Nancy Roman

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.



  1. When I began reading this post about doctors finding something wrong with you, I immediately thought about dentists. It’s been a long held belief of my husband, my son and I that they will definitely find something that needs fixing. And our theory: if it ain’t bothering me, I ain’t bothering it. (Of course, sometimes that theory bites us in the …..teeth…and we end up having to make an emergency visit.)
    How wonderful that you found Dr. Rafaniello. I know you wish he could practice dentistry forever. And I wish I could find a dentist like him.


    • He was a great dentist – later dentists who saw his work called him an “artist.” and a really good person. He is no longer practicing (I believe he is closing in on 90) – but he is still in good health.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Deb

    Was in dentistry for almost 20 years and would have killed to work for a dentist like Dr. R.


    • When he last did work for me ten years ago, he said, “I can’t promise it will last forever, but you may get twenty years out of it, and maybe you’ll be dead by then!”

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love your dentist stories, especially about Dr. Rafaniello. What a great sense of humor and how kind and thoughtful. Can’t wait for Part 2 of this series. 🙂


    • Thanks… I really liked that guy. When he found out I was a writer, and told me some stories of his youth, he asked me to write them up for him so he could save them for his children and grandchildren. I was glad to do that for him.
      Part 2 will be later in the week.


  4. I can sure relate. I wrote about my terror of the dentist in my memoirs blog and it is similar.


    • What a story! And yes, my first dentist was almost as mean. He never slapped me, but he pried my mouth open with dental instruments – I was bleeding from the ordeal, he was so rough.


  5. Christine

    I had some work done by Dr. Rafaniello when I was in college — maybe that was about the same time you did. I remember he was a big improvement over his predecessor, who during several visits would hold a just-extinguished match against my chipped tooth to see if the nerve was dead. As I jumped out of the chair crying, he would say ” guess the nerve is still good.” It is still good 55 years later.


    • Yes, his predecessor was very rough with me too. I was completely terrified.


  6. I had a very good dentist but had to switch when I got married and moved. One visit to the new dentist, who stunk to booze, at 8 am, and I decided the commute to my old dentist was well worth it. After that horrible experience I understood why my ex hated the dentist. He switched to mine. 🙂


    • I feel your pain (literally). I’ve had more than my share of bad experiences. Twenty years ago I thought I had found the perfect dentist – someone who measured up to Dr. Rafaniello. He was a superb dentist – until he was arrested for stealing drugs from his patients. Including me. I was happy to have Dr. Rafaniello help me out even as he approached eighty.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Victoria Block

    Thank you for this story. It brought tears to my eyes.


    • Thanks. Sometimes a small decent act stays with you forever.


      • Chris

        This is true. Very sweet story. Wish I had known about him.


        • And he was bored with retirement, so he opened an office in Farmington, right near where you used to live. Practiced well into his eighties. Still lives in Farmington now, from what I understand, and is in good health.


  8. Dentists. Why do they even study to be dentists. Nobody likes them, except the ones like yours.
    I didn’t like going to the dentist either, unless the last few years. I met a couple just as gentle and on the up-and-up like your Dr. Rafaniello. ❤ ❤


    • The dentist I see now is okay. But I wish I could find someone like Dr. Rafaniello.


  9. I always have mixed emotions about doctors — fear, skepticism and awe. I always start out with the first two and usually (but not always) end up with the last.


  10. I’ve had my fair share of disliked doctors. I have self diagnosed ALL my stomach ailments and I’m in a much more comfortable place because of my own efforts and research. I’ll hear and read where you shouldn’t diagnose yourself. Screw that, I got tired of my predicament and so I made changes. Now there is one allergist who I really admire. She was the only one who thought outside the box regarding my youngest who was living with a forever sinus infection. She figured out that one of his vaccines didn’t take and he got a booster vaccine shot. He hasn’t had to go back to the allergist and he’s been free and clear of infection. World of difference.


  11. I loved this! It’s not often you hear good stories about dentists!! My father was a Navy dentist who played basket in college. This story could’ve been written about him. He helped so many people who were so grateful to him…he was an unsung hero. Glad you recognized this wonderful man who was your dentist!!


  12. I am fortunate in most of my dentists over the years. As a very young teen I wore braces, before they put them on I had three baby teeth and 4 adult teeth extracted to make room in my jaw. Much later I had my Wisdom teeth extracted of course. I am most fortunate, mostly I have never had problems.



  1. Sorry, Doc. Part Two | notquiteold

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