In the late 1980s, Sunday was the legally appointed day of rest for domestics in Ecuador. And though in the United States I'd been responsible 7-days a week for my family's meals, while living in Guayaquil, Ecuador we went local and went out every Sunday for a full lunch. When in Rome.
So returning late one Sunday afternoon, we were completely taken aback to find the couple who worked for us as domestics sitting outside our locked home. They were waiting for my darling husband, a.k.a. El Señor, who like the Hindu god Ganesha, was endowed with the power to remove obstacles. Or so Ecuadorians often seemed to believe.
Miguel's problem with his teeth had begun Sunday morning. Going to see the local jack-of-all-trades-doctor/dentist in their hometown of Daule, Miguel sat in the middle of a field of corn as bees buzzed about his head and the dentist removed two of Miguel's wisdom teeth without anesthesia. The bleeding hole in his jaw began bleeding profusely, leaving him hours later pale and listless.
Where do you find emergency dental services in a country without decent emergency services? With bleeding to death a very real possibility, El Señor Gary piled Miguel, his wife and young son into the company vehicle in search of a pharmacy that was "en turno", or open in turn. The only way to find an open pharmacy was to drive about until a lighted green-cross sign was found outside a pharmacy.
The pharmacy recommended a low-cost dental clinic run by local university dental students on Sundays. At the clinic, the dentist-wanna-bees recommended the bleeding hole should be sutured, but being very low-cost they didn't have any way to do this.
Did we have a round needle, the trainee dentist asked El Señor?
In those pre-cell phone days, El Señor found a landline phone to call to ask, "Do you have a round needle?"
"Like an upholstery needle?" I sputtered, remembering those crazy C-shaped needles that once occupied space in my sewing kit. Not any more.
Back to the pharmacy dashed El Señor in search of a suture needle. Finding it didn't have these either, El Señor returned to the dental clinic. Needs must, the dental students did what one does in the not-well-stocked 3rd world, they created a suture needle out of a straight needle. Miguel was sutured, prescribed antibiotics and sent home with El Señor.
My first visit to the Ecuadorian dentist wasn't encouraging. Sitting on a plastic chair in the empty waiting room, I gaped at the rusting, pedal operated drill sitting next to me. Was this dentist a bit more upscale version of the Daule dentist?
Before I could think what to do, the dentist invited me into his office with our 6-year-old son. At least I think it was the dentist, given the man was decked out in what became normal dental gear with dentists abroad in those early HIV days, facial mask, plastic coverings etc. Looked more like an astronaut.
Unsure but in the office, I explained our child's adult teeth were popping out behind his baby teeth, that seemed to be permanently rooted in place. It was crowded and uncomfortable for the poor kid.
After a quick glance the dentist proclaimed, "Joshua will have to have all of his baby teeth yanked out. Then the adult teeth will just slide into place." Aghast, I yanked my young son out of the dental office as fast as I could, saying I'd think about that.
Voodoo dentistry? Sounded absolutely nuts to me, but I knew just who to ask. Arriving home, I immediately called very long distance to our longtime dentist in Norwalk, Connecticut. He was flattered, he didn't often get consulting calls from Ecuador; and I was relieved when he confirmed that yes, this was standard practice. Even in Connecticut.
In a flashback I remembered having some teeth removed from my mouth as a child. Maybe it ran in families, I considered as I called the new dentist's office to schedule another appointment. And yes, he turned out to be a very good dentist who'd had training in the USA.