Monday, June 6, 2011

My FREE Appointment #18 and My 2nd Favorite Student Dentist

Friday June 3rd I went in for my 18th appointment. This was a unique opportunity presented to me by Tyler Berkey, the student that performed my first 3 extractions on molars 30-32 on February 17th. (before I began taking pictures at my appointments, unfortunately.) As my luck would have it, he noticed from my X-rays a few weeks ago while checking in to see how things were going that one of my fillings appeared to meet the criteria for the type he needed for his board exams in order to graduate. Upon a consultation with the Dr. of general dentistry, it was confirmed that the posterior composite filling I needed on premolar #29 was indeed acceptable, and he offered to try to fill Rakhee's cute little designer shoes (haha) for a day. The added bonus for me was that, one, all procedures performed for board exams are FREE, and on top of that, he offered to arrange a ride for me to and from my appointment 26 miles away in Mesa, which sometimes is the most complicated part of scheduling since I have made the commitment to biking as my form of transportation for the last 5 1/2 years. The funny part was, HE seemed surprised and endlessly grateful for ME wanting to let him do this! From my perspective all I could think was like, "DUDE, I trust you, you already yanked 3 teeth out of my head way back when I was terrified of dentists, and Rakhee speaks highly of you, AND it's free, AND you're going to drive me, AND it means I can fit in another appointment when the school would otherwise be closed. I mean, damn. Hush. You had me at FREE."

So, last Friday, his lovely and friendly wife Nicole picked me up as is my regular ritual, out in front of Jobot Coffee down the street from where I work at Tumbleweed with a carload of their energetic children, and I babbled on about my story for the duration of our trip. What a strange way for a first meeting with someone, right? But it was pleasant and interesting and fun, and it was nice to learn more about what got yet another student whom I barely know into dentistry, what with all I post about the deepest parts of me on the internet for all to scrutinize. I was excited for him on the verge of graduation, knowing that even though I have had far less of connection to him or any of the other students at the school in comparison to my hours and hours logged in the chair with Rakhee, I was grateful to know that I could help him, and be a part of his education. I was, after all, 25% of his final exam.

I was greeted out front of AZDOH with enthusiasm and he escorted me back to yet another part of the school which after all this time I still had not seen. I signed the WREB form before we began, the beginning of which stated this:

We went to take a new PA (what the hell does this stand for again?) and bitewings X-rays since Rakhee had recently corrected another portion of this same tooth, and we needed to demonstrate that my tooth met the necessary criteria for the test, and I was sent off upstairs by his assistant for my first of three checkpoints by doctors before we could proceed. Upon my return, I got my rubber dam fitted and he began to drill a "slot" style groove in my tooth between #29 and #28 to fix yet another little clubhouse hiding spot for bacteria due to my lifetime of not flossing.

After the slot was finished I went upstairs again with my little styrofoam tray of tooth-inspecting instruments, 3 pieces of gauze and a sharpened #2 pencil (haha) as required for the test and proceeded to get my three signatures from doctors to approve Tyler's prep and returned downstairs. Tyler grabbed a color guide which I had actually yet to see because I am always facing away from the countertop where the students put them, and I snapped this picture:

As it turns out, my color, at least in that area between two premolars, is D-2. All this time I was hoping they had silly names like "prairie dust" and "eggshell" and "ivory breaze" or something, and all the other abstract names given to colors and/or air fresheners that never really make sense, that have always made me imagine some lucky art school dropout douchebag sitting in a cubicle getting more money than I have ever been payed for a meaningful job to conjure creative color names. Oh well. I guess I am D-2. I accept this. Perhaps if I quit drinking coffee I can one day be an A-38 or whatever the hell supermodels and celebrities are with their whitening kits. For now, I am happy to have whatever holes are in my existence filled with whatever the doctor's best judgment prescribes. I am happy that today marked my LAST FILLING, finally!

Assisting Tyler on my filling after his other helper student had to leave, (dammit, I forgot his name!) was none other than...his wife? In talking with her briefly about this on the drive to the school it got me thinking--if SHE can assist with no formal training for a board exam, can I assist sometime in the future? It would be like doing a ride-along with the cops! Would I get a taser or something at least? Haha. Everyone already continues to joke that maybe I will pursue dentistry someday now when all my teeth are fixed. Frankly, I have no idea what direction my life will take when that finally happens. I barely remember who I was when I had a healthy mouth, let alone what the ability to enunciate clearly and greet the world with a positive face was like, but thinking about the future and all I have learned and how much I feel like in a way I am like an honorary member of everyone's class at the school, I can't help but be curious about how I WOULD feel to assist on ANOTHER patient besides me. I know so much now, and have been through so much myself, it seems like I could help ease their fear and stress by knowing what it was like from my own experiences in some ways even more than a dentist who had never actually had a filling or an extraction or pain. I already feel like every day I act as a "mythbuster" of sorts and try to help educate my friends about what they can do to fix their own teeth and also offer floss to people regularly. At least for the meantime, throughout this transformation, I can't help but feel like it is kind of my civic duty after all I have been through and how far I have come, to spread as much of my courage and truth around in small doses in any way that I can. Lately I admit, I can't stop staring at people's teeth and wanting to ask about them any less than I can stop myself from pointing out every small way I could give a tune-up to every bike I pass. Just the other day I insisted as she biked by me that my coworker Emily's bike's tires were low on air pressure, and she seemed amazed that I guessed it within 5 pounds by squeezing it. Her and my friend Alex both joked how I should be one of those guys that guess people's weights at carnivals, but with bike tire pressure. Haha. I am one of those people that simply can't help but pass on knowledge I have whenever an opportunity arises, though sometimes I admit that some people don't know how to take it.

