Huh? This never happened in my dental practice of over forty years. At least not this often. I guess this pandemic thing has changed things. That is patients coming into the office every day saying: “It’s great to be here.” I often tap them on the shoulder gently and say: “Are you feeling OK today?” and get a good laugh. They ‘ll reply something like: “I love my house but I’ve only been to the food store or Walmart and it is a pleasure to get out, even here Doc.”
But then there was Annie. She and her husband, Joe, had been coming to the office for over 30 years. She added: “I did try to go to see Joe last week but they locked the gates of the cemetery.” Turns out it was the same one across town where several of my relatives live. I asked her with a smirk on both of our faces: “Annie. They’re six feet under. We are six feet up here. I don’t think any of us are worried about hanging out together.”
The next week another patient and his wife cleared the whole thing up. He and his wife were visiting their relative at the cemetery by going through a hole in the back fence that high school kids use when they want a place to go drinking. Since the couple were regulars, the caretaker, they knew there, explained he had no guidance from the state as to what to do, and was just being cautious by locking the gate. The couple convinced him the place was a ghost town and the living visitors never closer than sixty yards anyway. So, problem solved. Annie was able to visit her husband and I was able to visit and clean the leaves and debris off my relatives’ graves and still “be safe”.
Ninety-year-old Jean came in with a big fracture on her central incisor and said “I don’t know why I should worry about it. I am in the damn house alone all the time and no one would see it with this gd mask on anyway.” I winked, “Jean. Things are tough enough. I’ll be out of business if everyone starts thinking that way.”
Many patients were caught off guard, surprised or even embarrassed that of course now that you are sitting in the dental chair you can take off the mask. Mr. Reed, another eighty something, came early one afternoon with a sharp broken tooth. I reviewed his medical history and he said: “I am fine Doc. I just saw Doc Kenny. But in case you smell something on my breath, it’s OK too. He said I can have one glass of bourbon a day with my lunch.” I replied, “Not a problem, Mr. Reed. Just next time bring the bottle and an extra glass and we will both have a slug. By the way I can’t smell anything or see anything till you take off the mask.”
On the other hand, several patients have walked in maskless, stopped and “Oh My God! I’m so sorry I forgot and left it in the car.” (As if they were naked or something.) I’ve told them to relax. No shaming here. Happens to us all. You’d be taking it off anyway.
An old high school classmate was in and asked if I could get any of “those 95” masks for him, Home Depot was cleaned out. I told him they were in short supply. He gave me a tongue in cheek bargain. If I get any extra 95s he would be willing to barter for some with the extra toilet paper and paper towels he had. And throw in a can of Lysol spray as a bonus. One patient commented he is more at risk from the nutty drivers on the New Jersey roads then the virus.
Since the only context many patients had with people walking around in protective equipment and clothing was in my office for over forty years, they often ask for my “expert” opinion. I told them especially today when everyone is an expert, then no one is. Common sense! Our parents, grandparents and kindergarten teachers taught us the basics of hygiene and courteous “social distancing”. My previous work was as a janitor, including cleaning toilets. I was also a helper to building contractors, landscapers and workers in metal refineries. They all taught me the basics of protective gear and safety before my professional education.
There are many déjà vus. The 80-90 year olds mentioned it all feels like during the depression and wars. Some of my Russian, Cuban, Hungarian and Polish patients mention the eerie memories of their old country with the food lines at the supermarket and not being able to go to church. There is a loss of the innocence to the world they all knew only a year or so ago. A world now in painful contradiction to the aspirations and values we had. A world that they will not give up. Their sarcasm, humor and wit get us all through one day at a time. There have been enough rules and regulations from the walking dead. The living will continue to live life.
Dr. Andrew Tanchyk
I am in general practice since 1975. My dental office is located in South Amboy, NJ