First patient of the week. A new patient. A retired male in his sixties. Thin, dressed in jeans and a tight t-shirt. Cynical and self-pitying. He aggressively informs me, "I want my teeth cleaned, nothing else." He dares me to disagree.
This is going to end in tears. I could slow down, stop, and carefully tell him what I believe and why. I could slowly explain why we need to get a proper history and do a thorough exam before we begin treatment but sometimes it’s easier to instantly dislike someone. It saves time.
I say, “We are having a look at your teeth”, recline the chair and begin probing his teeth. I slowly chart his mouth as he gradually becomes more irritated. He tries to talk above my fingers in his mouth, “the filling is okay. There’s nothing wrong with it.” I continue probing, looking to the goldfish for assistance. I slowly peer at the teeth.
He’s still wants to say something and I carefully grab a perio probe and begin probing.
“My teeth are fine. I just want my teeth cleaned. That’s all.”
I reach over and sit the chair up. As the chair rises he looks around baffled and confused. I tell him, “I think you should see someone else.”
The chair spits him out and as he rushes out the door he yells,” I think I should. “
I start to say, “Have a good day. “ But Jessica is the only one listening. He’s gone. I can hear him racing down the corridor, the front door slamming and then silence.
Jessica says, “That’s a bummer first thing of the week.”
I disagree. By Friday we would have forgotten him. Better now.
I tell Jessica, “I should do that more often.” but I’m shaking and the pressure has built and she is not convinced. Give me something to hit. I should have yelled at him.
Beryl approaches and asks, “What was that all about?”
“I’m right. I know I am. You can’t clean teeth without looking at them. The idea is ridiculous. You have to know what to look before you can do anything. I know I’m right.” I desperately plead my case.
The next patient is waiting. A lady who wants to know how her gums are, how her cleaning is going. ”Because I’ve been working very hard at it and I’m expecting some good news.”
Her cleaning is constantly improving and is now close to perfect but I’m distracted by the previous patient.
I can cope with anxious patients or patients that disagreement with me (I actually enjoy them) or honest ignorance but I hate the ones who don’t believe my motives, don’t trust me, think I’m only trying to rip them off. I can cope with someone who says, “I want a second opinion”, “let me think about it” or “I don’t believe you” but this guy didn’t trust me. He didn’t believe me. But this lady does. In fact I’m continually surprised by the trust people have.
I really should do it more often. Stand by something. I normally end up compromising. Because I like the person and they might change and improve or because it‘s stressful laying down the law. To be fair to this guy I should have told him why I didn’t want to continue our relationship but to be fair to me he ran out of the surgery before I could. The next patient is another true believer and the first patient is beginning to recede and I‘m reminded of Jesus Christ and how he spent more time worrying about the stray sheep then the good sheep.
I imagine him ringing back to apologise: “I’m sorry I walked out on you. I’m sorry I didn’t trust you. Can I please return? I‘ll pay for the last visit.”
But it’s not going to happen. What will happen is him complaining to his friends.
And at the end of the day I have spent time stressing and worrying about one black sheep, distracted and anxious and taking the good patients for granted. Assuming that they’ll be satisfied and that they will return. I think JC was wrong on this one. Tomorrow I’ll worry about the good sheep, the ones that trust and respect me. It’s a lot easier and there’s a lot more of them.
This blog is the fictional story of a dentist. The dentist works with Jessica and Beryl in a town a lot like Hobart. The blog tells the story of what these people get up to and the work that they do. If you feel that you recognize yourself in one of the stories please remember it is fictional and the characters and stories are all fictional. Though all the stories are based on my time as a dentist in Hobart and are based on things which actually did happen.