support and devotion to this journey, today out of curiosity again, I asked in a "what the fuck, what if I want the OTHER showcase in this showcase showdown...what am i looking at?" kind of way, "What if I want the whole kit&caboodle? What if I won the lottery and came here, what would the ideal plan for me be, and how much would it cost?"
As it turns out, if I were to do it through the school, getting all my unhealthy teeth extracted, fixing the ones I still have, and getting all the empty spaces filled with implants, 13 to be exact, (I wouldn't get wisdom teeth back) it would cost...
I kinda knew that before going in, but...even still, right now, with how far I've come and how I feel...I honestly believe that that is obtainable. I may get a few other opinions, and I know as everyone loves to keep telling me, that everything's cheaper in Mexico, but...
Idunno, I think for how 110% comfortable, positive and wonderful my experience with Rakhee, the school, and all the other students has been thus far, even though that might seem like an insane amount of money to most everyone, I still feel it is worth it to me to continue on with this adventure I have just begun with my excited and passionate dental adventure partner, to learn and grow from each other over the next several months, and no doubt profoundly have mutual life-changing impacts.
I should however mention, that regardless of what plan I choose, the first steps for several visits are still the same: have all my unhealthy teeth out, heal, fix the teeth I have, for about $3,500 total. What I choose from there on will no doubt rely at least partially on how I feel from enduring all of that, but I believe, as of this day, and all I know, that at a minimum, I am going to pursue the $13,000 plan. Upon mentioning the possibility of getting a full mouth of implants, a different type of Xray was needed, though I don't fully understand what for. Given the huge cost, unless I get even luckier than I have been, the logistics of how I can get implants may affect my ability to get all the rear ones, from what I understand. I am waiting on Rakhee's consultation tomorrow morning to see if they are a possibility as well so her superiors can sign off on my contract and approve that as a course of action the school can undertake.
But the bottom line is...I am happy with how much progress has been made in so little time, how much I know about myself and my health and how I can fix it that I never did, how much support and kindness and compassion I have received from friends and peers all over the country, and how eternally grateful I am for Rakhee, who after only about 12 hours of appointments without even really modifying anything in my mouth much has helped me to already heal mentally more than I would have ever thought possible from anyone. I have spent so much of my life feeling "incomplete," like I had lost part of me, over and over again, as I continued to lose more and more. Inside, I always felt morbid and this one decaying part of me each day as I looked in the mirror made me feel years older than I actually was, like I had lost something I could never hope to get back. Something was missing.
After my 3rd appointment when I had the gross debridement which removed all the tarter from my teeth, I got to see my actual teeth for the first time probably in 20 years, and though I certainly still felt far from "beautiful," it was strange to have someone else introduce me to a part of my true real self I had never quite seen in that way. I never even really knew what tarter was, let alone imagined what my teeth would look like if cleaned--I never even thought they were "good enough" TO clean! In the words of Steven King, "You cant" after all, "polish a turd." My mouth has felt like the grossest part of me for years longer than I can remember. Thinking about going to the dentist and opening my mouth to a stranger before a few weeks ago I always thought of as so uncomfortably invasive as being strip-searched by airport security and being asked to spread your ass open. Yet, that day, leaving the school, I showed my freshly cleaned teeth to a near stranger in many ways, my friend Kristen who had given me a ride, after only ever showing them to one partner my whole life otherwise. I looked in the mirror later that night up close, closed my mouth, and smiled, and cried that for the first time in probably 2 decades, I looked at myself and thought not of the pain and what was "missing" from me, but at the freshly-cleaned teeth that I still had, despite all their imperfections, and felt happy that I still had those. Rakhee from day one stressed the importance of helping me to keep as many teeth as possible, and made me feel like instead of a giant rotting hole in my existence that could never be filled, that my mouth actually contained many bricks of a strong foundation upon which a whole new smile could be built, a whole new me could be born.That is no doubt, one of the single greatest feelings, greatest gifts, that anyone has ever given me in my entire life, and a profound shift in my self-image and mental healing process. I don't think she quite can comprehend just yet HOW MUCH I thank her for this, however I can, in many small ways. Though she tells me "You don't have to do that every time," it brings me great joy to bring her cookies, pictures, bits and pieces of my writing and thoughts, anything. Because, no matter how much it might cost me, the gift that she giving me, is sincerely priceless.
So this is where I'm at right now as far as my appointments go. The other things I haven't told you yet are as follows:
~I got hired again full time at Tumbleweed, this time as a youth care worked as of this past Monday. I am still cooking and baking part time at Conspire as much as I can, and this should allow me to dedicate nearly double the amount of money I originally envisioned.
~I moved out of Robyn's and am now staying in a small studio apartment at "The Complex" where I also have access to a screenprinting shop right outside my door to use for tshirts, posters, etc.
~My friend Rocky in San Fran reserved March 30th to book a benefit show for me at the bar he works at, El Rio in the Mission District.
~Andrew jackson Jihad have offered to let me create a limited edition tshirt for fundraising purposes to sell on their website.
~Another friend has offered to let me share their paypal account for the next several months to make it easier for people from afar to securely send donations to this cause.
~With this in mind, my friend Lauren has offered to help create a video short about my story to try to get publicity in the local media and cross my fingers and maybe just happen to find some really awesome random humans out there willing to donate money or services or dentistry if we could happen to get the clip picked up by channel 10 or AZ Republic or something. What she had in mind was a narration by many local downtown friends who know me telling my story and who I am in the community over clips of me working on bikes, making soup at Conspire, working at Tumbleweed, screenprinting, etc, with the paypal info at the end and perhaps an advertisement of an upcoming benefit show or fundraiser. Please let me know if you would like to participate in something like that, I may be talking to you soon. Seems like a longshot, but would still be great to have for possibly viral potential on a local level for numerous fundraisers over the coming months.
A few other ideas I see as things I'd like to work towards are:
A concert with local bands, perhaps at Trunkspace. Bake sales whenever possible, custom cookie orders or tshirt printing and bike repair. A big food night, probably with me and Mario cooking, or maybe we could get Dominic involved and do some sort of silly "Iron Chef" sorta thing. A DJ dance party sort of event with drinks and food. Maybe a silent art auction as well. A compilation CD? Any other ideas?
The next several appointments of extractions and stuff I feel I will be able to cover myself over the next few months, but once I start to get to the implant portion, regardless of wherever I went, the price will jump tremendously, and I am hoping that in that time I can save another huge chunk with fund-raising and benefits and cookie sales so i won't lose my momentum and can still get started, as installing the screws into the bone and waiting the 4-6 weeks for me to heal for 4 teeth is as expensive in itself as everything else up to that point. No matter what, I am in for several months of appointments, pain, healing and modifications to my diet and no doubt energy levels and activities, perhaps even a year or more to fully complete the process, depending on what I choose. But I feel committed, and supported, and that anything is possible. I have always prided myself on my clever, creative mind and ability to organize things, and for once, I am my own greatest art project. Every single aspect of my life, each cell in my body, is devoted toward this healing process, and momentum only continues to grow, and it is SO EXCITING to me that you will probably all get tired of hearing about it, but hopefully before that day is reached, I will be smiling, and you will just pause and look at me and let out a sigh, saying "Oh, Paul....I remember when you used to be sooo different." And you will forgive me, and be grateful, that you could truly help to change someone's life. Thank you all, so very much, for listening, and far all that you have done so far, for all that you will do.