Last May 20, I was watching TV and eating candy, “Good and Plenty” to be exact. I was too lazy to put in my partial dentures.
While eating, I felt a crack on my left upper front tooth as I bit down on a piece. At first I went into denial, but soon the pain told me that I had broken one of my few remaining teeth. I called my dentist the next day and went in the following afternoon.
He took an x-ray and told me the bad news; the tooth was fractured laterally above the gum line. If he attempted to extract it, it would most likely break off at the root and require surgery. My only option was to make an appointment with the only dental surgeon on island.
The soonest appointment I could get was June 19, a month away. Eating was a task. The slightest pressure on the affected tooth would make me hit the ceiling, so I had to insert my partial dentures carefully and slowly chew around my mouth, making sure I did not put any pressure on the fractured tooth.
Several weeks had passed and my discomfort was getting worse. Monday evening I received an email from my dentist saying I should go to Tropic Care at Kapaa Middle School and see if the military dentists could help me. I got there yesterday morning, June 13 at 7:30 a.m., and waited in line.
Reveille sounded at 7:45 a.m. and the line started to move. I saw two women, a major and sergeant, consoling a young girl cradling a six-week-old kitten in a blanket. I saw families with small children, a young man in a wheelchair, seniors: singles and couples, homeless people and assorted military personnel from all branches.
When I got to the head of the admission line I was greeted by a major. From the insignia on his uniform, I saw that he was a chaplain. He said he was from South Carolina and had lived there for the last 10 years.
I went into register. I filled out a few papers and gave the reason for my visit, tooth extraction. My height, weight and vital signs were taken by several technicians and I proceeded into the last room.
A full Navy commander listened to my heart and breathing and asked a few more health related questions. He signed off my paperwork. I told him that I had never met a full Navy commander before. We shook hands and he directed me to the dental building.
There were at least 20 people in front of me seated at the dental building. The first day the clinic was open was Monday, which was the King Kamehameha holiday and it was very crowded that first day. There was a backlog from the first day and I assumed my place in line.
A very tall muscular Marine with a record book wrote down everyone’s name and line order to keep things running efficiently. As we waited, a dietitian who was a sergeant handed out copies of the new food pyramid with dietary information in order to maintain good health. She talked to all of us about having a diverse diet as explained on the sheets handed out and questioned us where we purchased our food and asked us about our diets.
One poor young man said that he was homeless and could only afford to eat fast food, such as McDonald’s. He liked the McNuggets. The sergeant also liked the McNuggets but encouraged him to try buying their salads.
When she came to me I told her that I was a comparison shopper and you had to look at the different stores to get the best buys on food items and that the prices varied week to week. She asked about local produce and we told her about the local farmer’s markets and that many neighbors grew bananas. I added that it was now mango season and the trees were starting to drop their mangoes.
She said she had just purchased a house in New Jersey about 40 miles from Atlantic City and was anxious to plant a vegetable garden as soon as she returned home from this deployment.
I waited for about six hours and finally was called into the dental room. There were at least eight dental chairs in there all occupied. I handed the clerk my paperwork and was greeted by a Navy dentist who directed me into the seat.
I told him that I needed a tooth extraction, explained the fracture and told him I had been waiting over three weeks to see the only dental surgeon on this island. He sent me with a technician in the back and x-rays were taken. The Navy dentist finally got a good picture of the fracture and explained to me that the tooth may break off at the gum line, leaving the root embedded. It took special tools to do that operation and he did not have them.
I went back and sat in the dental chair. He walked away and was back within a minute. He told me another dentist thought he could do it and asked me if he could try. Of course, I said yes.
The other dentist came over. He had on an Army uniform with a yellow plastic gown over it. He introduced himself and said he could do it and the Navy dentist, Dr. Quinn, would assist him in the operation.
Dr. Quinn put a swab in my mouth by the injection site to deaden the pain. He gave me three shots over a short period of time to numb me and remarked that I did not even flinch. That swab had done the trick. I did not even feel the injections.
The Army dental surgeon then came over and opened my mouth. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that three or four dentists had stopped their work and were surrounding me, watching the operation. Within two minutes it was over.
“We got it all out,” the Army surgeon said.
I gave both officers a gentle pat on the back with my hands. The dental technician asked me if I wanted the tooth and I said yes.
“Hold on and I will clean it for you” he said.
I heard Dr. Quinn ask the Army surgeon why he did one thing first, they were discussing the operation. He explained why, but I did not understand it. I was so happy to get that tooth out.
Dr. Quinn put one cotton swab in my mouth and told me to bite down and replaced it with a fresh one a few minutes later. He wrote me two prescriptions, told me to follow the post operation instructions that I had signed and said to eat ice cream that night, because it would aid in healing.
I was then directed to the pharmacy, where my prescriptions were quickly filled. They gave me an antibiotic to be taken for a week and extra strength Motrin for the pain. I shook the hand of the pharmacist and thanked her, mumbling through the cotton packing being held firmly in my mouth.
The final stop was turning in my paperwork to the last group of military personnel to be officially logged out. Last night, I had my first pain free dinner, ice cream and this morning my first pain free breakfast, oatmeal and fruit.
I am a 68-year-old man and as the old saying goes, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” That is utter nonsense. I was witness to a heterogeneous group of individuals that had morphed into a homogeneous unit with the one purpose of helping humanity. This is the true spirit of our nation. Our diversity is our strength.
All of you mentioned in this letter know who you are and have my deepest gratitude. God bless all of you and if you are not religious, my sincerest appreciation for your selfless humanism.
Chester Mazurowski is a resident of Kapaa.