This morning I had the pleasure of going to NYU’s dental clinic urgent care for a tooth extraction. This is after having been turned away on Monday. Fellow New Yorkers, if you use NYU’s dental clinic do not, I repeat, do not have a dental emergency during spring break. Anyway, there I sat, first on the list to be seen, with receptionists playing loud, right-wing Christian radio over the quiet television broadcasting nothing but footage of families who had loved ones on the missing Malaysian plane. In physical pain and running on four hours of sleep I was pretty sure my sanity would be hanging by a thread, similar to my problematic tooth, before 8:30AM.
Finally, around 9:30AM a name called out is butchered so badly I know it must be mine. (Why start seeing patients at 8:30 like you’re supposed to when it’s spring break?) I am ushered into the tiny, even by Manhattan standards, cubical where I will be seen. Having been there six months prior for the same tooth my x-rays are brought up on the computer screen. I sigh a huge sigh of relief that I will not have to have more x-rays. Then I am informed that the root of the tooth in question is not visible so more x-rays must be taken. Crap! The lovely student dentist tells me it will be a difficult image to get, and, as if in a comedy of errors, everything that could go wrong did. Getting the mouth piece situated in my mouth so that I could actually bite down and not shred my gums was virtually impossible. After the addition of some gauze under the angular edges and a promise that it would be super quick I bucked up and bit down as much as I could despite my gag reflex kicking in and the taste of blood. Every time the student dentist got the x-ray machine set up where it needed to be it would start to move all on its own the second she turned her back to click the switch. The first two times it was kind of funny. By the third time we were both pissed and at our wits ends.
After the x-ray torture she said, “I don’t know if you will appreciate this, but here is your tooth.” She took the time to really show me my x-rays. When she saw that I was genuinely interested she went into greater detail. Turns out my tooth never had a chance. So, c’est la vie. [My more sensitive readers, you may want to skip over the rest of this paragraph.] While she was working on my tooth she periodically explained what she was doing. When I saw the hygienic dentist’s version of pliers go into my mouth I knew the extraction was about to officially take place. I heard her say, “There’s one root.” Then she showed me. I’m sure some people would have been totally grossed out, it was covered in blood after all, but I thought it was kind of cool. I really appreciated the fact that she paused her work to show me the part of the tooth she had removed. When she was finished she said, “Let me clean you up. You look like you’ve just been mugged.” She then proceeded to gently wipe down my numb face. I joked that perhaps if I looked like I had just been mugged someone would actually give me a seat on the subway ride home.
And now I get to my point. Yes, I know it was a circuitous road here. Cut me some slack, I got four hours of sleep last night and have not been able to eat anything that isn’t mushy for three days now. Were the student doctor who saw me a man I doubt the level of engagement would have been as thorough as it was. I have often been dismissed or rushed by doctors when asking in-depth questions. I know the current state of healthcare in this country is a factor in the lack of time and attention each patient gets. I also know the vast majority of the doctors who have made me feel inferior and unheard have been male. A fellow woman not being grossed out by the blood and guts of it all (I know that is her job), and inviting me to be curious and informed as opposed to grossed out and left questioning made me feel at ease. Ladies, it is our duty to care for one another, whether we have chosen to be in the helping profession or not. It is also our duty to raise one another up by sharing our knowledge and expertise. A little bit of tenderness and a little bit of knowledge go a long way. Those in the medical profession, actively engaging your patients and making them feel informed and comfortable goes a long way. Those being treated by the medical profession, allow yourselves to be curious, even if it is a little gross – it’s your body after all.