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A day later, the pain had only grown more intense.

I had exceeded the recommended dosage of aspirin to the point of nausea. I had plastered my gums with Orajel ’til my fingers were numb. I had mixed allergy medicine with alcohol in an attempt to induce a minor coma, but not­ing helped.

By Sunday night, I had received a variety of suggestions. "Stick garlic inside your tooth," said a Bosnian friend. "Zee best ees to use zee clove spice-it ees vehry effecteev," offered a French girl. A Russian swore by heat, but no cold. A Czech said cold, but no heat. Apparently, they’re still at odds.

In my case, they were all wrong. Monday morning came like a spiked running shoe. It was time to head to the dentist. With a Czech friend in tow, I cowered onto the bus and stumbled through the fuzzy dots (the alcohol and allergy medicine hadn’t quite faded) past a veg­etable stand and into a large and cold panelak.

There was no receptionist. No music coming through a bad sound system. No papers to fill out. In fact, the place was deserted. The only signs indicating that we were in a dentistry zone were government pamphlets on the wall-leftovers from the communist era, no doubt-with big, strong, red toothbrushes warning you to brush or else!

Finally a woman all in white peered from behind a door marked with the number 26. My companion rushed her with a flurry of words and oral gestures, and she motioned for me to come in right away.

Five minutes and I was already in the dentist’s chair. That beats my best U.S. record. And what a fine seat it was – a little Jacuzzi to spit into and everything. The only disconcerting thing was the makeshift cup dispenser fashioned out of an old Dobra Voda bottle.

As best my limited Czech and a finger in my mouth would permit, I mumbled, Mám špatný zub za tři dni (I have bad tooth three days). The dentist nodded under­standingly.

An X-ray later, the nurse, the dentist, and my companion were discussing my fate as I struggled to get a clue of what ailed me. Finally my companion provided the diagnosis: "Okay, Richard, he say they maybe can clean up this tooth, or they can put it outside."

Put it outside? She made it sound like a bad dog. And in a sense it was. But it was my bad dog, and I wanted to save it, if at all possible.

The dentist strapped on a plastic face shield, and warmed up his drill.

"O.K., Richard, he say that he try at first without… how is it, anesthesia?… without this first, okay?"

Ne, ne, ne, ne. Let’s all just pockej a malinky moment here. The dentist nodded again, Dobre. I was certain he had just decided he could out-drink me, but I didn’t care.

When all was said and done, I had experienced min­mal pain at his competent hand and drill-and all for the amazing low price of 260 Kc. Sure there was no Star Wars on video, no Enya on headphones; not even a NutraSweet sucker afterwards. But for the price and quality of service, 1’d put my teeth in a Czech dentist’s hands any day.

PHRASES THAT WILL FACILITATE YOUR TRIP TO THE DENTIST:

Get that thing out of my mouth!

Vytáhněte mi ho!

Ouch! Oh my God, ouch!

Ach! Ach, ó můž bože, ach!

Could you please hold my hand?

Mohl byste prosím, držet za ruku?

O.K., why should I have to take my clothes off?

O.K, proč bych se měla před vámi svlékat?

Actually, I would prefer to be unconscious first.

No, myslím, že bych raději bezvědomí.


– Originally published in Velvet Magazine. Illustration by Boris Van Berkum.