Old Dogs and New Tricks

I’m what you could call a white-knuckled dental patient. I may not have ALWAYS been a white-knuckled dental patient, but I’ve been one for as long as I can remember. And there’s a reason for that.

My dentist growing up in Bisbee was not what you’d call a warm and fuzzy kind of guy. I remember picking up a little glass tube from the tray next to me, one with a ball of mercury floating in it, and getting my hands slapped as a result. That hand slapping is something I definitely remember!

I also remember that the dentist in question didn’t believe in using novocaine. This was back before fluoridated water when little kids had lots of cavities and drilling for cavities was a noisy, painful, and very slow process. And I strongly suspect that the dentist in question often visited the country club and had a noontime martini or two before coming back to work. That meant that the kids who had after school dental appointments were in the hands of someone who most likely shouldn’t have been driving a car to say nothing of running a dental drill. I was in my thirties before I learned that it was possible to visit a dentist for a teeth cleaning and come home WITHOUT a hole in my tongue!

When I first met Bill and started bewailing my unhappy dental history, he assumed I was just being me—that is to say, a storyteller—and telling stories. But then he went with me to my 30th high school class reunion. He was in a roomful of people he didn’t know, so he orbited from conversation to conversation. One of the girls from my class, Isabel, who had been somewhat dowdy back in the day, turned up in a head-turning bright red dress complete with matching high heels.

So the conversations Bill overheard went pretty much as follows: “Where do you live? What do you do? How many kids do you have? Did you get a load of Isabel? And what ever happened to Dr. Dentist?”—the very same dentist, every single time! Because we had all been traumatized by the guy. He had managed to leave behind an entire graduating class of white-knuckled dental patients!

So if you’ve ever wondered why there happens to be a dead dentist on the first page of Beaumont number 5, Improbable Cause, wonder no more. It was yours truly having a bit of writerly revenge, and the truth is, killing off a dentist in fiction did make me feel somewhat less traumatized. And so did starting to go to Dr. Wendy Spektor here in Bellevue. She’s a dentist who really does encourage the use pain killers and who didn’t blink at having to prescribe pre-appointment tranquilizers for me during the first years I was one of her patients.

The dentist from Bisbee has long since passed on and I can’t say I’m especially sorry about that, and I’ll admit that I’m still not the especially enthusiastic about going in for my regular checkups.

This year has been a challenging one in terms of house selling and remodeling and writing. If something was going to fall off the list in all that chaos, it’s not surprising that dental appointments would some how lose a bit of traction—let’s just say several months’ worth of traction..

This morning was the day Jojo and Mary were schedule to go in for their dachshund teeth cleaning appointment, one that had been set up with their vet months ago. As I was going to bed last night it occurred to me that since they’re dogs, they had no idea they’d be going to the dentist bright and early this morning and they wouldn’t be dreading it even if they had managed to figure it out.

They’re home now and sound asleep with their teeth properly cleaned and no extractions. I just got off the phone after making appointments for our human teeth cleanings and also for our somewhat delayed annual physicals which have somehow slipped from April to October.

But we’re going. Who says old dogs can’t teach their humans a few new tricks?