Birth of a survivor

Aug. 1, 2003
Many people write me after they read a column or article, see my posts on the Amy e-mail list, or attend a CE course. With very few exceptions, it's a treat to read the notes.

By Anne Nugent Guignon

Many people write me after they read a column or article, see my posts on the Amy e-mail list, or attend a CE course. With very few exceptions, it's a treat to read the notes. It's nice if the information helps someone or challenges them to consider alternative approaches.

Then there are e-mails requesting information. Sometimes, it's a simple inquiry: "Where can I find such and such product," or, "Will you be speaking in my area in the coming year?" Those replies do not take much time. However, the question sometimes is, "Please tell me everything that I need to know about ergonomics." There is just no way to provide a concise, sensible discourse to this type of question. I thank them for the inquiry and direct them to the PennWell archives at or the reference list on my Web site (

Frequently, inquiries are from students who are writing a paper or putting together a table clinic. Some ask me for a bibliography. Again, I direct them to the reference list on the Web site. It is full of ergonomic and ultrasonic information. Unfortunately, it needs updating, but that's another project to tackle when the pile of requests gets shorter. Even though e-mails and the Internet are great, they certainly don't replace a fact-finding trip to the library or taking the time to really read an entire article by an author. On a more personal note, I want to ensure that the three librarians in my family still have employment opportunities.

The best payback any writer or editor receives for responding to a note is a simple thank-you or, better yet, letting us know if or how the information helped. If you wanted the information, then I want to know what happened. Fair enough? Otherwise, it feels like the time it took to respond just fell into a big black hole. I'm not ranting about this, but I hope you understand my point of view.

When a young dental hygienist started a dialogue with me this week, I responded to her request for information quickly. While my initial note may have appeared to be a bit terse, please realize that I get inundated with e-mails, so it is important to find out if the letter writer is serious or wants me to do all of the work. Holly's response set her apart.

Holly contacted me after reading "Mission Possible" in the July 2003 issue of RDH. In the article, I had shared some ideas about patient comfort. She wrote, "Our office just had a meeting to come up with things we could do to make our office achieve that warm, homey feel with out spending too much. Your ideas will help us achieve that goal."

She also visited the Ergosonics Web site and found "several points that you made really stuck out." Holly works for a periodontist in two offices. She said the doctor's equipment, unfortunately, was "very outdated."

"The Cavitron tips are ineffective. The dental chairs have wide seats that cut off my circulation. Both patient chairs force me to bend over just to see. I'm only 26. I am writing this after a full day of patients. I am hurting and exhausted. The week is only halfway over."

Then she had a question, similar to the ones I'm used to receiving. Holly wondered if I would be presenting a course near her home in Florida?

One of her closing comments caught my eye: "I love what I do, but I am so afraid that I'm going to have to give it up before my body or mind goes out. It was really great to hear from someone that has been through days like mine."

I wrote back immediately and thanked her for writing. I informed her that I am presenting a three-hour course in Orlando next October. I encouraged her to travel to CE courses that may not be in her neighborhood.

Since her comments about her office's equipment were based on the doctor being unable to "afford" replacing the outdated equipment, I wrote, "As far as deciding what your doctor can and cannot afford, please get over that! The September RDH will have a feature article about two hygienists whose bodies are destroyed because of that type of thinking. I am not being insensitive, but no one is paying you enough to get hurt physically or mentally. I figured that out two decades ago and took my career into my own hands.

"Being a victim of your employer or your profession is a choice. If you want to be a pain-free, happy hygienist, then I am there for you."

Holly responded, "You have convinced me to take charge of my situation and have lit a fire underneath me to get going on things that matter to me. Just today, the supply rep brought in a demo chair for me to try, and he is willing to sell it to me for a discount. This is an important investment, especially if I plan on doing this the rest of my life. I might not be able to change the larger things like the patient chairs, but things like the massage pad might coax the patient to my level and even get a great massage at the same time!

"Two years of hygiene school taught me how to treat patients, but that I need to learn how to treat me. I now realize that the doctor is not always going to always be able to supply me with the latest and greatest in equipment, but that it shouldn't stop me from protecting myself for the long run."

I was delighted with her e-mail. I wrote back, saying, "You have decided to be a survivor."

Holly needs to take two steps. The first step is that she needs to realize that she must take care of herself before she can care for others to the fullest extent and without pain. The second step is for Holly to understand that she controls much more about how she practices than she ever realized.

"You are in charge of how you choose to practice," I emphasized to her.

Because she is now focused on creating a safe working environment she will begin to appreciate how some of the smallest changes can make a huge difference.

Her pursuit of a new operator chair is a great idea. But I hope she examines what all is available. Chairs with arms provide amazingly comfortable support. Price is often one of the least important things to consider.

I told Holly, "Your whole career is ahead of you, so the cost per hour for the right chair will amount to pennies per day in the long run."

Did it kill me to take the time to respond to Holly? Of course not. But I did throw down the gauntlet and asked her to examine her thinking. If she desires change, then she had to do some of the work. Holly picked up the challenge immediately and is off and running. She has taken charge of her destiny and is creating her own comfort zone. I feel certain that her future in our profession will be bright and full of adventure and rewards.

I felt a sense of maternal pride as I witnessed the birth of another hygienist who has shed the role of victim and has embraced the joy of becoming a survivor.

Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH, practices clinical dental hygiene in Houston, Texas. She writes, speaks, and presents continuing- education courses on ergonomics and advanced ultrasonic instrumentation through her company, ErgoSonics ( She can be reached by phone at (713) 974-4540 or by e-mail at [email protected].