It’s inevitable, the falling apart. First a tooth, then the hip and the knee. Pretty soon you can’t remember what you had for breakfast. I suppose we’re all doomed, and it can begin with an innocent bowl of popcorn. I was chomping on a tasty kernel at the bottom of the bowl (we love that part) when I realized it wasn’t popcorn I was trying to crunch away. It was my tooth. Horrors! All those bad dreams coming true, of my teeth falling out, or melting, followed by dreams I was flying over Cancun looking for my children….but that’s another story.

The tooth breaking didn’t hurt a bit, except in my brain. Now I had to visit the dentist. In Mexico. I dreaded it, but it was nowhere near the dread I felt later when he recommended I have an extraction and an implant. My poor sister went through this procedure, and it was awful. She was bilked for thousands, the crowns kept falling off, or she got infections. One time she marched back to the dentist to have repairs done, but his office was closed for good. Gone Dentist. I had dreams of yanking and hammering, and eventually, my head coming off at the foot of the Mexican torturer.

Well, it all turned out differently than expected.

The fear and not knowing how this was going to go down were the worst, and I was not in the habit. I’ve had very few visits to the dentist, except for cleaning. When I went for a check-up one time, I was summarily dismissed: He looked in my mouth and said, “You’re boring. Go home.”

On the occasion of the popcorn tooth, I had to do something. I did not want an implant, but the alternative was to have another hole in my head, or down the road, be that really old person, putting my teeth in the glass at the bedside. Yuk.

I insisted on visiting Dr. Izaguirre here in Querétaro for a consult; the alternate dentist was available, but he had done Saint Virginia wrong, practically immobilized her with pain and suffering, so I waited to see Dr. A. He told me that Mexico City and Miami are pioneers, in the forefront, the best, really up there, when it comes to implants. He got out the dentistry books to show me what an implant looks like, and after leafing through a decent number of photos of open, bloody and fleshy-pink mouths with implants sticking out of the gums, I closed the book. OK. Do me. How bad could it be? After all, I had five babies, two of them C-section, which believe me, is not exactly like a tooth extraction.

The Peace Corps is nothing if not thorough. One might be a poor volunteer, a teacher, no less, but one is treated like royalty in matters of healthcare. Dr. A took a number of photos, the report was sent to the PC doctor and on to Washington for more consulting and approval. This took a month of back and forth, but I wasn’t complaining. One does not look one’s gift horse in the mouth.

The appointment was set for June 4th at noon in Mexico City, about a three hour drive. Dr. Ines, the Peace Corps physician, said she was going with me, and we were going to have a driver. I thought that was an excessive waste of a doctor’s time, and then I thought, maybe she’s going to be there to save me from the heart attack or revive me after anesthesia. Like I said, the not knowing is always the worst part. I really didn’t want to bug her for more details; the emails were already in the numbers, and, at all costs, I wanted to appear cool. Just like a teen-anger with ratted hair and a full felt skirt with a poodle on it.

Armando, behind the wheel of a brand new, spic and span, white SUV, drove tear-ass out of Querétaro down 57. We were an hour early. The clinic is at Pyramid No. 1, a high rise in the city, and the irrational thought of Aztec human sacrifice went through my mind. Doctor Ines went up to the clinic with me, filled out the paper work, chatted about her native Honduras, which took my mind off the on-coming procedure. She is a lovely woman, a thorough, caring person, and reminds me again of Latin America in general. I just love it. She was dressed in a hand-made Oaxacan top with embroidered birds and carried a Chanel bag.

Dr. Blanco is short, muscular, with cropped grey-ginger hair. He graduated from Columbia in New York in 1985, right before my daughter was born, one of the C-sections. He speaks in a soothing, reassuring tone that dentists use when they are about to shoot you up, pull, pound, stretch, and, generally, do all the steps necessary to perform an extraction and implant. The whole procedure, from implant to crown, normally takes 2 to 4 months. The bone has to grow around the implant/post before one is crowned. I told him I needed it done in 2 months because I was leaving. To where, he asked. Chicago, I said. Well, you could fly back here and have the crown done and it would be less than it would cost up there. No, I was thinking, my son’s birthday is August 21, and I am going to be there, eating cake, with or without a tooth.

My heart was pounding so hard I was sure my shirt was jumping off my chest. First, the Novocain. Then on to another chair. The chair. A box of metal posts. Tools. An extremely quick, small technician who spoke only Spanish, so I practiced. She asked for permission to put a bib on me, to give me a glass of mouthwash, excusing herself for this or that. Mexicans are so courteous, even before torture, that you just have to love it. Dr. B appeared from time to time to administer more Novocain and say something in that soothing dentist-speak.

Then, ramma-lamma-dingdong. It began, and talk about pulling and pounding. It reminded me of the C-section. Pulling, with no sense of pain. Just tugging and pulling, then the pounding, way down there into the jaw. I was his third that day before noon. “This is good. You have a smaller tongue than my other patient,” he said. “And very good bone.” Thank you, Gene Fairy, for the bones. I have other problems, but bones is not one of them.

The whole procedure took less than an hour. I came into the waiting room, and Dr. Ines was counting out 200 peso bills–90 of them altogether, about $1400 for the extraction and post. The crown would come later, in August, before I leave.

I sat in the back of the SUV leaning on the glass, watching the red, rocky Mexican hills roll by out of Mexico City, the clouds touching the mountains in the background. So beautiful. So done with the implant thing. My jaw looked like a baseball was stuffed into it. In the front, Armando was eating a cupcake and Dr. Ines was snoozing. I felt like I was six years old, not 69, carried along by people who care, granted, doing their jobs, but caring about what they are doing.

I was very tired. No Tecate for four days. Bummer. I went to bed, and now I await my crowning.

The opinion expressed herewith is mine and does not necessarily reflect that of the Peace Corps–Nancy Nau Sullivan, University English Specialist, Querétaro, Mexico