I had to go for my semi-annual dental check-up last Saturday. Most of the time I deal with this as I would any other torturous event in my life I can’t avoid – I make jokes about it to my wife. She knows I have fractured and sliced numerous parts on my body during work or sports, wrapped them up and went back to work without a doctor’s visit or taking a day off (I went to the doctor’s office for the first time in seventeen years last summer for an overdue tetanus shot). She needles me because the dentist represents the only human being on earth who can induce anxiety in me. I issue these tidbits of information only because it sets up how already unhappy I am at making these twice a year sojourns into personal angst. My dentist is a good man I’ve had a respectful relationship with for two decades. He surprised me a couple weeks back by having his receptionist call and reschedule my cleaning which has never happened. No big deal, I think.
I arrive early as always. The very nice receptionist seats me in an exam room. I then hear my dentist outside the room tying up loose ends with a previous patient before sticking his head in to greet me.
“Hi, I’ll be right with you, Bernie.”
‘No problem, Doc, I’m early.”
Then I hear him coughing – one of those dry coughs all of us experience sometimes because of the treated air inside buildings. Worst case, I’m thinking maybe he has a cold, or he’s getting over one, or he has the swine flu. He comes in with my file, mask in place, looking for some reason to take x-rays which he always finds. Donning exam gloves, my dentist coughs onto his gloved hands periodically while inserting x-ray plates in my mouth on both sides. During this time we exchange pleasantries about family while I can still talk and he clucks over my old fillings starting to show cracks (they’ve been showing cracks for a decade). I politely tell him once again I’ll notify him immediately of any change or if I’m having trouble. Then he slips the bombshell on me.
“I’m sorry about postponing your cleaning from last week… (pause to cough)… excuse me. I was in Africa attending a conference.”
Oh boy, there’s some good news. I feel like Stephen King’s characters sitting at the gas station just before the car driven by a dying driver infected with viral death hurtles into the gas pump at the beginning of ‘The Stand’. My silence stretched out like a dead python between us. He went on after a moment about his adventure, pausing to cough on a periodic basis while setting up his cleaning equipment. I’m of course sitting there wondering how long I’ve got before the Eboli bacteria starts giving me his dry hacking cough. The Doc finishes setting up and launches into my cleaning, complete with coughing pauses while politely holding a hand up to his masked mouth before plunging it again into mine. I emerged from the dentist’s office with a new perspective on fears pertaining to my teeth. :)