Editorial: Procrastinator's Day

Editorial: Procrastinator's Day

William E. Stein, D.D.S.*:

I’m writing this epistle on the eve of “Procrastinator’s Day”, or, as you who have been in practice for several years will recognize, the day before Thanksgiving.

Procrastinator’s Day came early this year as the dentally halt, blind, and lame beat a path to our door. Folks we haven’t seen in years crowded the schedule in hopes of making amends for their dental neglect and to have that painful tooth filled or extracted (or in hope we could magically provide a new, painless, immediate denture in time for Thanksgiving dinner!). “And by the way, Doc, could you please write me a script for 75 Vicodin to help me over the great pain I will suffer after you put that amalgam filling in the access opening of the stainless steel crown that you did the root canal on that feels just fine but I’m so afraid it’s gonna hurt over Thanksgiving?”

What a day! And it will only be worse tomorrow. It’s just human nature. What do we procrastinate about? Is it our yearly physical, that colonoscopy, continuing education courses, spending quality time with our friends and family? Who knows?

As the dental issues piled up during the day - and of course nothing went smoothly, everything that could go wrong did - many of our old faithful patients showed up with emergencies that truly needed attending to. Yet it was a good day.

Deby, my dear friend and hygienist of 30 years, had a new patient who hadn’t had a decent cleaning or scaling in more than 30 years. Thick layers of calculus! Deb was in her glory. At lunch, flushed with victory, she asked me this cogent question: “I just love it when a patient comes in with years of concretions on his teeth. I can really see that I am making a difference. What do you do that makes you feel the same way?”

What a great question! I pondered it.

Julie, my dear chairside assistant, loves pus. I guess I do too. There’s nothing like lancing a bulging abscess and flushing out gobs of green goo; as the oral surgeons tell us, “All bleeding eventually stops, and never let the sun set on pus.” But that really wasn’t it for me.

Wanda likes to fix things. She is never happier than when she saves us from a lost day by restoring the errant machinery.

Tracy and Judy take satisfaction from making the office run smoothly or finally collecting from some deadbeat.

I told Deby that I thought I took the most pleasure from solving complex dental problems, thinking on my seat, so to speak, saving smiles, coming up with solutions that patients would appreciate and could afford.

But still, that wasn’t it. The day dragged on. Finally it was over; I put on my jeans and sweatshirt and was heading out the door when Judy stopped me. “Deby has one more patient for you to check.” I muttered something about “That’s the way the day’s been going.”

She replied, “Just put on a scrub top and get over it.”

I sulked into my main operatory to retrieve my telescopes. Julie was cleaning up.

I did my best imitation of “Michael Corleone” in Godfather III: “Just when I thought I was out, they drag me back in!”

I sullenly opened the door to Deby’s operatory. There in the chair was Lonnie. Thirty-five years ago, I watched Lonnie’s dad carry Lonnie, then a three-year-old suffering from cerebral palsy, into the OR of the Aitkin Hospital for me to restore his ravaged teeth. Lonnie now lives in a group home. I get the biggest kick out of Lonnie and his pals. They always brighten my day. I always get a big hug from each of them, and today was no exception. As Lonnie hugged me and in his halting, struggling voice said, “I love you, buddy!” I suddenly knew from whence I draw my greatest joy in dentistry.

*Dr. Stein is Executive Editor of Northwest Dentistry. He is a general dentist in private practice in Aitkin, Minn., AitkinDent@AOL.com.