Prescription Unknown: The Fifth of Possibly Many Installments

During the days following D-day (dosing day), blood samples and health checks decreased gradually. I’m now down to only a single blood test each morning, which is then followed by hours of studying, lounging, relaxing, watching movies, playing games, and enjoying the heated toilet seats in the bathroom. Of course, peeing in a bag is still a requirement, but that oddly seems normal to me at this point.

While there haven’t been any noticeable adverse side effects to taking the drug, I have a small rash on my wrist from an allergic reaction to the medical tape used to keep the arterial catheter in place. I’m not sure which is itching more, the small rash or my desire to eat some decent food. Given we’re in a research facility, I’m surprised the cooks aren’t willing to test out new dishes.

The majority of the volunteers currently here aren’t Eastern Asian, which has prompted a huge decrease in awkward silence. Once I pulled out a deck of cards, the party began with me and the big group of Uzbekistani guys, and since then there’s been a guy’s-club feel to this testing ward. They taught me a game called ‘Doolahk,’ which, in Russian, means ‘crazy.’ And crazy it is. Cheating is allowed, as long as you don’t get caught, which makes understanding the rules all the more difficult. Despite having only the slightest understanding of the game, I had the meanest string of luck, winning or coming in second in each of our tournaments. Maybe I’m just cheating a lot and don’t even know it?

In return for their help with Doolahk, I’ve taught them Poker and Euchre.  While I’d love to be playing Euchre with my family back home, teaching and playing Euchre with this crowd couldn’t have been more fun.  I can only assume table talk is high, but since I don’t understand half of what they say, I’m not the best person to play referee. Not that I’d make it a point to be stringent with a big group of guys from old Russia who are all bigger than me.

Soon I’ll be watching the final sunset from my hospital window. Today is my last full day here and I think I’ll miss it. At least until I get to our apartment.


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Prescription Unknown: The Fourth of Possibly Many Installments

photoWith a jerk of the curtain my hospital apartment was no more and the young-faced doctor, wearing her lenseless glasses, said in a kind but curt voice, “Please pee in cup.” While it wasn’t as soothing at the bell tower ringtone I typically have set for my alarm, it did a better job at getting me out of bed in a hurry.

I returned from the bathroom to see that our section of the ward was busy with numerous doctors and nurses making preparations for the day’s dosing (the term the doctors use when referring to taking the test drug) and monitoring. The energy and excitement in the room completely replaced the silence that stressfully imposed during the previous two days.

Carefully organized in a rack at the end of my bed were dozens of glass vials, standing like bowling pins just waiting to be knocked down. Resting oh so comfortably next to the vials were two syringes. They weren’t yet aimed in my direction, but they were clearly staring me in the eyes.  It became obvious that this was the day I would earn my paycheck, so I bunkered down in my bed and made myself look as confident as one could while wearing pajamas and holding a pillow.

Chris, the Korean man in the bed next to mine, was enjoying the change of pace and appeared ready for action.  I asked him if he was nervous at all, and he replied that he wasn’t. I picked up the box containing my pills and examined it a bit before saying, “I’m just glad I signed up for the placebo. What about you?” Then I grabbed his box pretending to interpret the Korean on the back and spoke in a sympathetic voice, “Sorry. Looks like you’re stuck with the real drug. I’m sure you’ll be fine though…”

Moments later our doctor informed us that before dosing we’d need blood drawn, an ECG, and various other tests. I was just fine with this schedule, as it was certainly more interesting than the empty time slots that filled the two days prior.  To my joy, we learned that instead of receiving numerous pricks throughout the day, they’d be using an arterial catheter to draw the blood.

The catheter’s installation was not unlike a gun being fired into the air, signaling the beginning of a race, or, more accurately, a marathon. Immediately after the pre-dosing tests were completed, the drug boxes were opened and emptied of their contents. I didn’t linger to stare at the pill for even a brief moment before tossing it to the back of my throat and swallowing it down with a large glass of room temperature water. There was no need to hesitate, I’d committed to following through with this adventure many days before, and again while on the train to the hospital.

