Sorry, Doc. Part One
I am confessing to a strong prejudice.
For a very long time I have held the opinion that doctors will always find something wrong with you, so they can treat you. That is how they make money after all.
A surgeon will of course think you need surgery. An ear specialist will think every kid needs tubes and every person over 40 needs a hearing aid.
And worst is the allergist.
My mother, who had a very long career as a nurse, always told me: “Never marry a doctor. They think they know everything. But if you MUST marry a doctor, marry an allergist.Their patients never die – but they also never get better.”
So I’ve always been more than skeptical at anything the doctor said. I remember once going to a dermatologist for a rash that my family doctor couldn’t seem to identify. My G.P. had sent along all the results from the tests he had already conducted. The dermatologist remarked, “That’s a lot of tests. I don’t exactly know why he did them.” And I replied, “To run up the bill?” The dermatologist did not laugh.
So there it is. I have a very bad attitude when it comes to doctors.
But I remembered two events – both happened quite a long time ago – that negate that bad attitude. And I don’t know why they didn’t influence me more.
But it’s never too late to say you’re sorry.
I’m sorry, all you doctors that have passed or will pass through my life. Some of you might be ethical after all.
Here’s the first incident:
When I was a kid, I had a horrible fear of the dentist. I had been badly frightened by a dentist who. let’s just say, was not great with children. My fear was so overwhelming, that for years, when my mother would take me, I would completely panic and refuse to open my mouth. Oh sure, you could pry it open with sheer brute force (which the bastard occasionally employed), but more often than not my mother would end up taking me home with both of us in tears and my teeth unattended.
But eventually I became a teenager, and I wanted nice teeth. And I wanted them to stop hurting. So one night while doing the dishes, I told my mother than I knew I needed to see the dentist but I was very afraid. My greatly feared dentist had a new younger associate, Dr. Robert Rafaniello, and Mom had heard he was very kind. So she called the office and made me an appointment, explaining that I was willing but terrified.
I went. By myself. My mother dropped me off, saying that I might be better off learning to handle it by myself.
While I was waiting in the chair, staring nervously out the window, I saw a guy in a dentist’s coat glide by – on a skateboard. How bad could he be?
Well, Dr. Rafaniello wasn’t bad. He was wonderful. Sweet and gentle and funny.
“Don’t salivate,” he told me once. “My spit-sink is broken.”
He was honest too. I needed extensive work – fillings and root canals. And when he knew it would hurt, he told me so. He said he would be as quick and gentle as possible, but he acknowledged my pain. And that made it bearable.
I had one tooth that was impacted. My jaw was small, and it seemed there had just been no room for that tooth to descend.
“We’re going to have to do something with that impacted tooth,” said Dr. Rafaniello.
And I think my teeth must have been as terrified of the dentist as I was, because that tooth came in the next month. I was sixteen and I had a new tooth. Only, there still wasn’t room for it, so it came down behind the other teeth. I had a brand new tooth on the roof of my mouth.
The next time I visited Rafaniello, he examined the tooth. “Son of a gun,” he said.
“Does it bother you to have that tooth there?” he asked.
“It did at first,” I confessed. “But to tell you the truth, I’ve already gotten kind of used to it.”
And Dr. Rafaniello said something that amazed me then, and still does now:
“That tooth will eventually give you trouble. It is so crooked, and the placement won’t allow for a good blood supply either. I don’t think that it will stay healthy. But you know, your parents have spent a lot of money on your teeth already, and their dental plan isn’t all that good, and now they’re probably saving to send you to college. Why don’t we just wait? It will probably be years before that tooth bothers you, and maybe by that time, you’ll have a job and your own insurance, and you can pay for it. Let’s give your parents a break.”
Eventually, I had to have that tooth extracted. I was thirty-one. My insurance paid for it.
Years later, when I was well into my fifties and Dr. Rafaniello was approaching eighty, I had him fix a tooth that my current dentist said was unfixable. Ten years later, his fix is still holding.
He knew I was a writer and he told me a little of his life story. He went to college on a basketball scholarship, but was injured and couldn’t play. He lost his scholarship. He thought he would have to quit school, but his adviser got him a job at the university’s dental clinic to earn his tuition. That’s when he decided to become a dentist. His parents didn’t have to pay for it.
And my parents didn’t have to pay for my impacted-then-crooked tooth.