Laughter truly is still the best medicine as we reflect on some odd moments

June 1, 1997
How do you earn a living? By scaling and polishing, of course. But ask any hygienist and she`ll tell you that being "down in the sulcus" is a mere fraction of the job. Recently, I asked some fellow online colleagues to share some of their stories about "a day in the life of a hygienist."

Heidi Emmerling, RDH, BS

How do you earn a living? By scaling and polishing, of course. But ask any hygienist and she`ll tell you that being "down in the sulcus" is a mere fraction of the job. Recently, I asked some fellow online colleagues to share some of their stories about "a day in the life of a hygienist."

My, we have a colorful job! One hygienist tells me her typical patients are religious, conservative adults over 30. She got really excited when she noticed a 20-year-old in her schedule. She escorted the young man back to the operatory. As he was getting seated, she realized he was the man in black. No, not quite Johnny Cash. This man in black had dyed, long black hair, thigh-high black leather boots, black jeans, and a black T-shirt. He had a pierced nose, a pierced lip, a pierced eyebrow, and many piercings in his ears.

When she reviewed his medical history, she noticed her patient had indicated he had a latex allergy. "How did you find out you were allergic to latex?" Immediately, she knew she shouldn`t have asked. "When I wore my black latex pants, I got a rash all over my legs and crotch and..." We don`t really want to know where else he discovered the rash.

When he says don`t hurt him ... don`t hurt him

Another hygienist recalls a day as a timid new grad. She brought her patient back to the operatory. He was a large man with an intimidating appearance and obviously very nervous. Before he would sit in the chair, he pulled out a knife, pointed it at her, and said, "Don`t hurt me or else..."

One of my own weird experiences involved a very pleasant gentleman in his late seventies. He was scheduled for an fmx with me. He warned me that he had a severe gag reflex. I used the numbing spray and gave him all of the standard advice: breathe through the nose, raise one foot in the air and concentrate on keeping it there, etc. After the third X-ray, he violently vomited all over the lead apron. By this time, I was trying not to puke myself. As I was cleaning up the mess and trying to ease the patient`s embarrassment, he told me he was going to have to resort to the only technique that worked to alleviate his awful gag reflex: unfastening his trousers. That was when I brought in the male dentist to finish the series.

Well, at least when we have a last-minute cancellation, we have the opportunity to regroup and recuperate from all these bizarre occurrences, right?

Well, not always. Sometimes when we have a cancellation, our chair is the only available spot for a last-minute emergency patient. One hygienist was asked to seat a denture patient in her operatory. Apparently, he had some nasty sore spots on his palate. When she asked the patient to remove the denture, she discovered he had created his own temporary reline: a slab of bologna, which he had kept in place the entire weekend.

`Run down to the store and get me...`

Dentists often feel that cancellations are an ideal time for us to run their errands. I have heard numerous accounts of hygienists being asked to deliver personal documents to this place or that, to pick up the doctor`s dry cleaning, or to shuttle his children to soccer practice or karate lessons.

Sometimes we are asked to do the office shopping on downtime. A colleague wrote that one character she worked with would use only gold Dial soap to wash his hands. One day he had only a sliver left. Since she was the only one without a patient, naturally, she was elected to go to the nearby grocery store to get gold Dial. And, yes, the importance of the color was stressed to her. Almond just wouldn`t do!

We always like to keep our nooks looking nice. This is, after all, where we spend a great deal of time. Many feel that the environment is a direct reflection on the person. One dentist asked a hygienist to water the plants, since they were getting a bit dry and sad looking. She watered them. All of them. Even the silk poinsettias on top of the computer.

We occasionally see appreciation for all of our efforts. Take, for example, the experience of having a difficult patient and, at the end of the appointment, they look you right in the eye and tell you how much they appreciate you. Take, for example, the hygienist whose patient who loves to hunt. Out of the blue he comes in and brings her a hunk of deer meat. Even a vegetarian would probably appreciate the gesture. Take, for example, my employer who never lets a week go by without handing me my check with OThanksO written in large letters while telling me how much he appreciates what I do.

Plenty of hygienists get this type of feedback. After all, this is partly what motivates us to get up in the morning and do what we do. Our job is multifaceted. We are all very aware that we have our frustrating times, as well as the times when we feel unappreciated. Yet, we also have our hilarious times, our fun times, and our rewarding times.

When we get annoyed or frustrated, we need to focus our attention and take action. On the other hand, we should remember to use the same energy to savor the rewards and let our hair down and have a good laugh at some of our more hilarious situations. After all, smiles are what we do. Author?s note: Do you have a funny or interesting story you?d like to share? Please contact the author via e-mail at [email protected].

Heidi Emmerling, RDH, BS, is a consulting editor for RDH, a writer, speaker, and clinician from Sparks, Nevada. Her e-mail address is [email protected].