The Daily Dahlia
Teeth have played a prominent role in my life. There’s the financial side that includes the Tooth Fairy dropping off quarters under my pillow in exchange for a tooth, (and though I haven’t run the numbers, I’m pretty sure I didn’t have enough baby teeth to cover the dental expenses that were to come). The first bulletin board I created as a fourth grade teacher was a big ole’ mess of teeth under the words “I Can’t Believe I Ate The Whole Thing”. And of course there are the countless times I’ve fantasized about punching somebody’s teeth down their throat.
I’m not real sure when the Dental Dread started. Maybe it was the awful gag reflex inducing impressions, the retainers, the rubber bands, and finally the removal of braces. Maybe it was that summer day when a poorly-timed appointment meant I had to leave the Loretta Young Show in progress, not knowing till this day if she got out of that iron lung. Or maybe it was the time I caught the dentist on a bad day . . .
I am called back relatively promptly – maybe 20 minutes after my appointment time (which meant 35 minutes if you count arriving early so I could complete the paperwork and keep the office running on time). With me seated in the chair that had the potential to become an expensive carnival ride, the paper towel clipped around my neck, and the table of sharp, shiny, (hopefully) sterilized instruments rolled close enough for even me – the one with no peripheral vision – to see, the stage is set for the dentist.
A tooth has broken, a crown is called for. Because I’d never had a crown before – not this kind, anyway – I ask him to give me a rough outline of what he plans to do then give me 10 minutes to mentally prepare myself. Do that, I tell him, and I’ll be just fine.
“Why do you need to do that?” he asks, a question I took to mean that my request was new to him.
“Well, you see, I’m kind of afraid of dentists,” I tell him, “but I do fine as long as I know what’s coming and have a few minutes to draw a map for myself and envision me sitting here calmly through the entire procedure.”
“But WHY do you need to do that?” he asks again.
Even the second time it’s asked, the question catches me off guard, so I simply repeat my previous answer.
“I don’t understand,” he says, and my anxiety meter begins to make its way towards the red zone.
He throws one of the aforementioned sharp, shiny, (hopefully) sterilized instruments across the room. “I am so tired of being a dentist and having to deal with people who are afraid of dentists,” he says between perfectly straight, pearly white, tightly clenched teeth.
“This is not what I went through dental school for,” he continues. “I’ve done nothing to you.”
“That’s true,” I say calmly. “This is the first time I’ve seen you. It’s not you personally, it’s your professional generally.”
He begins pacing.
Now the chair that has the potential to become a carnival ride is facing the wall, leaving the door behind my head (which includes my face which includes my eyes). I begin planning an exit, but the ride has just started, and I’ve been effectively buckled in.
“How do you think it feels to get out of bed every morning, knowing you have to go and spend an entire day dealing with people who are afraid of you?” he asks.
He pauses, looking at me intently, which I take as an order to respond. “Maybe some of them aren’t afraid of you,” I offer, “and whether they’re afraid or not, they still pay you.” (If you think it sounds feeble here, Dear Reader, you should’ve heard it in my trembling voice.)
These are the last words that leave my untouched-by-dentist-hands mouth for 49.5 minutes. He rails and he roars. He paces and he pitches. He tantrums and he throws a few more of the sharp, shiny, (hopefully) sterilized instruments. Every now and then a chirpy assistant cracks the door open, sticks her smiling head in, and asks, “Is everything okay in here?”
“Fine,” he tells her gruffly, and hearing that, she does what any tenured assistant of his would probably do: she removes her smiling head and closes the door.
On and on the tirade goes . . . only it’s more of a pity party gone bad. This is not what he signed up for. Not what he imagined. Not how he wants to spend his days.
Eventually he runs out of steam, throws the door open, scattering the array of sharp, shiny, (hopefully) sterilized instruments that now cover the floor. Because he hasn’t told me what he is going to do and given me 10 minutes to mentally prepare myself, I don’t know what is coming next or what to do when it gets here. Had he forgotten about the readily-available white porcelain bowl with the hose attached and gone for a drink of water? Had he gone to fetch sharper, shinier, (forget the sterilized part) instruments from another room? Was he going to come back with an unhappy, disgruntled colleague and give them a turn? Was today the day for, and I the witness to, every single staff member’s meltdown?
He never comes back, but his chirpy assistant does, and she brings a couple of friends. “Where is he?” she asks, “and what’s been going on in here?”
“I think we can safely say he’s had a nervous breakdown,” I tell them.
“What?” they ask collectively. Now I know it’s not my articulation that causes their lack of comprehension, because none of the sharp, shiny, (hopefully) sterilized instruments – including the one with novocaine – ever entered my mouth . . . a mouth which I’m pretty sure had remained in the gaping-open position for the past 49.5 minutes. I am strangely relieved at the thought this isn’t normal, standard behavior for him.
“For the past 49.5 minutes, he held me hostage in this chair while he vented and spewed his job dissatisfaction, which, on a scale of 1 to 10, tallies in at about minus 153.” Because they seem incapable, I remove the paper towel from around my neck, raise the arm rest, get out of the chair, and leave the room. At the receptionist’s desk, I rummage through my purse for my keys.
And just when my jaws relax enough to let my mouth close again, she asks, “Would you like to reschedule?”
I ‘spect there are more teeth – not necessarily dentists, but teeth – in future stories. If you’d like to read them, avail yourself of the free subscription by mashing the “right this way” button in the orange strip at the top of the screen and follow the directions. Now open wide . . .
Good grief! How incompetent. When he asked why you needed 10 minutes, I wondered if he was attempting to get at the root cause of your fear so he could reassure you, not rant at you!
I didn’t have a regular dentist, so I chose him because he was the husband to one of the children’s better, more beloved teachers. Obviously I’ve devised better selection criteria since then. . .