Simple Human Kindness

I’m not a fan of the dentist – never have been, but an experience of a failed extraction where the anaesthetic didn’t work around 9 years ago seriously scarred me. I never wanted to go back… Not having ever had an extraction before I just presumed it would hurt to some degree. Apparently it’s not supposed to hurt at all… I know that now.

On that occasion the dentist I visited dosed me up with anaesthetic right to the point where I simply couldn’t have any more – and still it hurt like crazy. After 40 minutes of wriggling and whining and getting nowhere I remember saying ‘just go as hard as you can and I’ll suck it up…’ After what felt like 10 seconds but was more likely 3 or 4 I tapped out. It was sheer intense agony. I dunno how people do it in countries without the facilities we have. She left me on a cheery note ‘don’t worry you can come back next week and we’ll have another try…’ Yeah right…’ I went to our church bloke’s group where I sat zombified for the next 90 minutes – happy to be out of there but in disbelief that I still had to do it all over again.

As it turned out the dentist on the return visit was a grade above the apprentice who was working on me and she got it out – but I lay rigid, frozen with fear, the whole time.

I have had 2 teeth extracted in the last month both at our local Yanchep Dentist and on both occasions I have been dreading the events. Fear lingers. That one event marked me. 

However these times were different. What really impressed me wasn’t the skill of the dentist – although both were very good at getting the teeth out and  keeping me ok during the event. But I was struck by the dental nurse who clearly picked up my anxiety. (I was trying to lie still and be touch but I think I was like a tin soldier.) On the first occasion she gently rubbed my hand and my brow and told me it would be ok. I was conscious of it feeling like an odd thing to be on the receiving end of – a 59 year old man afraid and uptight – but at the same time I was aware of her care easing me and calming me.

It was quite beautiful.

As I went in today for what was apparently going to be a ‘complicated extraction’ (cue the fear meter to register off the chart) I saw her there and she seemed to recognise me too. I felt better straight away knowing I had her. As the dentist looked into my mouth, he identified a wisdom tooth that had shifted since my last visit. ‘Right – let’s start here’ he said. I had come in for a different tooth, but now there 2 that needed extracting… As he poked around my mouth, I called a halt to proceedings and began to talk of general anaesthetic, getting the two done in one hit – waking up with it all over…

The crazy cost almost seemed worth it, but then my other side kicked in and said ‘ok let’s just do this thing…’

We agreed to the ‘complicated tooth’ with the wisdom tooth saved for another day. Joy.

Again as the dentist’s tools did their yanking and cracking in my mouth her hand was on top of mine, her fingers gently calming me – and it genuinely eased my fear. I didn’t realise human touch could make such a difference, especially from someone I didn’t know and before whom I felt weak and vulnerable. So thank you to S for not just being efficient and good with the tools but for seeing people for who they are – even anxious older men who you may expect to be tougher than that…

I’m not. But I’m also not dreading future visits anything like I have been

i think we all sometimes wonder how we ‘make a difference’ at work. Here’s a case in point. Learn from S and just see the people in front of you for who they are and respond to them as they need it – even if they don’t even know that they need it. I didn’t go in hoping the nurse would be kind and compassionate – would stroke my hand – but I left grateful that she wasn’t inhibited or restrained by any social conventions that ruled out physical touch with a client.

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