I doubt the pill had reached my stomach before the young doctor searched my mouth with her wooden tongue depressor, checking to make sure I wasn’t robbing her of an accurate study. Guided by a stopwatch, every 30 minutes for the next six hours consisted of new blood samples, a heart rate and blood pressure check, an ECG, and the question, “how are you feeling?” To which my response remained, “fine, no issues.” Of course, the need to collect our urine in a bag continued as well.

Tired from the non-stop testing, I couldn’t have been happier than when Heidi arrived. Visitors weren’t traditionally allowed, but I’d negotiated it as part of the deal before signing on to the test trial. As a result, her visits would be limited to a single hour and they would check to make sure she wasn’t bringing any food that may throw off my strict diet.

Heidi’s visit was short but sweet, and I soon returned to donating blood. Due to the dosing, I needed to fast throughout the day, which was enough to make the hospital’s dinner taste good.

Drained from the day’s tests, I was exhausted and decided to go to bed early, hoping to rise the next morning without any nighttime side effects having formed.

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Prescription Unknown: The Third of Perhaps Many Installments

photoThe first and second days in the hospital were fairly uneventful. The only thing listed on my ‘to-do’ list was eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all of which were tasks I typically perform without the need for scheduling, yet they were on.

I volunteered for this experiment with the complete understanding that hospitals are the primary establishments where culinary art schools dispatch their failed students. Upon receiving my breakfast, I understood that Korea also follows this trend.

When looking down at my breakfast, with the degree of self pity a child experiences when their balloon pops, I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of Bob Evans turning over in his sausage, biscuit, and egg filled grave. Displayed before me was a gathering of what appeared to be the previous dinner’s leftovers. With head and tail still intact, a fish graced my plate as if to wish my first meal went swimmingly. With a knee-jerk reaction, I covered the fish and moved on to the rice, spinach soup, and veggies. The meal’s maker had yet to meet the acquaintance of flavor, but when they do, perhaps they’ll decide to work together.

The other meals were similar. They shouldn’t be considered good, bad, or even so-so. They were merely substance containing the nutrition necessary to keep a human alive and in decent health.

Between meals was time spent studying, reading, interneting, and playing games. While the activities were relaxing, the dead silence clinching the ward applied the pressure of a lead blanket, making even a slight cough, or squeak of the slipper, seem like an offense requiring apology.

While walking around the ward in an attempt to avoid bed sores and to keep my blood flowing, I discovered a plastic bag with my name on it. Above my name, in clear English, the title ’24 HR URINE BAG’ was printed in all caps. The following morning I was instructed that from now on, I’d receive a new bag each day that I was to pee in. With the utmost sincerity, a young female doctor with the face of a teen, standing at 5 foot even, wearing glasses without lenses, asked that I avoid the strong urge to pee in the shower, as all urine most go in the bag. The edges of her lips lacked even the slightest inclination; she meant business. Don’t pee in the shower, pee in the bag. Don’t pee in the toilet, pee in the bag. After peeing in the bag, put it in the refrigerator. Don’t bring your bag back to your bed, put it in the refrigerator. Her instructions were as clear as her nonexistent lenses.

I talked with Heidi online that night and we made our plans for her visit the next day. Even though I would be busy with hourly tests, we were still excited to spend some time together.

The lights were turned off at midnight, and I found myself struggling to sleep, or, rather, with the realization that I was putting an unknown drug in my body the following morning. Regardless of how much I tossed or turned, I was absolute in my decision to avoid a half-asleep trip to the refrigerator for a midnight refreshment.

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Prescription Unknown: The Second of Perhaps Many Installments

After taking a seat on the train, my car lurched forward and I began my trip to the hospital. Based on the train’s schedule, there was a bit of uncertainty regarding whether I would be late for my 9 PM admittance. Having little experience being late, the added pressure began to make me second guess whether this adventure was one worth taking.

As the train carried out its mundane routine of stopping at each station along its route, I viewed each platform, each opening of my car’s doors, as an opportunity to abort. I had previously felt comfortable, even excited, about my decision, yet here I was reconsidering all the cons of taking part in this drug test.

I removed the test’s information packet from my overnight pack and opened to the section containing the potential adverse side effects. While there was the chance at negative side effects, the likelihood was extremely low. Also, of everyone in the study, I would receive the minimum dosage, 1mg, compared to all others, 10 to 30mg. There’s also a one in four chance I receive the placebo.  Having read that I would receive the smallest dosage helped to calm my nerves and I decided to continue onward.

