Getting off of the plane in Shannon I saw the look of pity in the crews eyes. By the time I’d walked through to the US immigration holding area I could feel the tears burning in my eyes and I pressed the cold compress – a simple plastic bag with ice in it because there was nothing else available – to my right cheek.
I pulled out my mobile and fumbled to type in a number. It was near 1am in Australia but I didn’t know what to do.
“Mum?” I spoke choking on my words, “I don’t think I can fly to New York it hurts too much.”
For a week, my wisdom tooth had been hurting. I decided against visiting a specialist in one dental clinic (Cosmetic Dentistry | Dentist in Anchorage, AK | Alaska Dental Associates) providing full range of services like orthodontic treatment for kids and so on – I mean, have you seen the state of their teeth? – and instead opted to wait, despite my friends protest as it begun disrupting my sleep and I was popping Neurofen as frequently as allowed.
Now, after just an hour flight from London to Shannon I was standing facing the corner of the room hoping that the other passengers wouldn’t see that I was in tears.
I still had second 5-hour flight til I would be in New York .
From the time we’d begun to ascend my tooth began to play up. I’d taken painkillers; I tried putting a cold water bottle next to my face but the pain was getting worse until I was clenching my hands into fists, eyes shut and chanting “ow, ow, ow” under my breath.
I took a photo whilst onboard – doing what I called was ‘the smile test’ – and the right side of my face had swollen to look like I had a small golf sticking out of my cheek. I had to bite my lip and try not to cry when I saw how bad it was. Talking to my Mum I don’t think she understood just how bad it was and she calmly suggested that I just keep going and then visit a Doctor in New York.
In some ways she was right. I’d pre-paid for accommodation in New York, knew the city well, there would be a myriad of doctors and dentists and even friends. In Shannon I’d be alone with only Irish hospitality to guide me.
As the last one to reboard the plane, after the airport team apologised for not having an ice pack and gave me another plastic bag filled with ice, I could see the surprised expression in the crews face. They thought I wouldn’t get onboard after their parting words as I disembarked earlier were, “flying only makes toothache worse.”
Doubling my intake of Neurofen I managed to fall into something of a sleep as I heard the boy sitting next to me turn to his Mum and ask in French what was wrong with the girl with the puffy face.
Landing in New York I could only think of hiding in my hotel room. There was no immigration – having cleared US customs in Shannon – so I called an Uber and headed straight to the hotel and wishing it was winter and I could pull a scarf up to cover my throbbing face.
Staring out the window of the Hilton Times Square I marvelled in the view before catching sight of myself in the reflection. I felt like Quasimodo, my face distorted and swollen from the pain. I snapped another photo and emailed it to my parents.
Mum told me on the phone later that Dad was in the room when she opened the photo and he freaked out thinking I had Bells’ Palsy, a facial paralyse caused by a mini-stroke which he’d suffered only a few years prior.
I knew New York but didn’t know the health care system. My head ached from overtiredness, the right side of my face burned, and body felt heavy, so instead of researching I just called the Doctors number listed in the hotel information booklet.
The Doctor was a brisk but methodical gentleman who clearly didn’t want to be working that evening. Taking one look inside my mouth and said, “you have a tooth infection”, filled in some prescriptions and then charged me $650 for less than 10 minutes worth of work.
What had happened was that as my new wisdom tooth broke through my gum a piece of food had been trapped under the gum flap and irritated the space. Due to the irritation the tooth pain began, then the tooth pain lead to me not being able to shut my jaw and so instead I bit on the side of my cheek, which ended up also getting infected. A small problem then exacerbated by the pressurisation of the cabin.
A pharmacy run and $150 later I was in bed and asleep, the first time I’d slept well in days, the vicodin and antibiotics allowing me to slip into a dreamless sleep.
Friends are the Greatest Cure
I’d planned to catch up with one of my closest friends, Teresa, the next day. She was meant to be staying with me that night for an evening of good food, movies and relaxation. As the hours crept closer to her arrival I was nervous she might not want to hang out with me, the Quasimodo of the 37th floor.
Having not left the room I’d ordered room service and was going to put the tray outside when Teresa arrived. Without skipping a beat, despite my face barely receding overnight, she acted like nothing was wrong even though I was finding it difficult to talk for more than a sentence.
Time flies when you’re in good company. Teresa filled in the gaps when I couldn’t talk, we watched crappy daytime TV, and ventured out for Shake Shack – I couldn’t miss the opportunity to have one of their soft, moist burgers even if it took me double the time it took Teresa to chow down on my food.
The doctor I saw said I wasn’t to fly to Toronto the following day as planned but with trains full I had no choice but to cancel and stay an extra night in NYC. With no immediate plans, Teresa agreed to hotel hop with me down to Tribeca and the newly opened Conrad New York for a day that turned out to be full of Native American festivals, relaxing by the Hudson River in the sun with a taco, massages, and Thai curry.
I’m incredibly thankful that Teresa came to hang out with me, even when I was unable to speak more than a few lines at a time.
Three-weeks after returning home I’m feeling mostly better. I had to visit a Doctor in Vancouver after the 5 hour flight from Toronto because there were still excruciating pain and my medication had been finished, unable to fill my American prescription in Canada. Even today there is still some puffiness but the infection is almost gone.
I’m really disappointed with myself for letting the issue get so bad that it meant I had to cancel or change most of my plans on the way home, where I had stops in New York, Toronto and Vancouver, to instead sit in coffee stores or sleep because I felt exhausted doing little things.
I’m also thankful that I moved over to a good travel insurance policy earlier in the year so that I won’t be left out of pocket for over $1,000 worth of medical bills. I do wish I had the patience and capacity to do some research because I saw the hotel doctor because I’ve since been advised by an American friends that there are walk-in clinics that only charge you around $80 to see a Doctor.