The Perfect Patient
Yes, we dentists frighten patients. But a less commonly reported fact is that PATIENTS FRIGHTEN DENTISTS! Historically, the dental patient has never fully embraced the idea of having sharp things drilled into their mouth. And giving the dentist the mortgage money to do this just adds insult to injury. Attempting to inject humor into the impending tragedy, patients say things like “I really hate dentists”. Realizing this may not be conducive to the start of a harmonious doctor-patient relationship, they may quickly add: “Nothing personal Doc”. They don’t mean it …or do they? We laugh, but our anxiety level kicks up a notch.
Battered, broke and freshly licensed to put sharp things in people’s mouths, I left NYU Dental College behind. The Air Force was short of dentists during the Vietnam War and I signed up. Two years later, I opened a practice in my hometown, Vineland, New Jersey. It was a town very similar to Nogales. Instead of a mostly Mexican-American population it was a mostly Italian-American population; two similar Latin cultures. It was good to be home, or so I thought. All my patients back then, as I recall, either knew me or knew someone who knew me implying a substantial discount was expected. Like most new dentists, I was struggling to pay off a wagon loaded with eight-years of college debt. Unloading the wagon was going to be tough! My large pro bono family of, aunts, uncles, cousins and their assorted friends introduced a new and unexpected level of anxiety. My Sharp-Instrument license didn’t address that problem.
Unable to find the Perfect Patient at home, I handed the office keys to my partner Steve, and headed west. The thought of Arizona sunshine was intoxicating, but subconsciously I was searching for the Perfect Patient. Partnering with a colleague in Scottsdale for a couple of years confirmed the big city wasn’t for me. True, I wasn’t related to any of my patients, but most were transplants from back East with the same stressed, expectant personalities. Plus it’s 114° and they’re hot. My anxiety level was reduced a bit, but it was still too uncomfortable for a small-town guy. Donna and I packed up the family and headed to the tiny, quiet mountain village of Patagonia. The elusive, Perfect Patient showed up not long after.
Lawrence called late one afternoon. He explained a steer reared back while being loaded onto his truck, shattering all of his front teeth. I volunteered to wait as long as it took him to get to the office. “Oh no”, he said, “got to finish the round up, two or three more days, and I’ve got plenty of whiskey, can I see you then?” Wow, amazing! The Patient I had never encountered before. Lawrence was an extremely practical guy. I can relate to country-folk, their practicality, the philosophical way they handle life’s bumps. I often say that Patagonia saved my life.
Most small town patients, unlike city folk, have a trace of Lawrence in them, and I’ve gradually become fearless! Being anonymous allows freedom to change. No expectations from classmates you went to school with or with relatives who saw you in diapers. Freedom and anonymity to evolve into whatever God intended. Now that I’m fearless, connecting with patients is easy. Every day, I look forward to the new and familiar faces sitting in the chair…no anxiety now. A peaceful environment allows the best dentistry. And the best dentistry occurs when no anxiety exists between doctor and patient. Thanks to all our Perfect Patients.
Stay Well, Dr. Bill Ardito, DDS – Sunshine Dentistry AZ