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This dentist’s hard-earned triumphs can help your career

June 2, 2022
This dentist-turned-author in his later years shares what he's overcome and learned during his years in what he calls "our formidable profession." He turned his experiences into four concepts he believes can help others.

Like most before-and-after stories, the beginning is gloomy but the end, joyous. I want to share my intimate, candid account through life and dentistry in the humble desire to help other, especially during these troubling times. I want this article to serve as an instrument of affirmative change, and I want you to know a few things about me for this to have its desired impact. 

I’m a 75-year-old retired dentist, and now a full-time author. My first dental article was published y in Dental Economics in 1990. I’ve had six dental books and more than 200 more articles appear in print, and I enjoy working on short fiction projects. For me, dentistry was always hard work, but writing is a métier I love and, in my later years, may prove to be a lifesaver. I encourage everyone to discover and pursue their passions with the implacable alacrity and ferocity of a ravening beast, as I’ve found there is no surer path to peace and fulfillment.

My early years in dentistry

I practiced general dentistry in the moldering riverine community of Keokuk, Iowa, for 40 years. Despite the rustbelt town’s population being halved during that time, I was blessed with inordinate success. During my prime productive years, I was shocked to learn that I averaged an hourly net of 13.4 times the typical American dentist, according to American Dental Association statistics. 

Raised in poverty, I’m an inveterate saver who achieved financial independence by age 40, but I was also an uncontrolled alcoholic until undergoing three weeks of in-house treatment. Soon after achieving sobriety, I was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease that led to complete kidney failure. 

Enter the pandemic—and worse

A deadly trio of COVID-19, emergency triple bypass surgery, and virtually total seclusion—the depths of whose horrors I could never have imagined—initiated my current conundrum. (While working my way through eight years of higher education, I served as a correctional officer in two Iowa prisons where solitary confinement was outlawed as cruel and unusual punishment. I live alone, but until the last two years, I never wholly understood the profundity of loneliness.)

I encourage everyone to discover and pursue their passions with the implacable alacrity and ferocity of a ravening beast, as I've found there is no surer path to peace and fulfillment. 

There’s no need to explain the pandemic from which we’ve all suffered, but partially due to my age, I’ve lost many lifetime friends, with four dying last January. Mourning their losses, I couldn’t avoid contemplating my own demise. I’ve endured 10 surgeries, including bilateral knee replacements, melanoma resection, and two kidney transplants.  (I’m not trying to show off; the first one failed.) While my renal function has been ideal for a decade now, I’ve been immunosuppressed for 16 years and take 13 different prescription drugs daily. I believe the COVID virus would eat me like a gumdrop.

Heart surgery came unexpectedly. I never had chest pain, but as a lifelong workout enthusiast, I was suddenly unable to finish even half of a routine I’d been doing for a decade. Echo and a stress test revealed no pathology, but when I awoke from my cardiac catheterization, my disease was so severe (98% blockage of the widow maker) that I was loaded directly into an ambulance and transported to St. Louis for emergency surgery. 

After a year, I’ve come to accept that I will never be the same and must adapt to a new normal, but I am able to complete my previous workout routine. And last year, to the horror of my children, I began hunting six weeks post-surgery. I harvested five deer with my bow, once again exhibiting the staggering lack of common sense mixed with the iron determination that defines me. 

The final straw was my beloved companion of six years terminating our relationship without explanation. When I began to drink (bourbon, rocks), I finally came to my senses sufficiently to realize I needed help. My nephrologist referred me to a pleasant middle-aged therapist who was possibly more burned out than me. Although I can't recall her comments or my appointments in particular, seeing her for six weeks encouraged me to confront my dilemma directly. It is my garnered insights that I believe might aid others.

Insights for challenging times

One of my lifetime core values is a belief in the sanctity of logical consequences. For weal or woe, certain behaviors bequeath predictable results. Accepting personal responsibility seems a dying cultural ethos but remains crucial to me. Reinvigorating this concept has allowed me to wrest control of my fate rather than hoping things will improve by themselves.

More by Dr. John Wilde

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No one promised me a rose garden. Life is tough, and by accepting and overcoming obstacles, we become tougher. I acknowledged my adversity as fair and deserved, not a punishment. Numerous events and observances have proven me more fortunate than many, and thus I feel grateful and blessed.

I determined to endure, calling on mettle, courage, and valiance to sustain me through a time of testing, knowing this too will pass. Picturesque needlepoints hanging on my artistic grandmother’s wall have proven to be sources of wisdom. One was the Serenity prayer, another the aphorism, “What can’t be cured must be endured.” My aging has led to a shrinking of life choices, illustrated by abandoning basketball at age 50 and now tennis at age 75.  Perforce I’ve become a gym rat, but the exercise room is in my basement and features a large screen television that helps pass the time.

Rising to the challenge helped, but on further reflection, I questioned why I should endure now after a lifetime of success and achievement, and I became determined to triumph. Never blessed by physiognomy or physique, I’ve succeeded due to an adamantine will that remains entirely within my control. 

4 concepts aided me and may help others

  1. You can always quit, so why stop now?Often mumbled under my breath, this mantra reduces temptations to give up, thus bestowing fortitude in numerous endeavors. It became imperative in sporting events where my intensity had to outweigh derisory talent. Winning four local tennis tournaments during the process of destroying my knees is one example of a bargain I don’t regret.
  2. Royal Air Force ace Douglas Bader advised, “Rules are for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.” Accomplished readers may have already concluded that I don’t color inside the lines. But anyone adopting this sentiment must realize in what venues they are a fool, as none is without weakness.
  3. A wise expression of my youth proclaimed, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”Because the night is for play and the day for achievement, this concept is still valid. I now retire at 9 p.m. (prime imbibing time for dipsomaniacs) and arise well-rested around 5 a.m. to seize a busy and fulfilling day. 
  4. ALS is the horrible disease that took one of my sons and my best friend, but it is also an acronym I display in bright red in the top left corner of my calendar to guide me. 

    Accept life as it is, meet its challenges, and grow. Trying to control existence is exhausting, disheartening, and virtually impossible.

    Love is the proper response in every situation. No matter how gifted one is at rationalizing and self-justification, non-loving responses will invariably be a detriment. 

    Serving others is the purpose of existence and creates the peace and happiness that is the byproduct of a life well-lived.

I hope readers find these gems gathered at no small price from the creek bed of my experience informative and helpful. Our chosen profession is formidable during the best of times, overwhelming during the worst. But remember that we always have hope.

Editor's note: This article originally appeared in DE Weekend, the newsletter that will elevate your Sunday mornings with practical and innovative practice management and clinical content from experts across the field.. Subscribe here. 

About the Author

John A. Wilde, DDS

After eight years of higher education, paying 100% of the cost himself, John A. Wilde, DDS, spent two years in the Army Dental Corps before beginning a practice from scratch in Keokuk, Iowa. By age 30, he was debt-free, owning outright his new country home and the practice he had designed and built. By 40, he was financially able to retire. At age 53, he fully retired. Dr. Wilde has authored six books and more than 220 articles, and may be reached at (309) 333-2865 or [email protected].

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