Just for the heck of it

Aug. 1, 1999
I had come into repeated contact with 3,000 people over the course of 27 years in five different locations ... That was one heck of a number! ... We`re talking value, worth, meaning, purpose.

I had come into repeated contact with 3,000 people over the course of 27 years in five different locations ... That was one heck of a number! ... We`re talking value, worth, meaning, purpose.

Gwen Krenz, RDH

One night after a particularly rough day, I sat down at the kitchen table. It was one of those times when you start thinking about everything. Your life. Your kids. Your job. Everything. You begin to doubt yourself and whether you`re doing the right thing. You wonder whether it`s all worth it. Don`t jump to conclusions. I was not contemplating "ending it all." I was just trying to decide if I was doing the right thing.

I wrote down our family income and expenditures. This certainly didn`t improve my mood. If I was looking for something positive, this wasn`t the way to go about it. There were only two entries on the incoming side, my husband`s and mine. The outgoing side? I quit writing as soon as I reached the bottom of the page, because I figured this list would just keep going, page after page. I really needed something to lift my spirits. I needed some other kind of numbers. Ones where I would see more black than red. Ones that might show some kind of surplus, instead of only deficits.

I let my mind wander again, hoping that it would stumble across some figures that would fit the bill. All of a sudden, I stopped, nodded, and picked up the pencil again. I`d been working for years and years (27, in fact) cleaning people`s teeth. Just for the heck of it, I decided to work up some numbers that would give me an idea of how many mouths, or lives as it were, I had helped to improve.

Let`s see ... 27 years ... 5 different locations ... eight-hour days (most of the time) ... five-day weeks (not all of the time). This was going to take awhile, a lot of figuring. Math is not my forte, but what the heck! I sat there, and I worked. Years in review. Employers under scrutiny. Patients remembered - some with smiles, others with frowns. Adding up those numbers. Multiplying those people. Affecting those lives. Making at least some kind of difference. After quite some time, I arrived at a pretty close set of figures. I`m sure the IRS wouldn`t take them as gospel, but who`s counting anyway?

You should realize that I didn`t always work full-time, the 8-to-5, five-days-a-week routine. I have two children. That`s how I spent most of my time. As they appeared on the scene, I knew that was where I was needed the most. I knew that`s where my time was best spent and where I would make a more important difference. My mind wandered again. Years in review. Decisions under scrutiny. Experiences remembered - some with smiles, others with frowns. Adding up the good times, trying to subtract the bad. Multiplying the smiles and laughter and starting to admit it all made the difference. The IRS wouldn`t touch these figures. It wouldn`t have a clue as to their meaning or value. I was the only one counting.

I had to get my mind focused again, back to the job at hand. Most of my employment was part-time. I realized that I was fortunate in that. Many families need two full-time jobs to survive. Well, maybe it`s for more than survival. You know, two incomes to buy the things we want, not just need. New cars. Nice vacations. Outrageously priced clothing. Video cameras and video games. Maybe that?s why many of those families chose two full-time jobs, but that was their problem, not mine. Those were their priorities, not mine. They would have to do their own figuring, come up with a value for their own numbers. That wasn?t my job. There went my mind again.

Ah yes, how many cleanings? The closest I came was 42,000. Yeah, I?ve cleaned around 42,000 mouths! Pretty staggering sum, huh? And that was done while working mostly part-time. That figure sparked a little more interest in me. You see, many patients get their teeth cleaned more than once a year. Most of them are twice a year; others were three or four times. So this figure didn?t represent 42,000 different mouths. I was now curious to know how many different people I had come into contact with at least once during my tenure beside Othe chair.O More adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing.

Final figure? Around 17,500 different people! I cleaned the mouths and touched the lives of that many people! Hopefully improving each one.

I wasn?t through. I was on a roll now. Of this former final figure, how many had I seen two or more times over the years? This could represent the number of people that I had established an ongoing relationship with, a kind of friendship. These would be the people who might feel they had received my best, the ones who I was able to do the most for. More ruminating. My fingers were starting to get tired from punching those keys on the calculator. My pencil and brain were wearing out. But so what? I was determined to see this through just for the heck of it. There it was ... 3,000. I had come into repeated contact with approximately 3,000 people over the course of 27 years in five different locations. Close contact, not just a nodding acquaintance. A contact that required my technical skills, my mental attributes, and my emotional involvement. A contact that improved their health, allowed them to discuss their thoughts, gave them an opportunity to vent their emotions. That was one heck of a number! The IRS? Who cares? We?re not talking money here. We?re talking value, worth, meaning, purpose.

Reality. I felt better, then I felt silly. I thought what difference did all of these figures make? Why did I waste my time? What made me think that I had done anything more for these people than clean their teeth? I tried to make my mind wander again, but it seemed to be stuck on these numbers. Mired down by them. Okay, so let?s just pick apart the facts, the people facts. Remember the people. Examine the relationships and the experiences. Pick up the pencil again. This time no numbers, just names. Years of names. Names from five different places. Names that brought about smiles. Names that caused me to frown. Lots of names. After I made my list, I divided it. One side, the positive ones. The other side, the u negative ones. The ones who had been unreasonable. Ones who were unfriendly. Ones who, no matter how hard I tried, wouldn?t let me make a difference other than just cleaning their teeth. The positive side got longer and longer. With each name and each memory, my mood improved and became more positive.

I wandered down this pleasant side of the list, stopping along the way. I took time to really remember and smile and sometimes laugh. Good memories. I didn?t bother to peruse the negative side. I didn?t want to get mired down in it. I may not like numbers, but I do like to think and write. I like to express my thoughts and feelings with pencil and paper. So, just for the heck of it, I decided to write about these positives that I was strolling through. About these people who made me feel good. About these individuals who gave me a sense of accomplishment. About these positives that gave me value to my numbers. I started to write stories about them ? 42,000 attempts to make a difference; 17,500 chances to communicate; 3,000 opportunities to understand. Lots of people. Lots of stories.

Maybe someone else out there is sitting at the kitchen table trying to decide if what they?ve been doing is right. Maybe someone else is wondering if it?s all worth it. Maybe this someone else won?t take the time to figure it out. And maybe, just for the heck of it, they?ll start reading my story about the numbers in my life. And maybe, just maybe, they?ll see that they?ve made one heck of a difference!

Gwen Krenz, RDH, lives and practices in Mendota, Illinois.