I went to a periodontist to have a tooth removed.
It was clear I was entering a business. There were multiple indications, mostly communicated via legal forms denying me recourse if the doctor screwed up, and several other forms focused on the money I’d owe if insurance didn’t pay. The place was cool and efficient. I was told by staff orally what I was to pay for, what I would not. The numbers were exact, the manner disciplined. No one asked me how I felt about my fractured tooth, or losing it.
They took an initial x‑ray (I didn’t have to pay for that.) They did a multi-layer scan with a very expensive machine (for which I did have to pay). The doctor showed me the comparative advantages of removal of the tooth versus rebuild as thoroughly as a sales person might sell me a new car rather than a used one.
While I waited for the event to happen, I sat in the waiting room. One of the staff took a call from an angry customer who had received a bill for more than she thought due. The tone of the staff member was patient but patronizing. The call went on for awhile.
Then it was my turn to lay down on the chair. The doctor appeared and chatted with me and his assistant while I prepared to get numbed up. Offhandedly, he complained about his accountant and how much he was charged for his taxes, his dozen LLC’s. Then the subject of the angry customer came up. “It’s only a couple hundred bucks,” the doctor said plaintively, as if this was a pathetically small amount to argue about. “I know,” said the assistant, “she’d been clearly told how much the service is.” I could hear the eye-roll in her voice. “She thought it should be free. I think she’s Somalian or something.”
The doctor gave me a moment for my jaw to rest between shots of anesthetic. “I heard the call,” I said.
“You did?” the doctor said, implicitly asking me to open my mouth for another needle-ful by bringing the syringe forward. “This one will sting a little more,” he said. Then he asked, “So who was right?” as he continued to poke the needle into my palate.
Under the lights and leaning far back in that chair with my head tilted down and to the side for his better angle, I just said “I have to trust you.”
“Well, that’s it, isn’t?” he continued. “They either trust you or they don’t — they have to decide if I’m competent, and then they have to decide to let me do my job.”
Later, after a few minutes, the fractured tooth came out and the implant went in. “Damn, I’m good!” he said. “We’ve got time left — you want to do that same tooth again,” he joked.
Later still, I walked to the door. He was there at the counter. I said to another assistant, “Is there anything else on my account or have I paid everything?” She obligingly began to look up my records but he chimed in humorously, “I have a big trip coming up, so of course there’s more charges.” He thought I was laughing with him.
I have to say he did an excellent job — technically speaking. I hardly have any pain at all today even though a whole tooth is gone and a little screw has been inserted into my jaw bone so that a new false tooth can be attached to it later.
But I’m disappointed in myself for not calling him out for insensitivity, maybe even racism. I could have taken him aside and offered him some tactful feedback about his tone, the tone of his whole office, not that I actually believe it would have done much good. After all, he owns the place and certainly wasn’t asking for my opinion. Who knows, maybe some of my courage was removed with the tooth. After this many years in my business you kind of know when there’s an open mind on the other side of the wall. But that’s no excuse for me, really. We are responsible for our lies.
I hear myself reassuring myself that I don’t have to go back again, that I can explain my experience to my regular dentist who currently makes frequent referrals to this guy. That maybe I can write a letter. But I’m still disappointed with the trade-off I settled for. And as I look over this post I also wonder if this isn’t my little act of personal revenge, hanging this guy out to dry with all my judgments but not talking to him about it directly. Is there a pattern there, I also have to ask myself, a certain passive aggression? There’s a lot to think about, and maybe I’m overthinking it, too.
Such a sign of the times, so much distance between people that some of us have become objects and we put up with that. So much numbness. So much distance between the haves and have-nots.
It’s only a couple hundred bucks, you know. It’s not that much.
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