By John Lawrence
I have been writing about my friend Dr. Luis Garcia for almost 10 years. That’s how long he has been doing my dental work in Tijuana at the Baja Oral Center. Over the course of those years, Dr. Garcia has become much more than my dentist; he has become my friend. Way back in 2007 I had broken my front tooth off by biting into an English muffin that was hard as a rock.
I wrote then on Will Blog For Food:
The dentist I was going to in San Diego suggested a bridge cap as a more reasonable alternative to an implant. (Actually, I had gone to two dentists before that including the one who gave me the flipper and neither of them had proposed a reasonable solution.) What they would do for the bridge cap is grind down the two adjacent teeth, cap them and then those caps would support a third cap over my missing tooth. First they would extract what remained of my missing tooth below the gum line. This solution would cost $995. per cap or $2985. plus the extraction. I forget how much that was. And this was with my Secure Horizon high option dental insurance! So two front teeth would be destroyed, and one wouldn’t be rooted in anything. And the dentist said she didn’t know how long it would last
So I decided to seek out a dentist in Tijuana and get an implant instead. I had heard they cost a third of the price they would cost in San Diego. I had been thinking about this for some time as a more economically feasible alternative to US dentistry which had been costing me more and more as time went on, and I was getting less and less satisfied with the quality and the way they treated patients as well as all the subterfuges surrounding how they dealt with insurance. Dental insurance was pretty much of a joke anyway as the dentists always seemed to find a way around it either by shorting the service or charging you for additional items the insurance didn’t pay for.
After much googling I decided to go with Baja Oral Center and Dr. Garcia. To say the least, I was very impressed and have had a lot of dental work done there in the last 10 years. Friends and family have been to see Dr. Garcia and his associates and they have all come away smiling. One of those associates, Dr. Martinez, did an excellent job on my implant. Over the years I have written more articles about my Tijuana dentist such as one written in 2012 – Save Big Money: Get Your Dental Work Done in Tijuana.
I wrote an article – Judy Finally Goes To the Dentist In Tijuana in 2014 about how, after much trepidation, I was finally able to convince my wife, Judy, to go see Dr. Garcia about getting a denture. She was so pleased with the results that she was looking forward to going back and spending some time in Tijuana. But the happy times were not to be.
In recent months, however, going to Tijuana to the dentist has become about more than saving money. It has become about friendship as well. Last year, as some of you may know, I lost my wife, Judy Oliveira. She had had a series of mini-strokes and then some major ones that left her virtually helpless and not able to care for herself. Her good friend, Karen, who had gotten herself certified as a care provider, and myself gave Judy 24/7 round the clock care. She was never left alone. One of our problems was how to brush her teeth. She had been to see Dr. Garcia in better times for that denture.
I called him and he said to bring her in, and he would see what he could do. It was a major feat just getting her in the dental chair. Dr.Garcia was so patient with her and so gentle, and he was able to brush her teeth with a regular toothbrush something neither Karen nor I could do.
After that, he said to bring her in once a month and he wouldn’t even charge me. I couldn’t believe it. As it turns out, my articles had brought him much business and he wanted to reciprocate. The only problem was that going back across the border there was an hour and a half wait. Poor Judy could not sit up in her seat that long. But we made it the first time anyway. One of my regrets is that we never got a SENTRI pass which would have expedited the border crossing tremendously, but more about that later. We never made it back to Dr. Garcia’s office because Judy passed away shortly thereafter. A few months later I got a call from Dr. Garcia wondering why I hadn’t brought Judy back in to get her teeth cleaned. I broke the news, and after we hung up, I wondered how many dentists in the states would go to the lengths of calling a patient concerned about their well-being regardless of the fact that they weren’t even charging for their service.
Fast forward to a week ago – I set up appointments with Dr. Garcia for myself and my friend Olof who had been to see Dr. Garcia many times in the past. By this time I had obtained a SENTRI pass which promised to expedite the border crossing. This would be the first time I would be attempting to use it, and I was eager to try it out. Every person in the car needs to have one in order to use the special SENTRI lanes, but Olof didn’t have one. The plan was that I would drop him off at the border, he would walk across, and I would pick him up on the other side. As it turned out, Olof had a medical emergency that day and couldn’t make it. So I went by myself.
Dr. Garcia was in his usual jovial good spirits. He filled a couple of cavities for me, and afterward we got into a discussion about many things, about life in fact. It turns out that our lives coincide in many respects. His wife has some serious medical problems which require her to be in the hospital quite a bit as was the case with Judy. When she’s in the hospital, he has to be the caregiver for his 3-year-old daughter. I told him that I raised my daughter from the age of 3 as a single parent. We both had to juggle business and caregiving, and we both had to take care of a wife with medical problems that required numerous hospitalizations.
Dr. Garcia continued the conversation by mentioning that he was also a writer. On the side he wrote screenplays, and he told me about one he was working on involving an American expat living in Ensenada. I got the feeling that this was a true story. This man also had a wife with serious problems. She had Alzheimer’s. He had made the decision to keep her at home and be her caregiver, as had I in Judy’s case when they wanted to put her in a nursing home after her last hospitalization. The story and our lives revolved around the importance of decision making and how once the decision is made, we have to live with the consequences.
In the case of the American expat, the consequences were not good. In an unattended moment, his wife had walked out of the house, onto the beach and into the ocean never to be seen again. The man suffered a lot because of his decision not to put her in a nursing home including recriminations from family members. In my case I felt it was the right decision to bring Judy home, and it worked out in the sense that Judy’s final days were spent in her own home with her cat, Tessa, and 24/7 love from me and Karen. She also got to watch her favorite shows on TV, something she wouldn’t be able to do on the nursing home “basic channels.”
I decided to put off my cleaning by Dr. Lupita which had been scheduled for that day so that I could bring Olof down the following week. We made the necessary arrangements, and I left the office heading for the border. I checked out the place I could drop Olof off, got in the SENTRI lane and was over the border in 5 minutes. What a relief! If only Judy and I could have gotten a SENTRI pass a year ago, it would have saved her unnecessary suffering as she struggled to sit up during the long wait.
It takes time to get the pass, but you can start the process online. Then you have to wait for them to call you to come in for an appointment at the office. You go east on I-905, and it’s right at the border. They fingerprint you and take your picture. It costs about $95. They don’t inspect your car any more. Then it takes a few weeks before they send you the pass, but it’s well worth the effort. You definitely need a passport to go to Tijuana, but the SENTRI pass will save you so much time coming back.
Dr. Garcia’s and my life have gone in parallel arcs. Life experiences have followed similar courses. Articles have been written. Dentistry has been performed. Cross-border friendships have developed. All of these things were completely unpredictable a few years ago. The SENTRI pass makes going to Tijuana as simple and easy as going to Normal Heights. It’s right next door now. Despite Donald Trump’s highly offensive call for building a wall, walls between people from different cultures have evaporated. Barriers have vaporized. Let’s hope that the border, la frontera, evaporates as well. As my Dad used to say, “One hand washes the other.”