When something goes wrong on the other side of the world

I’m pressing my head into an x-ray machine while a woman motions wildly with her hands, speaking in Portuguese. Am I standing in the wrong spot? Do I need to look in another direction? I’m trying to think what could be wrong but the language barrier isn’t exactly making this easy. 

She stops and thinks for a moment before saying “won’t work.” “Take off,” she says, motioning to my neck. I realise I need to take off my jewellery before she can start the x-ray. 

I’m in a dental surgery in Lisbon, Portugal after a bit of a holiday mishap. While eating an apple in Amsterdam a few days ago I felt something hard, crunchy and a bit un-apple like in texture. Strange. I kept chewing.

On later inspection it turned out that a quarter of my front tooth had chipped off, leaving me looking a tad like a pirate with mismatched front teeth – one jagged and certainly not suitable for close-up photographs.

Normally I’d wait until I was home to get it sorted but with four and a half months to go on my European adventure this couldn’t wait. 

I was thinking how can I go about seeing a dentist in another country where English isn’t their first language? How do I navigate their health care system and how do I even make a travel insurance claim? I’m a 22-year-old adult who’s capable of looking after herself back in Sydney but this is new, confusing and time-consuming territory. 

Travel insurance has always been a ‘just in case’ safety net. I’d never used it and didn’t expect to. Back in Australia I’m healthy and although sometimes accident prone it’s luckily never been anything bad enough to warrant medical attention. 

I contacted my travel agent with my dilemma and he advised me to call the insurance agency. So on went the global roaming (I’m yet to receive that shocker of a phone bill) and I called their emergency number. The woman on the other end of the line was more than helpful, taking me through the ins and outs of my policy, how to make a claim and recommended a handful of dentists in Lisbon. 

Hard part done, nerves calmed. 

As soon as I got to Lisbon I used the hostel phone to contact the recommended dentist. After being passed through three different receptionists I was able to talk to one in English, explain my predicament and book an appointment for the next day. 

Once there, in an unfamiliar neighbourhood just north of Lisbon’s tourist hub, the receptionist ran me through what would be done.

The dentist himself spoke english so after receiving the x-ray was able to get to work, cap my tooth and explain step by step exactly what he was doing.

Nerves calmed even more than before and pearly new tooth acquired.

From there he wrote a report detailing my injury and the treatment given which my travel insurance agency needs to process my claim.

For something which was initially overwhelming, a headache both physically and to think about logistically, navigating the unchartered and uncomfortable foreign territory was a lot less daunting when push came to shove. As soon as I started asking the relevant people and places questions, everything was able to fall into place and now i’m not petrified to bite into something hard, should I chip off even more of that pesky front tooth.

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