Friday, April 20, 2007

Interproximity: The State of being Between

I walked to the lab, picked up the chart and glanced at the age of the patient before deciding which one to look toward as I called out the name. Two?! As in... years old? I peeked around the corner and there he was. I silently groaned. Working on children is stressful and often heartbreaking. With each hum of the handpiece, the tears roll down their cheeks. They jump, not in pain, but out of fear. I hoped that this would be one of those children. I sucked it up, walked out into the waiting room and squatted down beside Andy. "Hey Buddy, are you ready to come with me? Here, let me help you put these toys away." I told him what a good job he was doing putting the toys away and what a big boy he was. As we walked back to the operatory, he held my hand. I picked him up and put him in the chair. "Let's go for a ride in the big chair." I said as I raised and reclined it. I talked to the mother briefly about the filling material that Dr. Fowler would use and assured her of its safety and absence of mercury. She asked if we see many children. I told her that we do, but if they don't handle it very well we refer them to a pedodontist who specializes in working with children. I told her that I thought he would do fine, and then went back to talking to Andy. "You're a big boy, aren't you? You're going to do great!" And he did, oh he did.

Innocence is always unsuspicious.
Thomas C. Haliburton

You see, children that young do not know to be scared of going to the dentist. Unless they have already had a bad experience in a dental office or the parents have worked them up and scared them into thinking it's going to hurt, they don't know. They come in with the sweet innocence that only a child can have. They come in naive and bold. And because of that, they leave having had a positive experience. In contrast, I work on grown men all the time who are nervous wrecks, claim it hurts (much of it is psychological), and jump at the slightest thing.

Instead of telling people to "take it like a man" maybe what we should really be saying is "take it like a child." Whatever giant it is that you're facing, take it on with innocence and with boldness. Face it as though there is nothing to fear. Little Andy didn't shed one tear. Andy never once jumped. Andy didn't keep his mouth closed in fear. His little eyes didn't seek out ours in desperation, but in curiosity. Andy gave me a hug when it was finished. Andy left the battle victoriously.

Gertrude found her way to our office today. She came in, her aged body frail. Her back hunched over. Her upper denture supporting her upper lip and her last three teeth wiggling as she talked. The gum recession and bone loss were so bad that the teeth moved freely as she told us that she was a nervous wreck because of what happened at Virginia Tech. She was also nervous about her extractions, but mostly sad that today she would be giving up her last three teeth. Those three teeth that moved freely about represented a life long lived. A life that soon will no longer exist here on Earth. As those teeth barely held on, and she expressed sadness over losing the last of her own teeth, I realized that it's about so much more than teeth. It's about life.

Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what happened.
Jennifer Yane

As old age sets in, our bodies no longer perform like they used to and the mind is often years behind the body. The reality of getting old doesn't really set in until you realize that your body isn't going to continue to go strong forever. First it's gaining weight, then a gray hair, a wrinkle, a partial denture, a hip replacement, a hunched back, and so on until you become like the three little teeth fighting against time, and losing. No, today wasn't about teeth, it was about life. She was entering a new era. I assured Gertrude that we would take good care of her. In my mind, I thanked God for my youth, my body, my health, my teeth, and hopefully the many years ahead of me. As Dr. Fowler gently extracted each tooth (with an ease that was heartbreaking), one hand was held out receiving the teeth, the other was holding hers. Not because she hurt, not because she was scared, but because the sun had set, and twilight had passed, and the night was setting in.

Old age is the most unexpected of all the things that happen to a man.
~Leon Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Bronstein), Diary in Exile, 1935

Life is but a moment in time. Cherish it, live it, and exhaust it. And while you're at it, pray, worship, love, brush and floss, exercise, eat right, get your check-ups, and laugh. It's fleeting and it's precious. Live it now, because like we were all reminded this week, you don't always get to be old when it ends.

I titled this "Interproximity: The State of Being Between" because that's where most of us are. In dental terms, interproximal means "between the teeth". I'm almost positive I made up the word "interproximity." But this is where I am. I am between. I'm not old, but I am by no means a baby who sees the world as innocent and as I get older, I lose a bit of that boldness. I become less like Andy and more like Gertrude; that's the direction we're all moving. While we're interproximal, enjoy the best of both worlds -- greet each experience with boldness and innocence, but with the maturity and wisdom as one who has been there.
Post a Comment