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We all want to be the best at what we do, but let's be realistic. We all can't be the best all the time. In our office, we say that we have the best hygienists, the best assistants, the best front desk personnel, and the best dentists. But we have four hygienists, three assistants, four front desk coordinators, and two dentists. So who is the best one? Years ago, one of my bosses found out how he could suddenly get himself into a touchy situation by trying to give a little praise to one of us. Being the quick thinker that he is, he quickly came up with a solution. Whoever he gives praise to, he says, "Colene, (or Donna, or Yvette) you're the best ... today!" Then, if one of the other hygienists or assistants is standing close by, she automatically knows that she has a chance at being the best, say, tomorrow or the next day. And being the close-knit group that we are, we're willing to share in being "the best ... today."
There are times when I have a patient who prefers a little solitude. I have to admit that I play mind games while I'm cleaning teeth. I set the scene by making up a game of competition with myself. The announcer says in a hushed voice, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, Colene House will attempt to scale the distolingual of No. 3! Quiet, everyone! She has her HuFriedy 13/14 at the ready! No, wait! Could that be a Barnhardt scaler she has chosen instead? That pocket of 5 millimeters with a Class II furcation involvement can be quite a challenge, ladies and gentlemen, but she has her game face on. Look at that expression of sheer concentration and determination! Can you believe it? By golly, she's done it! That chunk of calculus never had a chance. And the patient never even flinched!" The crowd goes wild with cheers! I smile demurely and nod in recognition as the theme from Rocky slowly builds in the background. Yes, indeed, I am the best ... today!
About 10 years ago, a man who had recently joined the church choir found out that I was a dental hygienist. He approached me after choir rehearsal one night and asked if my practice was accepting new patients. Oh, absolutely! I gave Sam my card (relax, HIPAA police, that's not his real name) and told him to be sure to ask that he be scheduled with me. Secretly, I hoped that our front desk coordinators would put him on a day when it was my turn to be the best.
The day came for his appointment. I went out to the reception room, greeted Sam with a smile, and shook his hand. I led him back to my operatory, chatting along the way, and began my new-patient exam. I reviewed his health history, took notes about his concerns, and then took photographs of his face, smile, and upper and lower arches. I took a full set of X-rays, his blood pressure, as well as a full periodontal probe complete with bleeding index. I explained each step of the exam and what each part meant in relation to the health of his teeth. After that, I proceeded to clean his teeth, making sure he was comfortable while I worked. We talked about where he had lived before he moved to Asheville, what he did for a living, and what he enjoyed doing for fun. I already knew he loved music, so we had something in common to discuss. When we were finished, I called my boss into my operatory to finish with the oral cancer and TMJ exams, and to diagnose any restorative treatment needed. It was all in a day's work for me, but what I didn't know was how Sam perceived me or the rest of the staff that he had encountered. He seemed comfortable and happy enough, so I was content with what I felt was a job well done.
Another week went by before I saw Sam again. We were back at church, sitting in the sanctuary waiting for our choir director to finish working with the orchestra for our upcoming Christmas concert. I was sitting in a pew, when Sam came and sat in the pew behind me. We sat quietly for a few minutes, then I felt him tap me gently on the shoulder. "Colene," he said quietly, "I just want you to know how much I appreciated your kind attention when you cleaned my teeth the other day. You really did a great job! You were so gentle yet thorough, and everyone in your office was so nice!" I looked at him and sincerely replied how much it meant to hear some positive feedback, and that we all worked very hard to make sure everyone felt comfortable and safe.
We lapsed back into silence, waiting for our turn to sing. Just then, another member of the choir, Bill, came and sat down next to me. At that point, Sam leaned forward, tapped me on the shoulder again and said, "And I just want you to know that you're the best I ever had!" Smiling, I turned my head again to thank Sam, when I noticed the look on Bill's face! Uh-oh. Bill had no idea what Sam was referring to! I blurted out, "It's not what you think! All I did was clean his teeth!" It wasn't long before the story had circulated through the church, and I was being teased by the minister himself. I sure am glad he has a sense of humor! In my mind, though, I was thrilled that someone besides my husband thought that I was the best! OK, I can be humble. Do I think I'm the best in the whole world? Of course not. But I'm content to know that I am the best in somebody's world.
Recently, I took up the challenging game of golf. One Saturday morning my husband got a tee time to play a round on the links. When we arrived, the starter told us that we were paired up with another twosome. My stomach clinched. Oh, no — I'd never played with anyone but my husband! And not only that, we would be playing with two more guys. I would be the only girl! Positive that I would lose my breakfast, I looked at my husband for some support. He simply shrugged in a way that said, "It's now or never, sweetheart."
When our other twosome introduced themselves, I instantly recognized one of them to be a former patient of mine. He recognized me as well, and said that he missed seeing me but was now going to the dentist who had formerly been a partner in our practice. We warmed up, stretched, and swung at imaginary balls while we readied ourselves for our tee off.
At the first tee, I duffed the ball, hooked on the second shot (argh!), but managed to pull it together by sinking a 10-foot putt. Gradually, I settled into a comfortable banter with our golfing partners. I started relaxing little by little, making some halfway decent shots. By the time we started on the back nine, it was apparent that our partners were imbibing ... a lot. My former patient then decided that he would become my coach. "Com'on, Colene! Grab that club like you're goin' ta choke the livin' daylights outta it! I don't c-hare wha' anybody else says! Don't you quit on that ball! Swing hard!"
Finally by the 17th fairway, I'd had enough. I swung around, pointed my finger at him, and yelled, "AND YOU DON'T FLOSS EVERY DAY!" There was a shocked silence for a beat or two, then he burst out laughing. "OK, you win! Truce!" I was finally able to finish the round in relative peace. We were all shaking hands after the last putt, when he looked at me, smiled, and said, "By the way, you were the best I ever had."
I looked at my husband. He looked at me, winked, and smiled. The same thought passed between us ... "Today!"
Colene W. House, RDH, is a 1971 graduate of Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C. She has spent the majority of her time in clinical dentistry, and has helped design soft-tissue management programs for the offices where she has worked. Being actively involved with the Eblen Foundation Sealant Program, House helps to provide free sealants for first- and second-grade children from schools throughout the county in the dental clinic at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College. After 36 years in dentistry, House now pursues her love of writing. She may be contacted at email@example.com.