Staff relations, the author notes, "happens easily when we're discussing the vast and mysterious gulf between women and men while eating fat-free cookies."
by Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH
Dental offices tend to be small, specialized microcosms, populated mostly by women. Initially, the women have nothing in common except the office itself and a mystifying love of teeth. We become friends, or at least friendly. Sometimes, we bond.
Bonding happens easily when we're discussing the vast and mysterious gulf between women and men while eating fat-free cookies. One day, we were eavesdropping on Denise. She was talking to her husband on the phone in the lunchroom, so we couldn't help but overhear.
"Why are you so crabby?" she asked him. "You were crabby all day yesterday too." "It must be his time of the month," I said between bites. The vanilla cookies were gone, and we were deep into the chocolate ones. Lots of sugar, lots of calories, but absolutely no fat. We felt virtuous. They all laughed at my assessment.
"No, I'm serious. Men have a seven-week cycle. A nurse told me about it." Denise hung up the phone, and I said, "He's at the end of his seven-week cycle."
"He's at the end of something," she snorted. "I asked him what he was so crabby about, and he said, 'Just everything.' Like that really tells me a lot. Pass me some diet pop."
They all wanted to hear about this cycle business, so I reached for another cookie and elaborated. "Men have a seven-week cycle," I lectured. "That's what the nurse told me. She read it in a book or something. Once every seven weeks, they get really, really hungry and really, really moody. It's a hormone thing. Has he been eating you out of house and home?"
Denise was fascinated. "Sunday, he got so hungry before supper that his hands were shaking. He ate like a pig." "Oink, oink," Chris said comfortably. We nodded. It was that kind of moment.
"You should mark this date on the calendar," Linda suggested. 'Count ahead seven weeks, and see how he acts then." "My husband must be on the same schedule," Chris mused. "He was crabby all weekend, too." "Seven weeks from last Saturday," I said, "you should both go shopping. Leave them in their misery."
We decided to chart the boss's cycle. We'd keep careful track of the food, and gauge his mood accordingly. When he came full circle, we would fill the lunchroom with goodies and stay out of his way. We'd barely finished the cookies when the boss himself arrived. "What's going on here?" he said crossly. "Chris, aren't you ready yet? Linda, do you have my messages? And why isn't there ever anything good to eat in this place? I'm starved."
The original Goonies
At another office, we let the boss join a very special bonding moment. It was the day we all decided to go on Oprah. At 4 p.m., we were standing in the reception room, watching TV and waiting for the 4:15s.
It was makeover day on Oprah. "How lucky can some people get?" Debbie complained. "Why couldn't that be me?" "Well," Phyllis said, "Why couldn't it be you? Why couldn't it be any of us?" "Those people had to come from somewhere," Lori said. "They probably just wrote in and sent their pictures." "We could send pictures," I said speculatively.
Margie's eyes lighted up. "Let's do it! Let's really do it. We could take a picture right here in the office, and make up a good letter." "We could wear our scrubs," Debbie suggested. "The ugly blue ones. Then they'd feel sorry for us." "Yeah!" everybody said. "Yeah, yeah! Let's do it!"
So we took the picture. It was like the Keystone Kops. You should have seen us. First, we had to agree on the pose. "I want to be in the back," I said. "My pants don't match." "I have to be in the back too," Phyllis said. "I wore the wrong color altogether. And Debbie has to be in the front, because she's having a bad hair day." "I am not!"
'Can I be in the picture too?" Doc asked. "Of course," we said. "They'll really feel sorry for us."
Then we had to find a place to put the camera. 'We should have had a tripod," Doc said. "I forgot the tripod," I said. "Give me a break. Let's stack up some magazines on this chair." We built a teetering pyramid, balanced the camera on top, then I stood on my toes to look through the viewfinder.
"Squeeze together," I instructed. "Margie, sit on the same chair with Lori. Phyllis, lean in. Now — nobody move." "Let me look," Doc said, leaving his place.
Then we had to figure out how to set the timer. "I think all you do is push this little — oops. Well, we have plenty of film."
We finally got it right.
"Run, run, run!" they chanted as I dodged chairs, lights, and autoclaves to get to the back of the group. We sat frozen, grinning idiotically at the camera, waiting for the timer.
Oprah will be so impressed. We looked like the original Goonies, with mismatched scrubs, idiotic smiles, and bad hair. How could she not choose us for the next makeover? We should hear from the show any day now.
One leg at a time
Sometimes, of course, we don't bond. Sometimes, all we can do is sympathize. When the office manager/EFDA/assistant went on vacation at one office, the new girl had a tense week. It became Tammy's job, mostly, to fill the vacationer's shoes. Tammy was 23 and very nervous.
"I can't do it," she moaned at first. "Whatever made me think I could be a dental assistant? I can't remember all this stuff." "You just need practice," we told her. "You'll be fine."
