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Ode to the Orthodontic Patient

As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.
- Scarlett O’Hara. 
Gone with the Wind.  MGM Pictures.  1939.

The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020; every story is an epic.  What a roller coaster ride.   First, it was the shutdown.  Then came the waiting and the angst, followed by the planning and the spending to get it all up and running again.  Time for a collective prayer.  ‘Oh Lord, may thee never lay a pox upon the peoples like the one before us, for now, and for life everlasting.  Amen’.

With that said, permit me to share with you my personal dance with this mean-spirited, unwanted devil.

The University of Toronto tightly regulates my practice to four and one-half hours per week.   During this allotted time, my team and I strategically schedule as many poor souls as effectively as possible.   I have to say, my patients are largely, very accommodating.  First, they put up with me.  Second, their appointments are all on the same day of the week.  Third, they rarely, if ever, complain.  It may be that I have honed my age-related selective hearing skills or it may be that I have benefitted from my age-related short-term memory loss but whatever the case, what I am trying to say is that they are a good bunch of folk.

Once the alarms had quieted and the bells had stopped ringing we in Ontario got the green light to dust off the cobwebs at the end of May.   For most, I would speculate that by mid-July, things were rolling again, albeit under novel and challenging conditions.   At the time of this writing, it seems that adaptation to the nouvelle normale has all but taken place, and that all the Whos down in Whoville are happy again in the wonderful world of orthodontia.

Not so for me (screeching halt followed by horrible crashing sound).   In addition to the guidelines put out by the Royal College of Dental Surgeons and the Medical Officer of Health, I must also abide by the rules of place known affectionately as the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Trust me that this is a village-worth of people to appease.   As the days start to shorten and the nights begin to cool, the doors remain shuttered on the Faculty practice of yours truly.  Is this is God’s subtle whisper telling me that it is never too early to retire?  Maybe I should listen.  Who am I to turn a blind eye towards divine intervention?

If one’s office is one’s second home, consider me a homeless man.  I am all for letting the wires work themselves out and for extending the time between appointments, but even for the hardest of hard-core fans of modern materials, six months is getting up there.  So many sleepless nights, with me conjuring up image after image of decay, recession and (gasp) the dreaded iatrogenic untamable anterior open bite.  I had to do something for the people who put their trust in me.  To make matters worse, their cheques kept on coming.  What’s a guy to do?

Shout out to Dr. Andrea Heckler.  She was kind enough to go on vacation and to answer my desperate plea for vacant office space.  Now I was free to witness first-hand the carnage that this virus and I had teamed up to create. With the advent of August, we simply packed up and moved the entire operation a few blocks north.  For four fun-filled days, the plan was to see as many patients as possible.   More sleepless nights.   How was I going to explain all this to the angry and confused mob affected by this plight? 

 As the new day dawned, I geared up in my office attire, face-shield, eye protection, over gown, gloves, head cover, shoe cover and heavy-duty all day, all- protective ASTM Level 3 surgical mask. I was finally ready to approach my first patient.

“Hey, how’s it going? Long time no see.”   Original conversation has never been my strong suit.

“Hi Dr. P.”  (Eyes showing evidence of a smile). “So nice to see you.  Should I take off my mask?”

“No need.  I can work around it.” (Neither, evidently, is chair-side humour). 

Right out of Groundhog Day, I had this same exchange time and time again for four straight days, nine hours per day.  The time passed quickly. People showed up on time and seemed genuinely happy to be seen.  As I packed it in late Friday night, I felt a unique combination of confidence, accomplishment and unexpected gratitude towards a bunch of people I really only know from the neck up and the eyes down for thirty minutes every other month.  

Thankfully, (that’s me gazing skyward) there was not much to see.  Lots of extremely nasty, tired-looking power chain, a broken bracket or ten and a fractured closing loop, but for the most part, we picked up right where we left off.  It was like the last six months never happened.  That sound you hear is me, breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Now that these days are up, I would personally like to thank each one of my orthodontic patients for their patience, positive attitudes and relatively solid oral hygiene practices over a long six months. When is your next appointment?  God only knows, but at least now, because of who you are, I can finally get some sleep.

Not to worry, Jimmy P.  ‘After all, tomorrow is another day’.