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  • Fern


So, I go to the dentist a few times a year for a cleaning. This mandatory excursion results from having had laser gum surgery a few years back; a four hour, jaw aching, numbing, experience, one I wish never to repeat. Lately, however, I’ve been slipping and going only once. And it’s not because of dread or anxiety. Contrary to most dental experiences (of which we all, I’m sure, have horror experiences to share), complete with words like cavities, abscesses, drilling, Novocain, "get the gas", “you’ll just feel a pinch” “is it numb yet?” “open wide” “just a little bit more drilling”, and sounds, of drilling, spitting, gagging; (notice the unavoidable repetition of the word drilling) my dental experiences for the past several years have been kind of, well, pleasant.

Does everyone recall their childhood visits to the dentist? Or is it just me having experienced a panoply of fear and terror? Was I super sensitive? Over dramatic as one of my sisters accused me? Admittedly, there was the time I kicked the nurse in the stomach (she had a rather large belly protuberance as I recall, but unfortunately was the dentist’s wife). She was quite miffed obviously, and then the dentist said “Hold her down Katherine.” Oh my god. Another time I leaped out of the chair and went running into the street (in Queens, NY) where my mother waited in the car, apparently too phobic herself to sit in the waiting room and listen to me making a major ruckus in the chair. “Oh no you don’t” she said, dragging me back in. Was it the dentist or was it hell, like the nuns had warned us about? Was that any way to start one’s dental history? And his name was Dr. Burns. Couldn’t he have changed his name for comfort’s sake?

Last week I went in for the cleaning. I adore the hygienist, Penelope (names are changed to protect the innocent.) She’s open, friendly, thorough, but never condescending about the state of my teeth, or my flossing habits, which have improved, thank goodness. We touch base initially about kids and holidays, then get down to business, where she might chat, and I grunt. I commented on how crowded the office was, lack of hooks to hang my coat, and not enough places to sit, except for the chair in front of the …piano. Yes, a new addition in the waiting room, the dentist’s piano. Penelope agreed and told me that he (Dr. Musicman) sometimes goes out into the waiting room, between patients, and starts playing. “It drives Lilly (charming receptionist), up the wall.” And Dr. Musicman resents the push-back. “Look, I don’t take a lunch, I don’t take a break, I just want to play my piano! Is that too much to ask? Anyway, my patients love it.” And he’s right.

It might be helpful, for the full picture of Dr. Musicman, to mention that he also forgoes traditional or even relaxed traditional dentist garb, in favor of black jeans, black T-shirt, and often, a black knitted cap. Does he resemble a bandit? Some have said… But his smile is dazzling and it reaches out and touches everyone. There is also a lot of hugging in the hallway, coming and going, including mano y mano.

Done with the cleaning and a quick dose of radiation for x-rays, I stood at the desk of Charming Lilly, to schedule the next appointment, when a general buzz of activity erupted behind me. A woman came in, greeting Dr. Musicman; they hugged. Behind her, a bearded man entered, flashing a big, winning smile. “Beautiful smile, love it” Dr. Musicman said. Obviously a proud doctor complimenting a pleased patient. The woman began to sing “Smile”, in the most beautiful voice – rising, strong. Musicman sat down at the piano and began to accompany. When she faltered at words, he filled in softly, and she la-la-la’d her way through. The “smile” man started taking a video of the whole thing. Patients were grinning all over the place. Penelope, in passing, said “See, what’d I tell you?” Charming Lilly looked down at her appointment book, saying “here we go.”

I left the office smiling widely, stepping into the gray, drizzly, chilly day.

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