Upon arrival I was ushered through the medical ward’s door, realizing I wouldn’t be allowed to leave for 10 days. After a brief search through my overnight bag, just to ensure prohibited food and drugs weren’t being snuck into the facility, I was allowed to relax for the evening.

As I moseyed around the ward, I found that the glass-walled corridors gave it a very open feel. My specific area contained 10 beds, each with their own nametag (one assigned to each of the volunteers), ceiling-mounted television, headphones, slippers, and storage unit. To allow a bit of privacy, a curtain could be drawn around each of the beds.

I was surprised that the slippers fit me, but my right slipper annoyingly squeaked with a sound not unlike a group of rats chatting with one another. With each step I took, I couldn’t help but think of the rats that had come before me, unwillingly subjected to drug URC102 for test purposes. As if the test itself didn’t provide enough of a connection between me and the previously tested critters, my right slipper seamed to solidify the bond.

Just a short distance from my bed I found an entertainment room containing a flat screen TV, a gaming console, and all the Korean books one could read (that is, if you could read Korean). Also, in the far corner of the ward I found a large bathroom with all the necessities. Who decided that the unlimited hot shower availability would be treated as a spa? This guy.

Despite being fairly open, and at about half occupancy, the ward was eerily quiet. For the exception of a few Eastern European volunteers that were grouped together, the only noise to be heard was the clicking of a keyboard, the turning of a page, the rustling of blankets as a volunteer searched for comfort, or, of course, my squeaky slipper. At this point, I determined that the silence would be more likely to harm me than the test pill.

In preparation for the next day’s busy schedule of eating three meals and relaxing, I decided to turn in early. I created my own personal apartment by closing the curtains around my bed; the thin layer of fabric was the only barrier needed to protect me from the sparse sound and movement around me. After lying down on the hard bed one could predict of an Asian hospital’s providing, I was lights out.

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Prescription Unknown: The First of Perhaps Many Installments

A few days ago, I was made aware of an opportunity to earn some ‘easy money.’ After it was disclosed that drugs and the need to remove my clothing would both be required, I unexpectedly found myself quite interested.

The individual who initially detailed the opportunity was, for the most part, unknown to me. Not that I had never met him before, but I would hardly say that I knew the man. For the purpose of this story, we’ll just call him ‘Heidi’s co-worker.’

Heidi’s co-worker had heard about an opportunity testing medicine at Seoul National University Hospital, but was unavailable to partake in the trial study himself due to time constraints. Knowing that my schedule was more flexible, he sent what information he’d received to me. It was vague, but the following sums up the important details: A significant sum of money for taking a single pill and relaxing at a hospital for 10 days. As a measure of assurance, I was told that a friend of Heidi’s coworker had recently completed the study without any symptoms, other than an enlarged bank account.

After inquiring further, not only with Heidi’s coworker, but also with his friend who had recently completed the study, I was put in touch with a doctor at the hospital who was involved in the study. A screening appointment was set, attended, and passed, with little to note other than my first blood donation of this ordeal and finding that I was deemed eligible for the test. Also, the compensation was half what I had previously been told by Heidi’s coworker, but a large amount nonetheless.

After weighing the risks and benefits, Heidi and I came to the conclusion we didn’t really need the money, but that my interest in a new, yet fairly short, adventure made the opportunity worthwhile. Well, I came to that conclusion at least. Heidi was fairly opposed to the idea, but promised to support me regardless.

With a decision agreed upon and bags packed (consisting primarily of underwear and reading material), I headed off for my first night at the hospital, unsure of what to expect, yet certain the correct decision had been made.

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Dirty Lovin’

That guy in the picture… yep, that’s me. Well, me with less hair, more muscle, an ear piercing, and 30 years older. It’s my first blog post in quite a while, so I apologize if the tone is a bit negative; I just had to clear the air… and the floor… and the walls… and everything else in the new apartment. When we opened the door for the first time two weeks ago, we were unceremoniously greeted by trillions of bacteria covering every inch, nook and cranny. When we flipped the switch, light uncovered the Katrina-like devastation that the aroma filling our nostrils had slightly prepared us for. Cue the sound of a balloon deflating, along with our hopes of a decent night’s sleep.