"But when I ask if he needs help, he always says no," she wailed. "I feel so useless!" "Don't ask," I suggested. "Just go in there and sit down with him. Watch everything he does and look interested. Sooner or later, he'll give you something to do."
She stood in the hallway and wrung her hands for awhile. She teetered back and forth on her toes. Then she bit her lip and fled to the lab. Boy, that made me feel old. It's been a long time since I was 23 and afraid of the boss. I almost told her he pulls his pants on one leg at a time, but decided it wouldn't be a good idea to put that picture in her head. She'd probably say, "Eeewww!" and hide in the darkroom. I thought about telling the boss Tammy was afraid of him, but he wouldn't have believed it. Bosses can never quite understand how the staff feels about them, can they?
The rest of us could sympathize, but we knew Tammy had to face it on her own. It took her two days to muster the courage to walk in uninvited and sit down with the boss.
"Can you get me some wax?" he asked casually. Tammy nodded, just as casually, and left the room. Then she raced down the hall and made anxious beckoning motions to me. "Where's the wax?" she mouthed frantically.
"Where do they keep all the denture stuff?" I asked, trying to encourage her. She frowned. "In the back of the lab, in those tall cupboards. Oh!" Then she raced up to the lab. The wax was just where it should have been, and Tammy gained a little confidence. The assisting went well after that, and she started to lose that anxious grimace. She stood a little straighter and walked a little faster. On the fourth day, she sauntered up to the front desk to find a chart.
"I know, I know," she said airily, "I'm in the way. But you'll just have to wait till I'm finished." "So," Marianne said. "Do you think she's starting to loosen up a little?" "We're finally seeing the real Tammy," I commented. "Tammy!" the boss called up from the back. 'Did you find that chart?" 'Coming, coming," she muttered under her breath. 'Hold on to your pants!"
Rest in peace, Rocky
Sometimes the people at work bond with another species entirely. That's what happened with Rocky Waskaski.
Rocky is dead and buried, sorry to say. He had a brief, but happy, life in the back yard behind one of my offices. At the moment of his untimely demise, he was either chasing an admirer or running from a rival — we're not sure. Either way, it was as good a way to go as any.
I first found out about Rocky when a bag of unshelled peanuts appeared in the closet by the back door. "They're for Debbie's squirrel," I was told. "Debbie has a squirrel?"
"In the back yard. She's trying to get it to eat from her hand." Debbie sometimes demonstrates a short fuse with people, but she has unlimited gentleness and patience with animals. She's been known to stop at a road kill and drag the dead animal off the road so it won't get "smooshed" by passing cars.
She saw her own beloved cat, Zoe, dead in the front yard one day. She brought the body into the house, held it, kissed it and cried over it for an hour before Zoe himself walked around the corner and she realized the cat in her lap was a lookalike stray.
The office backyard was always a haven for squirrels. Debbie cooed at them regularly. "Hi, sweetie, how you doin'? Are you hungry? Poor widdle baby looks hungry. Better hunt for some nuts!" One day, it occurred to Ms. Soft Touch that she could be providing the nuts.
It didn't take long for one of the squirrels to lose his dignity and begin begging for Debbie's unshelled peanuts. She'd hold out the goodies, and Rocky, as he was quickly named, would put his front paws up on her fingers and snatch the nut.
Rocky followed me across the parking lot one day, cocking his head from side to side and chattering. "I'm sorry," I said contritely, "I'm not Debbie. She's the one in the red car, remember?" I walked inside and took off my coat. Passing a window in the lab, I looked out to see Rocky standing on his hind legs, looking in at me and chattering. "She'll be here in a minute!" I yelled.
On another day, we worked a little later than usual. Rocky must have gotten tired of waiting on the porch for his five o'clock peanut. When the back door finally opened at 5:15, Rocky dashed inside under Phyllis's feet, caromed off Margie's leg, and leaped into the closet, scrabbling for the peanut bag. No one thought it was funny except Debbie.
I always wondered how she knew which one was Rocky. "His tail is bigger and bushier than the other ones," she explained.
"Do you suppose Rocky would take a peanut from me?" I wondered. She shrugged her shoulders. "Try it and see."
As it turned out, I never had a chance. One day, I found Debbie moping around the lab. "There was a dead squirrel out on the street," she said. "I think it was Rocky. I took him home and buried him."
One of her friends even made a little tombstone: "Rocky Waskaski, R.I.P." It was pretty sad, but, you know, life goes on. It wasn't long before I saw Debbie out in the back yard, holding a peanut. A strange squirrel with a thin little tail was sitting about 10 feet away, eyeing her warily. "Come on, sweetie," Debbie cooed. "You look hungry, baby, come on, take a peanut. You can do it, come on."
I wonder what this one's name will be.
Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH, is a frequent contributor who is based in Calcutta, Ohio.