31 Days of 2002: Day 15

June 24 Honiara

I've been tangling with the health care profession again today, to my detriment.  This time it's the dentist.  When we were in the village in March, I broke a filling.  When we first came into town, I was busy dealing with female issues and couldn't face the stress of the dentist on top of the BYO gynecologists.  But now, with five months in the village ahead, I knew I had to get this tooth dealt with.  So last Thursday, I went in thinking that it would be a half hour thing.  But no, the nerve was exposed and I had to have a root canal.

This is the same guy that did a root canal on Andy's dad in 1997 without Novocain.  But I've dealt with him before, so I know enough to beg for the drugs before the drilling begins.  He's actually a good dentist, I think.  Just doesn't see the need for anesthesia.  But he does use it on me—because I ask him to.  He always gives me a look like “Really?  Why would you want such a thing?”  He probably thinks I'm the biggest wimp on the planet, but it doesn't matter.  I just want to be numb.

After three Novocain shots and an hour of excavation on Thursday, he said he had done all he could for one appointment, and wanted me to come back on Monday morning to finish digging, plaster up the hole, and call it a day.

So this morning, there I am in the chair, numb to the eyeballs (after my usual conversation about why Novocain is my friend), when the power goes off.

The power used to go off at regular times each day (the power company preserving fuel).  At that point, the dentist could schedule appointments around the power outages.  But in the past week, it's started going off at odd times.

The dentist tells me that he used to have a back-up generator, but that got stolen.  He's sorry, but he doesn't know what to tell me.  He rings the power company and they say that the electricity might come back on in a couple of hours.

There are already three other people sitting in the waiting room, and I can see in the appointment book that more are scheduled to arrive.  Waiting around doesn't seem like a good option.  Other morning appointments are filled for the next few days, and the dentist is not making afternoon appointments, because he's pretty sure the power will be off then.

I can't wait around, because we're supposed to be going to the village in a couple of days.  If we miss that ship, it may be a couple of weeks before another one goes; we have a team of 6 college students coming to our village on July 10 or so.  We've got to get to the village and finish making arrangements for their visit.  I don't have time for this stupid tooth and the crazy power outages.

Then I remembered that our group owns a small, portable (if you're strong) generator.  I think it might be enough to run the dental compressor and lights.  So I asked if I could bring it along and try, and the dentist was most enthusiastic.  So I rescheduled for 3, me and my generator.

When I got back to the dentist at 3, the power was still off, so we hauled the generator out of the car.  He got it revved up, pulled up a corner of the window screen, ran an extension cord outside, plugged in his equipment, and we went in to get to work.

He gave me a shot of Novocain, after the requisite reminder, and was just prepping for more excavation of the jaw, when the generator started to rev up and then slow down and rev up again.  He went outside to look at it.  Then his assistant and I noticed this burning rubber smell.  So we ran outside and told him to shut it off, because something was burning.  Investigation revealed a strip outlet, charred and blackened.

Obviously the generator wasn't helping anything.  In fact, it was doing damage, so we loaded it back in the car, and I sat down to wait to see if the regular power would come back on.  After an hour's wait, it still wasn't on, so I went home.

Later that night, I started to think about all the equipment that had been plugged into the generator.  What if some of the stuff wasn't on a surge protector?  What if that strip outlet didn't have a surge protector?  His computer, fridge, compressor, autoclave, lights . . .  this could be a million-dollar root canal.

I was a nervous wreck, imagining all that I might have to pay for.  Finally Andy called up the dentist and asked how the equipment was.  "Righty-ho" said the good dentist.  Whew.

Andy found an instruction book on the generator.  In the fine print, he found a place where it said not to move the throttle switch, as the thing could put out upwards of 400 volts.  We run on 240 here.  There was no gauge anywhere on the generator to show that the voltage output could vary.  The book also said to run the generator at 1500-1900 rpms, but there was also no gauge for that.

Maybe we were just supposed to be able to tell by the sound of the engine?  Count the blades as they go by?  I don't know.  Needless to say, this is not a machine that we will ever be tempted to use again.

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