Thank you, Patricia Fripp ... wherever you are!

March 1, 2011
As a writer, one of the things that means the most to me is getting feedback from anyone who may either purposefully or accidentally read my stories.

by Colene House, RDH

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: talking to yourself, never assume, always confirm, Colene House, RDH.

As a writer, one of the things that means the most to me is getting feedback from anyone who may either purposefully or accidentally read my stories. I imagine most speakers would appreciate the same.

Admittedly, some of the feedback may not be exactly what I would like to hear, but I have managed to turn any comment – critical or complimentary – into a learning tool.

I have attended many seminars in the nearly 40 years I have been involved in dentistry. I may not remember everything that was said, but I am happy if I manage to walk away with at least one little pearl of wisdom. Perhaps someone will walk away after reading one of my stories and say the same thing.

A little more than 20 years ago, I worked as a fill-in hygienist. I loved the office in which I was temping. The staff was friendly and accepted me into the circle of camaraderie the team had developed over time.

I was thrilled when the doctor was kind enough to include me when he took his staff to hear Dr. Tom Haggai speak. Dr. Haggai is a radio commentator, teacher, minister, and award-winning speaker. His seminar was entitled, "Burning the Professional Candle at Both Ends."

I was captivated during the seminar. But there was one pearl of wisdom that I have kept with me through the years.

Dr. Haggai said, "Don't worry if you are caught talking to yourself because you're probably speaking to the most intelligent person in the room!"

Well, that hit home with me since I constantly talk to myself! I will be out on the golf course, getting ready to make a shot. Regardless if it is a tee shot, fairway shot, pitch shot, chip or putt, I talk to myself.

My husband is quite used to my doing this by now. He just crosses his arms and tilts his head to one side with a slight grin on his face. "Anybody listening today, Colene?" he asks.

Well, yes. My putter, whose name is Marilyn, does not listen as well as the other clubs in my bag. But sometimes she actually minds me.

While I am cleaning teeth, I talk to myself, too. I try to be quiet about it although sometimes I will catch a patient looking at me with a quizzical look on his or her face.

Oops, I did it again. If I know the patient well enough (and after being in the same practice for 20 years, I know most of them quite well), I will let him or her in on the tip from Dr. Haggai.

Most patients take Dr. Haggai's tip in good humor since they admit to talking to themselves from time to time. Don't we all?

My favorite pearl of all time came from a speaker I heard at the Hinman Dental Convention in Atlanta in the early 1990s. Scanning through the list of possible classes to take, a fellow hygienist in our office and I decided to take a seminar called "Cleaning Out the Closets of Your Life."

The speaker was Patricia Fripp. Already, we both were intrigued. No way were we going to miss this seminar. When the seminar day arrived, Barb and I found our way to the classroom.

The Hinman announcer approached the lectern and introduced the audience to Fripp. When she began speaking, I was captivated. At one point during Fripp's seminar, a second pearl of wisdom drove itself deep into my brain. It's a pearl that I have not forgotten.

Fripp had been speaking for a while when she looked at the audience and said in her perfect British clip, "One of the most important things you must always remember is never assume, always confirm!"

The number of times this pearl has helped me, I cannot estimate. While taking care of patients, I have used this tidbit of advice repeatedly. It certainly helps to get to the bottom of what is really happening with a patient by simply asking the right questions, never assuming for one minute the patient is telling me everything that might be important to know.

"Any changes in your medical history?" "Nope." "Been in the hospital, had any surgeries?" "Nope." "Biopsies?" "Oh yeah, I had a biopsy of a place on my face that turned out to be …."

Or with a complaint of a tooth on the upper right that hurts ... "Do you think you've been grinding?" "Nope." "Sinus infection, allergies?" "Nope." "How have you been sleeping?" "Not too good. I wake up in the morning and have a hard time opening my mouth."

If I am not sure what a patient means when he or she makes a comment, I never pretend to understand what he or she is saying if I really do not know.

I will ask the patient to clarify the situation for me. Sometimes I will repeat back to the patient what I thought I heard him or her say. Many times the person will correct me.

Never assume, always confirm. There's not a day when I do not think to myself, "Thank you, Patricia Fripp ... wherever you are!"

My husband has heard me say these words so many times that it actually backfired on me once on the golf course. My husband took me to play the Donald Ross course, which at one time had the longest fairway in the world – a 747-yard, par six!

I was nervous, mainly because he kept telling me repeatedly how many holes we had to play before we got to the hole with the world's longest fairway. Somewhere along the way, though, there was a much shorter par three hole.

My husband teed up his ball and hit it just off to the right of the green. I also hit my drive off to the right of the green.

While still worrying about the impending longest fairway in the world, I came to the first ball I saw that was to the right of the green. As I approached the ball, I saw another one closer to the green.

I addressed the ball that was the farthest away from the green and struck a shot that landed nicely on the green. I turned around with a smile on my face only to see my husband glaring at me.

"What?" "That was my ball, Colene. You get a penalty stroke for hitting the wrong ball!"

"But I thought it was mine," I said, while hanging my head. "It was the farthest one away, so I assumed it was mine!"

At that point, he stepped closer to me and said, "Never assume, always confirm." Gee. Thanks, Patricia Fripp ... wherever you are!

Colene House, a hygienist for 38 years, works as a clinical hygienist and new patient coordinator. Researching CMC arthritis has become her passion. She is active in helping hygienists deal with this type of osteoarthritis. Reach House via e-mail at [email protected].

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