It was funny as Nicole got suited up with her gloves and gown and mask and was introduced to Mr. high speed suction machine and my mouth, that it was actually her first time, on the eve of her husband's graduation, that she had ever sat in that adjoining chair to him. I could sense her shyness as today she not only got to one, be an assistant in a world that was reasonably foreign to her--certainly more foreign than it was to me , but also, that she also was invited into the awkward adventure of invading someone's space like that. I am sure it is something that takes some getting used to. Even with all I know after over 50 hours of being in that chair asking questions like an annoying five year old whenever there is not a hand in my mouth, I am sure that having that knowledge as a student (AND a patient) is still a very different thing than putting it into action for the first time when a stranger's freaky orifice presents itself to you for the first time, even a reasonably clean one! Haha. It is an incredibly unique form of trust and intimacy that requires also a great deal of vulnerability, the three of which no doubt are the biggest reasons so many people find it uncomfortable to sit in that chair, not even taking into account the pain and pressure aspects. Even though Rakhee and I have come so far that I joke that she is like my "handler" on the TV show Dollhouse that I trust with my life, I would certainly be lying if I said I wasn't terrified the first time I allowed her the full tour of my mouth. So thank you, Nicole, for your bravery. Though I am sure it asks a lot more of the patient's emotions, it is no small feat to step boldly outside of your comfort zone and into the often secret personal space of a near stranger. I think that you did a fine job for your first time, and maybe one day you can continue to assist Tyler in his own practice :-)

So in case you're wondering, Tyler got his final 3 signatures from the doctors to approve his competency at performing my filling, and also the final one from the Dr. on the floor, meaning he is one step closer to graduating. When asked for a quote for the blog after he drove me back, he declared of the day's procedure and me, that "You were one of two of the most important fillings in my entire dental school career." He also presented me with, ironically, a big bucket of treats which I totally picked on him for!

I asserted that I knew he would only endow me with such an elaborate array of sugary products because he knew that I was finally taking care of myself, and would promise to brush and floss after every single cookie! Haha. ALMOST! I promise, I am doing way better than ever, and probably better than most people I know. I hope it's working?! But anyway.

We talked for nearly an hour in the car after we arrived at my destination at how far I have come and all my ideas for future fund-raising and building partnerships with the school and it was incredibly inspiring. I asked a bunch of questions I never find the time to ask, and I think almost actually now know the difference between lengual, mesial, distal, buccal and facial in terms of describing what side of a tooth is affected or being worked on thanks to his drawing he did for me. (FYI the filling I received today was an MO, or mesial occlusal. I still can't, for the life of me, tell you what the hell the difference is between a class 5 and a class 3. I had thought initially that it was referred to how many surfaces of the tooth were affected, but I am not sure if that is indeed the case.)

We talked about my ideas for a huge fund-raising art show I am working on organizing in the coming months and how I hope I can get some of the students involved to add an "outreach" and educational component to it. He gave me the email of the school's "Dentistry In the Community" coordinator and I think was sad that he would probably miss out on it if I finally pull it off, wishing there was something like that when he was a 2nd year when everyone has to do a big community project. I think we both wished that he wasn't on his way to now finding a job and moving soon, but I know that however short our time together and connection, that we have both nonetheless made an impression, and will I hope continue to remain in touch. If you ever happen to decide to write your own blog detailing your life and adventures as a dentist, feel free to use any of these words as I have used your quote:

I am grateful that I got to be a part of your education, and for all we were able to learn and share with one another in only a few appointments. I am thankful that you allowed me to meet your wonderful family and that you could all become a part of my story now.  Even if only in a few short hours of interacting, trust that you in fact, had a hand in changing my life for the better and helping me along on this slow, yet steady mental and physical healing process. I know that with your patience, compassionate heart and positive attitude you will do well wherever your sights now take you, and be a blessing to scared patients everywhere just as I was that day in the chair during my very first extractions. Thank you.

I hope that you will continue to follow along with my blog, and that we can stay in touch. Congratulations on graduating in a few days, and good luck in wherever your dreams take you. I hope you will find that magical combination of aviation, dentistry and compassion out there in the world for you one day. I am glad that I could be of service, although briefly, on your quest. Be well, and don't be a stranger!



  1. Paul, great post, I just wrote a long detailed comment and it got erased so I'll try to fill it in later. Hope things are going well! Thanks for being a great patient. I passed boards and officially graduated so I'm a haapy guy. Ill be in touch with you soon,

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