Yesterday afternoon was the day Edwina had been waiting for. I picked her up (along with her big sister, Linda) and drove to Cahaba Valley Health Care for the free dental clinic that takes place there on Sundays twice a month. With just eight teeth remaining in her mouth, most of them bruised or decayed, Edwina had been trying for some time to find a dentist who would pull them without charge.
The last time I saw Edwina nervous was as I stood beside her in pre-op at Cooper Green, waiting for her to be wheeled in for a mastectomy. She was scared that the doctors would put her to sleep and not bother waking her up afterwards. Yesterday’s visit, though, was different. Edwina knew she’d live through the ordeal, but she was scared of the pain and embarrassed to walk out of the clinic without any teeth. She also confided that she was worried about getting false teeth “for them holes,” since dentures are costly and the poor and uninsured aren’t offered any breaks.
After several hours of Linda and me waiting in the reception area, checking the tiny examination room every so often to see how our sister was doing, Edwina walked out with a towel she’d brought along to the dentist draped across her mouth. Her sister grabbed one arm and I grabbed the other, slowly walking Edwina to my car.
Before we left the building, Edwina grunted at me to stop. I turned towards her and looked as she moved away the towel and pointed to her top gums, swollen and stitched. The bottom teeth, it turned out, couldn’t be pulled during this visit. They were too deeply embedded, too painful to extract at the same time.
The car ride to Walmart to pick up Edwina’s prescription, some soup and popsicles was quiet, as was the final jaunt to Edwina’s apartment. While I drove, she laid her head back against the head rest, breathing through the pain and anticipating the next trip to the dentist to deal with the teeth that remain.