Needless to say, we skipped the shoes-off-at-the-door etiquette. Approaching the scene like emergency first responders, we decided an assessment of the damage was the proper initial step. Unlike first responders, we fled for our lives; decidedly there was no hope for making a positive impact… at least for that night.

So, we headed to a love motel. You didn’t read that incorrectly, it’s called a love motel. They are extremely common in Korea. Without doing any research, I think it’s fair to say there are significantly more love motels than actual hotels. They aren’t very different from a regular hotel, but they are primarily designated for unmarried couples to frequent when they want to burn calories together. Sound weird? Well, when you live with your parents and privacy is difficult to come by, a love motel starts to sound a lot more romantic than the back seat of a car. And keep in mind, it’s common practice to live with parents into your thirties.

The place was nice and clean. Because we were so exhausted (Heidi from traveling, me from working), the reality that other people had gotten down in our room was easily overlooked. Who are we kidding? Nothing had happened there that hadn’t happened in every other hotel room in the world. And hey, $30 per night isn’t a bad deal either.

The next day cleaning began, and continued a full two weeks. Today, we feel our apartment is finally livable. Closest, walls, windows, floors, kitchen, bathroom, entryway; every inch was thoroughly scrubbed. I even hung out our 8th floor window to clean the outside of the windows, which makes for a fairly impressively clear view of the surrounding mountains. I’m far from a clean/neat freak, but if I’m going to live in a mess, I prefer it to be my mess. The place doesn’t sparkle, but hey, it’s leaps and bounds from the starting point.

The apartment is fairly unfurnished. We were able to scavenge a small book case and a makeshift coffee table from an exiting teacher’s vacant room, and we had a mirror and cabinet we saved from last year. We’ve stocked our kitchen with plates, silverware, and all the other necessities, so we’re good on that front. Now we’re just waiting for a sofa, coat rack, table and chairs, which we’ll probably get this week.

I was going to add a couple photos, but Heidi insists we wait until the place is fully furnished. I’ll be sure to upload when that time comes.

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Birthday Wish: 우산

I work at least 8 hours each night, so I often head out to a 24/7 fast food place that has free Wifi. I enjoy working with the commotion of others coming and going, and I know my absence helps Heidi to have a better night’s rest.

Last night, though it was my birthday, was no exception. I packed up and set out around midnight; the cool air made for a refreshing walk. A couple hours after setting up shop in my corner of Lotte Ria, the monsoon began. The daunting affects were complete with deep, rumbling thunder, and intermittent lightning.

A few poor souls jetted past the large window where I was sitting. The newspapers they held over their heads didn’t do anything to repel the torrential rain, and I couldn’t help but laugh, thinking to myself ‘sucks to be you.’ Before the thought cleared my head, my face drained all positive emotion and my eyes glazed off into the distance. I forgot to back my umbrella.

My computer battery had well over 2 hours of life left, so there was a ray of hope that the storm would clear before I needed to leave. I checked the weather app on the iphone, which dissolved that hope into a 70% chance of storms through 8am.

It quickly came to mind that it was still my birthday in much of the world, and with any luck, a birthday wish might make an umbrella to magically appear inside my backpack. In my mind, I conjured an image of me blowing out birthday candles as a child and wished for one of our 4 umbrellas to have been stowed in some crevasse of the backpack that I somehow previously missed. I unwrapped unzipped my bag as quick as I could, but the bag was empty.

‘So much for birthday wishes,’ I thought. Then I began to contemplate how much it would cost to buy an umbrella from one of the two workers behind the counter, assuming they hadn’t forgotten to bring one as well.

Work continued in a dampened mood, watching as my battery icon seemingly raced towards total depletion. 40%: rain is pouring. 30%: rain is pouring. 20%: rain is pouring. 10%: rain is pouring and my computer is now alerting me that I’m about to get wet; or rather, that the battery is going to run out.

I crunched through the final project I could complete before packing up. Right after I sending it out, I was prompted with a message that the battery was at 5% and the computer was automatically going into hibernation. Sheer disappointed consumed me, but then I looked up, and by the grace of all unsaid birthday wish gods, the rain had stopped.

