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Friday, October 24, 2014

Why was I outside a building in downtown Baltimore at 5:15 a.m. yesterday?

   You may have noticed that I didn't post a blog yesterday.  Instead I was waiting outside the University of Maryland Dental School Urgent Care Clinic in the dark at 5:15 am waiting with a neighbor of mine who had a severely infected tooth.  Here is the background to that situation.
     Five months ago my neighbor lost his job and then his car for lack of payments.  Having a middle class life in Columbia can change so quickly.  About six weeks ago he started having pain with a tooth and had tried doctoring it with salt water rinses but the pain and infection were only getting worse.  A couple of days ago he mentioned that he had even tried to pull the tooth with some pliers but nothing worked.  I told him I would call around to see what resources I could find to get inexpensive dental care.  I had some idea of the challenge with getting dental care for people without insurance and little money.
     I started by calling the United Way 211 Information and Referral Service to see what I could come up with.  They gave me three possible resources.  The first was a dental foundation where dentists volunteer their time for dental emergencies.  I call this resource but found out there were no resources in our area and the few dentists they had in other areas couldn't see my neighbor very quickly.  Next I tried Chase Brexton which has a dental clinic in Columbia.  This seemed promising as they could see my neighbor that day and they were only a couple of miles away.  Driving my neighbor there was easy and the $100 cost seemed affordable.  Unfortunately my neighbor's infection had gone into his jaw so they were not equipped to pull the tooth in that condition.  After striking out twice on resolving the problem he was down to the last choice of the University of Maryland Dental School.  They told me that it was first come first serve at their Urgent Dental Care office and that the clinic provided services starting at 9 am.  I asked what time we needed to get there to be sure to be treated.  I was told that people start lining up outside their door between 5 am and 5:30 am.  So now you know why I was outside that door yesterday at 5:15 am.  We were the first in line.
     Being a good blogger I couldn't help striking up a conversation with some of the other 10 people in line.  After some general conversation about the cool weather I heard a little of their circumstances that led them to be there waiting in line.  The openness of a one person seemed to make others comfortable comparing how the can to being in line. A couple had been there the day before in the rain and found out they hadn't come early enough to be treated. One man was someone who traveled around the country laying flooring tile without any insurance.  He seemed to have many of his teeth missing and he said he was there to have the rest of his teeth pulled and eventually get dentures.  He hoped they could pull all 10 of his remaining teeth.  Another young man with a foreign accent was a student at a local college on a student visa.  Each of the people that spoke that morning talked about how they had hoped the problem would go away or how they had tried to correct the problem themselves.
     6 am came and in we went to wait inside.  At 7:30 a staff person handed out instructions and waiver papers.  We were told that to be treated you needed a picture ID and the cost of treatment would be $150.  Two people left because I assumed they didn't have one of these two requirements.  It was hard not to think about what those two would do next.   This resource seems to be the last resort for most people.  The good news is that my neighbor had his tooth pulled and yesterday he happily said it was the first time he had been almost pain free in a long time.
     I couldn't help but think of how different my neighbor's experience was to the one I had last week when a had a small chip broke off one of my teeth.  As someone who has always had great medical coverage and affordable dental insurance I called up my dentist's office and was asked if was causing me any discomfort or problem.  Not really I said.  Could I come in to the office in 3 hours?  Sure, that was no problem.  Three hours later I walked out with a new filling repair.  I know from other fillings I will have a $25 co-pay.  Somehow I felt a little guilty with having a minor dental issue resolved so quickly when so many other people in more serious situations had to wait in the cold in the very early morning hoping they had arrived early enough to receive treatment.

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