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Monday, March 23, 2009

Dentistry Smalltalk

Why is the dentist more interested in what the assistant did over the weekend than my teeth? He can talk to her anytime. You’d think that small window of twenty minutes he spends with me would be quality time where we could reminisce and be old chums. Hey, I had a pretty dang good weekend myself. Let's see... among other things, I pulled some weeds in the back yard, moved boxes up to the attic, scaled the face of the Grand Tetons, rearranged my sock drawer, and oh, watched Desperate Housewives. So there…

But if you think about it, that’s just the point — he does talk to the assistant all day. He’s already heard every scintilla of her weekend several times over. He’s not really as surprised as he puts on. It’s all therefore a beautifully orchestrated act. Dentistry school teaches them how to choreograph the whole thing. It's the week 18 course: Drama & Mandibular Arches.

What I’m wondering is how much they have to rehearse their banter ahead of time. Once the week starts, you figure they have about 20-25 patients per day, or close to 100 in a week, so I’d imagine they must get really geared up for the show. By Wednesday, they’ve got the routine down pat and they’re ready to take it on the road.

What they were actually doing over the weekend (and not what the assistant claimed) was to go over the script. Off in a dimly lit room, between sips of his cappuccino delight the dentist can be heard saying, “This will be fabulous... here I’ll ask you about the cabin you go to near the lake, and then you come up with some zany occurrence that will leave me incredulous, where I’ll keep saying ‘Oh really?’” The assistant intones, “What if I say I fell out of the canoe and got water in my eardrum or something like that?” “Oh, yeah. Good stuff.” “And then I had to be resuscitated by Boy Scouts for their merit badges, and then I got caught in an avalanche and survived under the snow for three days by gnawing on my shoelaces…” “Oh, I like it. After that, do you think I should say ‘No way!’, or ‘Get outta here!’, or ‘Shut Up!’?” “Hmm. Dentists don’t say ‘shut up’. It could compromise your credibility.” “Good point.” “But ‘get outta here’ is very theatrical.” “And that’s what we want. It will keep them coming back for more.”

This is what’s more important than asking little ole’ me how I’m doing, apparently. Hey, I’m the one in pain here, guys. Down here, where all the tubes and implements are dangling. The one that looks like roadkill in a chair. Yeah, remember me? Where’s my sympathy?

Oh, sure, they’ll ask you at the beginning how you’re doing out of obligation, but it’s more of a pleasantry. If you try to say anything more than, “Oh, I’m doing fine,” they’ll start gagging you with this strange fermented stuff, and they’ll even resort to putting the gas mask on you if they have to. “Patient… must… not… talk. Too… dangerous…”

And then every ten minutes, they’re required by the American Dental Association to say on cue, “You doin’ all right?”, but it’s nothing other than a smokescreen. You’re allowed only a one-word response anyway, for which you can give no further explanation. They don’t want to know how you are, but they want you to know that they know that they asked. Trust me, it all makes perfect sense when you’re buzzed. If they told you Elvis was getting a root canal done in the next room, you'd believe them. Never mind that he has dentures now...

Now, I realize that I can’t speak all that well with instruments in my mouth. But couldn’t we just improvise a little… you know, be a little creative and not demand perfect diction all the time? My ‘s’ might sound like an ‘f’, and the ‘t’ like a ‘b’, plus the ‘th’ is totally out the door, but they could figure it out from the context. “Cub I aff fo a pemup bubba an bewee fanwipf?” “Huh? Did he say something? Give him more gas… he’s starting to hallucinate.”

At the very least, we could use signals. Put flags in our hands if you need to. Give me a little Morse Code tapper. I'll do it with mime hand puppets if you want. Whatever it takes — I could adapt.

Or even better yet, just ask simple questions and use a system like they do on Lassie…

“Is there a barn on fire?”
(two grunts = No)

“Did somebody fall in a ravine?”
(one grunt = Yes)

“Were they wearing a green alpaca?”
(four grunts = Yes, but they were also eating fondu)

“Will there be a test on this later?”
(three grunts = I believe so, and the study manual will cost you forty bucks plus tax, which is non-refundable in the contiguous United States except for Alabama)

“Are you in a lot of pain right now?”
(one elongated “agggghhhhh…” = Duh!)

“Can I get you anything?”
(two and a half grunts = Oh yes, I’d like the house salad, if you don’t mind. And would it be all right if you just made it into a smoothie and sprayed it into my mouth? My lips ain't movin' much, you know...)

People feel powerless at the dentist, and I think it all revolves around not being able to communicate. That’s why babies cry, because they’re ticked off they can’t communicate anything. You ask a baby a question, and they’ve got nothin’ for you. “What do you want, Pops? I have no teeth to speak of, my tongue is highly untrained, I’m waaay behind on my speech lessons, not to mention I’m trying to spend most of my time just figuring out how my arms work, and this language of yours is what I’d call a tad bit complicated there. Get back to me in a couple years, okay?”

So anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying that the gig is up on the whole Lassie deal. Contrary to popular belief, Lassie was not all that familiar with the human lexicon, and always got confused on the past perfect tense of transitive verbs. Plus there just wasn’t that much inflection in her barks. Shows all the more just what a great actor she was. To demonstrate the pretense involved, if we use our Lass-o-lator, we’ll see what was really happening in all those episodes…

“Ruff! Ruff! … Ruff!”
(translation: hey, my legs are chafing)

“What? Somebody’s hurt?”

“Ruff! Ruff!”
(translation: uh, yeah Einstein… it’s me…)

“They are? Where are they? Did they fall into a ravine?”

“Ruff! Ruff! Ruff! Grrrr…”
(translation: No! I’m right here! And what is it with you guys and ravines? Stick with me here…)

“They did? Were they accosted by a band of gypsies?”

“Ruff! Ruff! Rrrrrruffff!”
(translation: You’ve been reading too many mystery novels, haven’t you? Yes… they were accosted by a band of gypsies, and coincidentally the leader was Lindsay Lohan, holding a hair dryer to someone’s head and asking for ransom in small unmarked credit cards. Is that what you wanted to know?)

“Holy cow! Wow, we’ve got to go save them right now! Good work, Lassie!”

“Ruff! Ruff!”
(translation: Don’t mention it… Can I have a dog biscuit now?)

(Disclaimer: This post was ratified by the Gender Equity Group for gross generalizations used for the sole intent of simplicity despite the fact that not all dentists are male nor are all assistants female — though it tends to make the banter a lot more entertaining when they are.)

1 comment:

Renee said...

Very fun Rusty! You're just lucky that you're the quiet type who is content to just listen (or is frustrated listening, but still stays quiet). My personality lends to wanting to jump into every conversation. So it's really hard to not start talking with a bite-wing square in my mouth, numbing stuff, drill, whatever. I really have to control myself to zone out enough to not participate. So tough though.

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