..Jon Simonds..

Mugged in Sarasota

Money and I really don't know each other very well. We never get to spend any quality time together. I'm not even sure I can say we are vaguely acquainted. We see each other, on a weekly basis, and then it's off to the health insurance people or the auto insurance people. She brings a smile to the landlord's face, at least once a month, and has put me on a first name basis with every cashier at Albertsons, where I buy my groceries. So, you'll forgive me for being a tad upset when mugged in Sarasota, last week.

It all started in Bradenton with what I thought was a toothache. I have a dentist (in Brooklyn), but in all fairness to the dental profession, I haven't seen him in 16 years. I brush twice a day and I must be a real glutton for punishment because I use Listerine every night. Anyone who spends 30 plus seconds with a mouthful of Listerine, will attest to this. In spite of this nightly ritual, the tooth demon is picking on me and so, I called my Dental Insurance Rep begging for a referral. The voice on the other end of the phone offered me one.

"Gentle Dental," she said, giving me an address and phone number. "Gentle Dental?" I asked. "You're kidding, right?"

I set myself up for an appointment only to find out it isn't my tooth that's the problem. I have a gum abyss. "We're not really equipped in this office to handle this sort of thing," the doctor explained. "I'm going to refer you to a periodontist. You really need a good, deep cleaning."

I could already feel the pain and I knew the pain I was feeling was nothing compared to the pain to come. The gentlest of dentists wrote me a prescription for an antibiotic and a pain killer. I filled the prescription and called the office of a periodontist in Sarasota. I gave them the name of the referring doctor and set up the appointment.

Before hanging up, I needed one very specific question answered. "How much is this going to run me?"

The receptionist explained that the cleaning would be $85 dollars. She added that the doctor might require a full set of x-rays and that would cost another $95 dollars. I looked around for money, but she was nowhere to be found.

"I can pay for the cleaning," I explained. "But I'm not sure about the x-rays. Can I have the cleaning and then schedule the x-rays for a later date?" I was assured that this would not be a problem.

I arrived at the periodontist 20 minutes before my appointment time. I was promptly admitted. I sat in the dental chair. The periodontist came in and ordered me to open my mouth. He was like an explorer examining the gaps and craters inside. He shook his head up and down twice and kept saying. "Uh huh."

"You know what needs to be done here?" he asked.
"A good cleaning?" I answered.
"I need a full set of x-rays. You have wisdom teeth that need to come out. You going to quit smoking? This is going to cost you about $1,400 dollars. You got that kind of money?"
"At the moment," I said. "I'm a little bit short."

He sent his insurance specialist in. She told me my insurance would knock 25% off the price. I was charged $65 dollars for my 11 minutes and didn't get my teeth cleaned.

How come medical doctors can't get away with this? It wasn't an election year, so this isn't a defeated politician taking his hostilities out on would be constituents, is it? Most of my 32 columns have been published up north. He can't know me for the liberal journalist that I am. (I'll bet he put himself through dental school by selling used cars.) My dentist took a full set of x-rays, three days later, for $55 dollars. He's promised to find me another periodontist. In the meantime, I'm filling prescriptions and waiting for payday. My one day a week to shake hands with money.

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