On the Importance of Compassion, Bedside Manner, and Puppies

I hate the dentist.  I know what you’re thinking–nobody likes their dentist, so this really isn’t news.  But here’s the thing.  I used to like going to the dentist.  Growing up, my dentist was awesome.  He’s been our family’s dentist since my parents moved in together in the 80s.  He always asked how my siblings were doing, remembered what year I was in school, and took a genuine interest in what I was learning about or doing with my life.  He was conservative with fillings and he was kind.  He would open his practice the Saturday after Thanksgiving so that college students could get their teeth cleaned while they were home.  He was gentle and understanding and compassionate.  He always explained what he was doing and why.  And I liked going to the dentist.

When I got my new job, I also got dental insurance that requires me to use a specific Dental Health Center.  I went and got x-rays and then the dentist came out and told me I had 9 cavities and then he left.  The receptionist handed me a sheet of estimates that told me that my insurance wouldn’t cover all of those fillings and I would end up owing over $800.  I burst into tears at the front desk.  It was humiliating and frustrating and it made furious.  This was not how a dentist was supposed to act.  He was supposed to point at my xrays and show me what was going on.  He was supposed to tell me which cavities were most important to address first.  He was supposed to help me figure out what to change or do differently.  He was supposed to show some empathy and compassion for what he must have known would have been a difficult thing to hear.  But he didn’t.  He didn’t really seem to see me.

It took me a few weeks to build up the courage to call back and schedule a new appointment, with a new dentist this time.  So I went in this morning and got ready to repeat my above experience.  She told me the same thing–I still have 9 cavities, but she also told me she loved my boots, and asked where I’m from, and how many siblings I have.  She took the time to start to get to know me.  I still wasn’t happy that I have so many cavities and I still don’t love the idea of spending all that money on filling them when they’re not that bad.  But she at least made me feel human.  She had an genuinely empathetic reaction to me.  And that connection makes me trust her.  I can trust that she’s going to help me do what’s right for me, because she told me that’s what she’s going to do.  Her compassion and bedside manner made me feel like a person instead of an insurance payout.  It really helped.

So why is puppies in this list?  Cause I saw one outside just a few minutes after my appointment and oh my god it was so cute.  After the puppy, I was really ready to move on with my day.  Thank god for puppies.



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