Was this the last one? I went to the surgery door and called his name.
He looked up at once. And his eyes twinkled at me. And he smiled as if he had been in last week!
He walked in arms swinging by his sides as if it was too easy. Tall, thin and vaguely familiar. But he wasn’t on my books at all. He couldn’t be. He was a walk-in as far as I was concerned.
I didn’t know him from elsewhere in this town. Today was just my second day. I still was remembering more important matters. Such as which room was mine, the name of the receptionists, where the autoclave was, in case my assistant forgot to bring in the instrument tray. Which saving my anxiety, she did.
But this guy! He swings into the chair like a test pilot promoted to astronaut! And I think to myself, is he another one too? Another professional? If he is he’s pretty confident in what we all do!
Unlike me. I make a bad patient. And I’m even worse, now that I lecture. And worst of all, provide expert advice when things go badly. If it was me, I’d be jelly.
And I ask,”What can I do for you?”
He says, “Just a check-up, ma’am.”
And I laugh, and ask, “ma’am. No one says that anymore!”
He says as unbidden, he swallows, swishes and spits, “The school librarian made us say it.“
And while he’s drawling, he puts on a posh accent, “Don’t call wimmen Miss, Ms, Mrs unless you know if they’re married or not. And she said never call them Madame. And never said why. Reckoned I worked out that one! But our French teacher wouldn’t answer to anything else! Reckoned ma’am is the least worst thing to say. Yeah. no. It’s okay most times except when I say it to the really young girls. They hate it. They scowl at me and swear under their breath while they’re texting!!”
Between us the ice is broken. And it seems familiar somehow. I laugh, and ask, “What do you do?”
He said leaning back and opening wide, still talking like a Northern Texan, “Professional bludger. Tell people stuff they don’t need.Write documents no one ever reads. Better get started, eh?”
And that’s the giveaway. He’s from the deep north of Queensland like me. Even with his mouth wide open, he still makes each word twice as long like a native. And that “eh!” That’s a deadset giveaway right there! And then I laugh to myself. Sometimes I still lapse back, I think. Just because I shifted states. Another lapse now too.
Meantime, the work begins. I peer into his mouth with my mirror and sickle probe. I check and call the numbers and state to my assistant who scribbles dutifully. He’s as patient as Job. Except a lot more silent!
I say, “There’s a small hole in your back molar. We could leave it for another appointment. Or we could whiz through it now. It will only take another half hour.”
It didn’t matter, I thought. He was my last patient for the day and I was running half an hour early. My husband still had his lectures tonight so time didn’t matter.
He nods me through.
Drill, chip, wash, clamp, check, double check, tighten the clamp, fill, let set, wash and clean. It’s like doing dentistry on the Dalai Lama, I suppose. He’s so composed and relaxed. Simple and straightforward. By the book, I thought, the textbook. Which made a refreshing change from the day I had.
And then a memory returns to me. “Didn’t I do a root canal on you?”
He just laughs, “Yep you sure did, wasn’t the once-off either, took a couple of goes, if I rightly reckon.”
And I remember, he didn’t flinch an inch that time either. That’s why I know him but he’s not on my books.
I say, “You would have been my easiest patient.”
As the filling sets, he laughs and tells me why (out of the corner of his mouth of course).
“It was easy,” he says, “I had the full metal jacket as a kid, a couple of teeth removed, wired up, that mouth guard thing and braces. Thought it would never end. Always knew this would!”