A Special Moment at the Dentist
As a nurse, I really try very hard to keep my personal stories to myself when I perform my daily patient care tasks. Unless my patients specifically ask or I feel that telling "here's what happened to me" would benefit my patient in a direct and real way, I don't share my birth stories or my kids' ages or my thoughts on parenting [other than what I'm mandated to advise by my nursing role (i.e., Back to Sleep, umbilical cord care, breastfeeding positioning, pumping tips)]. Of course, I engage in a small talk and chit-chat, but generally, I try to stay in the patient's moment, admire their child for his or her special uniqueness, and be otherwise a necessary, but unobtrusive presence in this special moment.
I imagine that dentists feel the same way.
Yesterday I arrived at my dentist's office to share a special moment when he drilled out and filled a long-standing "watch" on #12 and filed down a notorious filling on #13 that had been shredding dental floss.
Now, dentists and their hygienists are in a really tough spot. Here they are, trying to act professional, calm, non-chalant even, while they are hard at work in a small, dark, cramped space using itty-bitty instruments. What's even more difficult is that in these situations they always seem to work in pairs: dentist and hygienist. So, what are they to do while they drill and grind, but make boring small talk with one another about benign, inoffensive topics to soothe and calm a nervy patient? You, the nervy patient, have no hope of being involved in the conversation - beyond some well-placed non-verbal assents and denials - because of all the accoutrement gathered in your mouth and impeding the movement of your tongue. You're lucky if you can swallow, much less speak with any clarity.
For most of of humanity perhaps this is a non-issue; perhaps most dental patients would rather ignore the quiet patter of conversation between dentist and hygienist and focus instead on the pain, or at least, the possibility of pain.
But, for me, I'd rather chat, and alleviate some of my pain worries with some good distraction. My dentist is Italian. My hygienist is from Sioux City, near Vermillion. They are a hilarious duo. He's soft-spoken, erudite, accented and olive-skinned. She's down-to-earth, loud, accented in a Midwestern way and fake-baked. They have a lot of funny, interesting things to say about the world from their various viewpoints.
Me (just before the rubber dam blocked my ability to chat): So, have either of you taken a summer vacation yet?
Hygienist: Oh, if I could be so lucky! A trip to Costco is like a vacation for me! (Aside: Iowa City just got a Costco store and everybody's very excited about it) But, Dr. G- just got back from Italy. He abandoned us for three weeks.
Me: (to Dr. G-) Uhn? (as if to say, "Really?"
Dentist (softly, with style): Yes, yes.
Hygienist (loudly, in her own style): He never brings me back any noodles when he goes, though. I get all my noodles from Costco!
Dentist (smiling and shrugging): Ah, well ...
Hygienist: Yup. I suppose you went sailing over the 4th, too, huh Dr. G-?
Dentist: No, no ... It was much too hot and with all the rigging ... Well ...
Hygienist: I just stayed in the air with my dog. We had a good time.
After 45 minutes, they'd fixed my teeth, but I sort of wanted to take them out for coffee, just to watch them chat a little more. It was the most entertaining dental appointment I've had in a long time.