I packed up and ran home faster than an Usain lightning Bolt, not a single drop landing on me. One could say it was just lucky timing, but I’m notching one in the Birthday Wish Win column.

The moral of the story, it’s okay to laugh at others’ minor misfortunes on your birthday; karma apparently takes the day off.

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Notice of Eviction

In the research phase of moving to Korea, Heidi and I read a significant amount of horror stories regarding working at Hagwans. Teachers being let go for no reason, not receiving pay, suffering treacherous working conditions, and the list goes on…

Other than Heidi working absurd hours, there haven’t been any scares to make us question the overall integrity/trustworthiness of her institute. Until yesterday:

Now, there are plenty of reasons for concern when you receive a letter like this, but there are also plenty of reasons to not be concerned. I’ll focus on the latter:

  1. I have full-time work, and as DINKs (double income no kids), our cash flow would prevent us from begging for change at the Seoul airport.
  2. We have a friend who owns an empty apartment we could stay in. (Does Angie ever not come through as a great friend?)
  3. I convinced the apartment management to let us stay as long as needed, given we throw some won their way.

Quite happily, CIS came through and ended up paying 4 months of the money owed before the end of the day, but I heard a few of the teachers were locked out of their apartment for a couple hours.

Moral of the story: When working for a hagwan, prepare for the unexpected; you just might find yourself on the street…

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Dress for the Occassion

Fair warning, if romance makes you sick you may want to stop reading. Also, for those who saw the pictures on Facebook, you might get sick from having to look at them again.

Heidi and I have established a tradition for our wedding anniversary. Each year Heidi puts on her wedding dress, I put on a put on a suit, and we out head out to a fun spot to celebrate and take pictures. It’s a great way to celebrate our anniversary, relive the excitement of the wedding, and get the most out of Heidi’s favorite dress.

The wedding dress is what makes the experience fun. Nobody thinks twice about a guy in a suit, but put him next to a girl in a wedding dress and things are bit more interesting. With the addition of this year’s chapter, the dress has been worn in four locations:

  • Wedding Day (and opening gifts the next morning [thanks again everyone!]): Duluth, MN.
  • 1st year anniversary (horse and carriage ride around the fountain where I proposed): Kansas City, KS.
  • 2nd year anniversary (bright lights of Times Square): NYC, NY.
  • 3rd year anniversary (changing of the guards – Gwanghwamun Square): Seoul, South Korea.

For this year’s anniversary, we decided to head to the main gate of Korea’s most prominent palace. We had a room at a nice hotel in downtown Seoul (right next to the palace) and we checked in early so that we could head out for early-afternoon pictures. One of Heidi’s coworkers agreed to take some photos of us, but ran a bit late, which gave us an opportunity to take some model shots while we waited. Corny? Yes.

Once her coworker arrived we didn’t waste any time before heading out. There were some nerves in the elevator, but excitement and a pep talk kept the ball rolling. “We did this in Times Square, this should be a cake walk!” Not to mention, we’ve grown accustomed to being stared at for looking out of place.

Gwanghwamun Square was packed due to the holiday weekend (no, they don’t celebrate our anniversary as a holiday, it was Buddha’s birthday), but we were able snap a few shots with limited people in the background. We planned a few poses we wanted to strike, and the picture taking really only lasted a 30 or so minutes including the time it took to walk around the massive square.

From the time that we left the hotel room, all the way through us taking our pictures, people seemed both surprised and intrigued by Heidi and her wedding dress. Many of the crowds we passed, and the crowds that passed us, didn’t hesitate to stare, pull out their phones/cameras, and take pictures; some kids needing a closer look, and a group of girls in traditional hanboks requested a picture with us. It was just after we had our picture taken with the group of girls that Heidi’s coworker said, “I think you may be youtube soon,” which she just might have been right about…

On our way back to the hotel we passed a large crowd of people in a half circle surrounding a giant carton of milk (about the size of a typical vending machine). They were all oooing, ahhhing, clapping and cheering. Before we knew it, a woman was talking to us at a mile per minute in Korean and trying to usher us towards the crowd. Heidi’s coworker translated for us, and we learned that people perform a mystery task, and then a hand comes out of the giant carton and gives away a prize. Hey, sounds like fun.

