Because Receptionists Deserve Attention Too

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They say even negative attention is attention…

It all started with my husband’s teeth being made of butter. Well… and probably years of my feeding him butter. I can accept some share of the responsibility here. But he had developed a certain soreness in the lower quadrant and so off to the dentist with him.

Allow me a disclaimer, if you would. One of my favorite people on this and all neighboring planets is a dental hygienist, so the things you are about to hear me say regarding dentistry on the whole obviously have exceptions. Just not as many as there should be. I have a particular aversion to going to the dentist, and not for the reason you might expect. I do not have a long sordid history of being drilled and poked and numbed and made to laugh when I had no desire to do so. When last I brought my choppers under their keen glance, I had no cavities.

Granted, that was at age 17… but I have generally felt that it is best to quit while you are ahead.

No, my aversion runs deeper. I am opposed, morally, to industries that exist to make you feel like a piece of used gum on the bottom of the shoe. Was there ever a dentist that didn’t think you could be probably be brushing/flossing/swishing/x-raying/breathing with your mouth open more? Of course not. There is no satisfying these people! Enough is not a thing! Had I heard a single word of affirmation about my undecayed mouth during the whole of my childhood, I might have stuck with the whole dental thing a lot longer. Hope may have sustained me. But “for all the sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these — it might have been.”

Anyway. The dentist concluded that my husband required all sorts of whatnots involving the digging of canals and generally tenting the place, as I understand it. Seeing as I have not been independently wealthy in years, this was going to take some doing, financially speaking, and while I have certainly been looking about for banks to rob and limbs to sell (mine. My limbs. Calm down), something needed to be done quickly, so upon the good advice of the one lovely dental hygienist in the world, I called the office to make a plan, which would include a referral being sent by our dentist to the school of dentistry endodontics clinic at the University of Washington (We are WSU people. You appreciate the desperation here, no?).

The receptionist first made sure to express her disapproval of my suggestion of any alterations to the plan that had been originally presented to us, telling me emphatically that we would ruin my husband’s mouth, that his teeth would probably explode and there would be a gum tsunami and our grandchildren would never learn how to drink through a straw — in a word, disapprobation. I explained, as gently as I could, that as their office was opposed to anything resembling a payment plan, I was left with little option but to find a less expensive route to dental health. She then elucidated, in great detail and in the sort of voice that you might adopt when addressing a stray dog that was relieving residual bladder tension on your begonias, why we should have handled this differently, with years of exams, scans and regular cleanings, as well as flossing three times a day since before he had teeth, when his mother was 24 weeks pregnant if we were actually concerned with good oral health. This was demonstrably our own fault and she would not rest until I knew it.

Now, reader, you must believe me when I tell you that I am, at heart, quite peaceable. I am a baa lamb, wooly and desirous of the good of my fellow man (unless you are that turkey who races by my house in the middle of the night on an obscenely loud motorcycle. You, I have different wishes for). I am also uniquely equipped to make most any one I choose feel like a worm, with a mere flick of my verbal wrist. I do not believe in using guilt as a weapon, willy-nilly. It is dangerous, the nuclear option, and does not win you any cookies at Christmastime. But when you have four special needs kids, a couple of feeding tubes, and years of hospitalizations and air lifts and other expensive and unusual medical events to your credit, you have what is known as a guilt trip just waiting for a ticket to be punched — I have this secret weapon at my disposal, but see above — me. The baa lamb. The happy bleater who knows that with great power comes great responsibility, and thus I do not exercise this super power lightly or often.

But… as they say… this one had it coming.

I expressed to her the absolute and undeniable righteousness of her cause — I would not dare to disagree. Yet my husband is a man. A true man. So when it required him to give all he had, to work hard so that these four kids could receive the medical care they needed, even when it meant putting off tending to his own needs, he did it and he never repined and we could not be more proud of him.

Her uncomfortable silence was a beacon indicating to me that all of my arrows, the little darlings, had hit their marks. So she changed tacts. It was absolutely not her job to send a referral to the school of dentistry. I should call them and they would initiate the referral by submitting a request. Having already squashed her emotional wherewithal like a bug on a windshield, I felt I had no choice but to acquiesce. Besides, I hate to be that guy who is like, “But I read on the internet…”

When I went to call UW School of Dentistry, I encountered an even ruder reception, one who outright belly laughed in my face for suggesting that she could perhaps contact our dentist to request a referral. She went on to guffaw at me (side note: there is a skill set in my family known, informally, as “spreading the jam” and it is what you do with unpleasant receptionists when you need something from them. It is irresistibly sweet and endearing. Bear in mind that this mocking joviality was happening even amidst my jam spreading, which indicates to me that the receptionist was the sort of person who would participate in a protest at Starbucks over the inflated cost of vegan milk by cementing herself to the floor. Incidentally, that is a true story. Try googling it), and blither about having 200 referrals a week and only 8 chairs. Her furniture handicaps hardly felt like my problem, but she presented it like I should care, so I tried to. The thoroughly unproductive call came to close with her sarcastic voice saying, “M-yeah, buh-bye.” I had no idea real people talked that way. Ever.

This long ramble has a point. Well… ok, maybe chiefly I was feeling peevish at dentistry and looking to eviscerate the industry a little bit with my mighty pen (or typewriter. Whatever), but God is faithful to weave brightly colored arrows, pointing to Him, in all the nooks and crannies of our lives, and this adventure has been no exception. What is my response to the sins, the failures, the fumblings of others? When my children or my husband come with a mistake to fix, do I play the receptionist and make sure to rub their faces in all the foolishness that got them to this point? Do they dread coming to me for help, lest they have their humanity dredged up in a most unflattering light? Is wisdom ever gained by berating a person for their previous immaturity, for making them to feel the weight of their imperfection before they can merit your help? Is that how God responds to you?

Remember your foolish past (or present…), and seek to be receptive, rather than being the receptionist.

2 Responses

  1. Ellen
    | Reply

    Yes! Yes! Yes!*
    I so completely identified with your description of all things dental that my vigorous and empathetic nodding nearly rattled my own chompers loose. In fact, I was already determined to print this blog entry off on fancy-bordered printer paper to display on the office wall**, when I got to the painful gum line — oops, I mean punchline! — which landed a stinging right hook to the jaw. Yikes. I have some repenting to do relative to my own “receptionist” credentials.

    (*) except the reference to anything “UW” being the epitome of desperation
    (**) oh, who am I kidding, I print off ALL your blogs.

    • barb
      | Reply

      See, now that is a great example — you may have married someone who had a four year lapse in judgement and went to the bad purple doggie place, but no recriminations are necessary. He obviously went on to be successful despite his education. If he had gone to WSU, he would probably be president by now, and I know that would be sort of boring for you, so just as well. 😉

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