Editor's note: Karen Hart-Sabol wrote the article, "Temp Rewards" for the book Love Is the Best Medicine® for Dental Patients and the Dental Team. It is reprinted below courtesy of DMD House.
After learning I was pregnant with our first child, I decided to seek employment as a dental hygiene "temp" in addition to my regular four-day-a-week job as a hygienist in another practice. Since "blessed events" can place an unexpected financial burden on parents-to-be, my husband and I felt it would be wise to supplement our modest savings in this way.
Soon after I arrived at the office of my part-time employer, I met Marino, the assistant who would be helping me whenever he could. His contribution to my efforts would prove invaluable. Even though I took him away from his normal routine, he was willing to help at any time without complaint, always maintaining a pleasant smile and a great attitude! With his help, everything fell into place, and my first day began to brighten and become less stressful.
When I went to the reception area to bring back my third patient, Maria, I became uneasy. Although her eyeliner, makeup, and clothing were perfect — including her matching navy hat — she seemed resolute and unsmiling as I introduced myself and led her back to my room. Her chart indicated it had been two years since her last visit; and as I started to update her medical history, she stared at me blankly. Finally, with confusion evident in the tone of her voice, she responded in Spanish. Since I don't speak that language, I realized we could not communicate; and this put an uncomfortable wedge between us. I held up my index finger and gestured for Maria to wait a moment. I then tracked down Marino and asked, "Do you, by any chance, speak Spanish?"
With a smile and a wink, he responded, "Sí, Señora."
I was saved again as he followed me into the operatory, now to be my interpreter. Together, we updated Maria's health history and medications and discovered that she had just ended her second bout of chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancer. At that point, I realized why she wore the navy blue hat — she had no hair. When I finally examined her mouth, I further understood why she didn't smile. Due to the medications she had taken and the treatments she had undergone, her entire dentition was coated with an ugly brown-to-black stain. Knowing that her dental treatment would take a while, I checked the clock. Fortunately, my mask covered my frown.
Updating the health history had taken more time than I had planned, and I now had just 30 minutes remaining before my next patient was due.
As I began to scale Maria's teeth, I accepted the fact there was no way I could complete her procedure in the scheduled time. I then decided to simply forget about the clock. My concern shifted to making this patient feel really good about herself. Maria proved to be a "patient" patient and was easy to work with. When I was finally satisfied that all of the stains had been removed to the best of my ability, I raised her chair in preparation for the doctor's exam. Again with no conversation, only hand gestures, I tried to let her know why we were waiting.
After an awkward few minutes, I decided to offer the patient a mirror to let her see the results of my efforts but couldn't find one in the unfamiliar office. Once again Marino came to my rescue, locating a mirror and holding it up for her.
I stood behind Maria and could see her reflected face as she looked at her teeth. My emotions heightened, and a warm feeling gushed through me when she first smiled. She quickly covered her mouth with her hand — as though in disbelief — and then pulled her hand away slowly and smiled again. As I watched, Maria's entire face emitted this warm, bright ray of sunshine that filled the entire room. She absolutely shrieked with joy. She then turned to Marino and began speaking excitedly while at the same time smiling and crying because she was so happy.
The next thing I knew, Maria jumped out of the dental chair and hugged me. Although I couldn't speak Spanish, and she couldn't speak English, we both communicated in that universal language — tears of joy. We understood each other perfectly. She told Marino she had not seen the "natural" color of her teeth in years. Maria was ecstatic with the knowledge that she could once again face the world with a smile.
She told us that due to the cancer treatments, she had lost all of her hair — including her eyebrows and eyelashes. (She had even had these areas tattooed — no wonder her eyeliner was so perfect!) I had never known anyone who did this; and through Marino we discussed the time and pain it took for her to accomplish this makeover. She said it didn't matter what she had to endure, just so long as she could look like a normal person and not a "cancer patient."
The huge hug Maria gave me, the smile she displayed for the doctor as he examined her teeth, the smile she gave to the receptionist, and the smile she wore as she left the office uplifted my heart! Maybe it was my pregnancy hormones that made me feel such a deep emotional connection with Maria, or maybe it was just seeing the true goodness, sincerity, and gratitude she expressed so freely. Whatever it was, I was elated to have been a part of this happening and to experience that wonderful warm feeling that rushed through my body — from my head all the way to my toes. I have no doubt my unborn child also shared in the special glow of that day.
—Karen L. Hart-Sabol, RDH
Excerpted from Love Is the Best Medicine® for Dental Patients and the Dental Team, the sequel to Chicken Soup for the Dental Soul and reprinted by permission. © 2001 by Karen L. Hart-Sabol. Not available in stores, you are urged to contact your favorite dental supply house or to call the distributor, DMD House, at (800) 852-6203 if you wish to purchase this book.
About the cover
When Karen Hart-Sabol expressed interest in posing for the cover of RDH, she submitted three photographs for the magazine's editors to review. Two were from Egypt, including one in the shadows of a pyramid. The third photograph was in mid-air — higher than most of us are.
"I love to skydive," Sabol says, "and I first did it spontaneously on one of my days off. But when my husband found out that I went, he wanted to do it, too. So I leaped at the chance to do it again — at 14,000 feet. I have wonderful pictures and memorabilia because I actually paid someone to dive out of the plane with me at the same time to take video footage and a roll of film as I plunged through the air."
A 1990 graduate of the State University of New York in Farmingdale, Sabol currently resides in New Vernon, N.J. She has worked for the past seven years for a solo practitioner in northern New Jersey.
"I value the relationships with my patients and fellow team members," she said. " It is now through them that I travel or experience things or gain knowledge during our many conversations that we have in the dental chair. Yes, I do let the patients talk! Quality patient care continues to be of major interest to me, and I never see myself tiring of this career that I have chosen. I truly love what I do, and I am a very fortunate person."
Skydiving and traveling to distant places have been placed on hold since April 2001, when she and her husband welcomed the addition of their son, Logan Davis, to the family.