We were quickly ushered to the front of the crowd, past all the families and children waiting patiently and excitedly for their opportunity to earn their prize. Na na! Just kidding, we actually felt kind of bad about that. Once center stage, the nerves set in. It was show time, and the carton of milk started talking to us. I gave an apprehensive glance at Heidi’s coworker, who told us we needed to kiss. Taking full advantage of the spotlight, and ecstatic I wouldn’t have to dance, I dipped Heidi as low as I could and planted one on her. And the crowd goes wild! So wild that I thought it would be fun to do it a second time. And the crowd goes even wilder! While kissing Heidi, an arm came out of the milk carton and took a picture of us. It was now holding our hard-earned prize: two flavored milks and a FujiFilm instant camera. Score! I held the prizes high above my head and shot as cheesy of a smile as I could.

It was just a short stroll back to the hotel to change into normal clothes and the yearly tradition was over. Year number three is in the books, and we’re now happy to start working on number four!

The Changing of the Guards. Every hour there’s a ceremony at the palace as the entrance guards change. We happened to snap a couple photos as they paraded by.

We did an extra video for a commercial they were shooting. I was helping Heidi learn the Korean phrase, “사랑해요 우유속에!”

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All Smiles

As it turns out, brushing twice daily and flossing only after eating beef jerky isn’t enough to prevent a tooth/gum ache. Who would have thought?

A few weeks ago, my gum started to hurt around one of my back molars. I searched ‘gum ache’ on Web MD, which lead me to believe that a couple days worth of slight discomfort could easily lead to the loss of all my teeth and perhaps even my jaw. Considering I like to talk and chew, a trip to the dentist was definitely in order.

Angie pointed me to her family’s dentist, but wasn’t sure if they spoke English. I figured it was worth a shot and gave the office a call.

The receptionist didn’t speak English, and given that it was a phone conversation, my super-human charades abilities were useless. After a few minutes of high-pitched giggles and apologies from her side, and extremely broken Korean from my side, I was 50 percent confident I had scheduled a 2pm appointment for that afternoon. The same-day appointment had me both impressed and excited.

When I arrived, the receptionists and two dental hygienists, in very broken English, asked, “what hurt?” I pointed to my molar and said, “The gum hurts,” which is apparently a hilarious phrase in Korean, because it was met with suppressed giggles.

After providing them with my ID info, I was ushered into an office and asked to sit in the patient’s chair (I felt like Buddy in the North Pole, from the movie Elf). Three hygienists played baby sitter while holding back more giggles, giddily waiting to see how the Dentist would fare in determining any issue. At this point it was obvious they didn’t receive many foreigners as patients, and the hilarity of the language barrier was almost too much for the staff to handle.

When the dentist arrived, he apologized profusely for not speaking English. I drew him a picture illustrating exactly where it hurt, and translated the phrase ‘dull pain.’ Through very broken English, he said I likely had an infection, but wanted to take a panoramic x-ray of my mouth. He went on to clean between my gum and the tooth, eventually dislodging what appeared to be part a popcorn kernel. Going to The Hunger Games the previous weekend had lead to a food-related infection…

The dentist told me I was going to have my picture taken (the x-ray) and that I should come back tomorrow at the same time. They would bring in an English speaking dentist to explain the findings.

Three hygienists ushered me to have the x-ray taken. I haven’t been to a dentist in years, but the machine they used was impressive. I stood on a small platform, biting down on a mouth guard of sorts, while the camera circled my head taking the x-ray. All I could hear were giggles in the hallway, and I hoped the x-ray was limited to my mouth.

The next day I met with the English speaking dentist and learned that the space between my two molars “isn’t normal,” and that I need to make sure to floss that area daily. She said the popcorn lead to an infection, and they wanted to clean the rest of my gums/teeth to make sure the issue didn’t linger. After 10-15 minutes of what I can only describe as a power-washer cleaning, they gave me a special mouthwash to use the next three days to reduce any inflammation and reduce the pain.

It’s been three weeks and the issue was obviously solved. No pain, and I’m now flossing more regularly. My favorite part: the ordeal only set me back 50,000KW ($45).

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