Drilling, Filling, And Billing

Many years ago I worked at a small dental practice. My title was office manager but I pretty much did all of the office work including setting up appointments. The staff consisted of the dentist, his assistant, the hygienist, and myself. So basically, we were a like a little family.

The dentist was the nicest man ever but he certainly carried a basketful of idiosyncrasies. He automatically gave raises June 1 and December 1 of every year…no matter what. It was nice to be appreciated monetarily. I worked for him for almost ten years. I quit my job to stay home with my children and operate a business from my home. He refused my resignation. He made his wife work for me for three months to see if I would change my mind and return. In fact, he told the patients that I was taking the summer off to be with my kids and would return in the fall. Well, I never did return. To work that is. I, and my family as well, continued to see him for our dental work until he retired and sold his practice. So anyway, after three months of my being home and one last reiteration of my not coming back, he finally caved and hired someone to fill my position.

One of his little annoyances was that he would reorganize all of the magazines in the waiting area every single day. After I had cleaned the area and organized them. I never figured out his pattern. He lined them up at a certain angle at a quarter of an inch from the edge of the tables. I copied his pattern and he still redid it behind me. He must have had a system by dates or categories or some other weird method. I even asked his wife who replied that she’d tired of trying to figure out his madness so to speak. And he always knew if a magazine was missing and would pinpoint it down to who took it. Apparently, he checked the magazines as he roamed the waiting area between patients.

His door to his operatory faced the side of my desk area. The most annoying habit of his was to wheel himself around and stretch over to see who came in the door each time he heard it click shut. I often told him that he was going to fall out of his chair one day. Sure enough, he spun around one day and fell right off the side and into the wall, drill flying through the air! I was laughing my butt off looking at him sprawled on the floor with his glasses hanging across his comb-over. When we both recovered, I barked at him, “Curiosity killed the cat, and it almost killed you. Will this teach you to stop being so nosey?” Yes, I did joke with him like that and he said once that he appreciated my humor and honesty as opposed to his sweet little assistant who just slammed the cabinets when she was angry with him.

Another thing was that every time the phone rang and I’d completed the conversation, he’d poke his head out of the door and ask who it was and what they wanted. Finally on a really busy day and in complete exasperation, I asked him, “Do you pay me?’ To this of course he replied yes. Then I asked him why and he answered because I do my job. And then I asked him if he trusted me to do my job and to tell me why he employed me to do these tasks. He answered these questions to have me tell him that if he’d like me to continue doing my job to just let me, otherwise I could leave and let him take care of all those minor details that he should not be concerned with. His wife happened to be in the office during this exchange and thought it was quite ingenious of me.

Seriously, I really did adore the man, even when he was annoying and I complained about him. He was by far the best boss I ever had. He let us leave early if we finished up before closing time. And he never, ever yelled at his employees or used curse words. I worked for a dentist prior to him that would call his employees stupid f***ers and tell us to eff off, and those were just the nice parts of that man. So, I really knew that I had it made when I worked for him. I was very spoiled and pretty much did what I wanted and he allowed most of it, unless it interfered with his idiosyncrasies and then we’d compromise or I’d just give in because after all the practice did belong to him,even if I felt like it was mine at times.

The two things that he absolutely loved about me was my memory and ability to recognize a voice over the phone. We had a fairly consistent group of patients. They never needed to tell me who they were. As soon as they said hello, I addressed them by name. Fortunately, I was never wrong because that could have backfired.

As all dental and medical practices experience, we had our share of people looking for drugs. Once my memory came to save the day. We had one such person come in with a toothache and filled out a form and did not want the tooth worked one but requested thirty (yes even stated a number) vicodin. I recognized the man immediately. I couldn’t remember the came he came in under before but I knew that it started with a certain letter. After one year, we transferred non current files to a back room. I went searching for the file. Bingo! I hit the jackpot. Same tooth problem (x-rays matched). Same address. Same employer. Same social security. Same birthdate. Different name. Same man. The doc called him out on it and the patient just melted into the chair and admitted everything. He didn’t get a prescription from our office that day.

We once had a regular patient that brought “his wife” in to see us for some dental work. We did tons of work and filed it with his insurance as she was on his policy. Insurance paid. No problem. That is until about a year later when a woman claiming to be his wife came in for work. I asked for identification, and SHE was his wife. I called the doc into the back and gave him the lowdown. I honestly don’t remember how he handled that one.

We had our share of crazy patients and situations. One of which was a lady who needed pre-medication (a massive amount of antibiotics) for dental work. She came in wobbling and told me she felt funny and she shoved the bottle at me telling me how many she took. She took the right amount…if it had been her antibiotic. She had taken a massive dose of Codeine. I had to call 911 to retrieve her. All was well and she came back in a few days for her treatment. Properly medicated and highly embarrassed.

Then there was the lady who insisted that her dentures were horrid but would not let him make adjustments. She refused to pay or return the dentures. As a matter of principle, the doc did what he had never done. He took her to court. The judge told her that if they were ill-fitting she did not have to pay for them but she did have to return them. She was furious. She decided to keep the dentures. But she did pay for them!

On occasion, I did have to assist the dentist if he assistant was out and his wife was not available. It was the big joke that he didn’t call any of his utensils by proper names to me. You know the terms like burnisher? (I think that’s correct if my memory isn’t failing me) Anyway, he’d tell me to hand him the thing that looked like it had a football stuck on the end!

This also was the office where I was held up at gun point. And I returned to work the very next day and continued working there for about five more years.

He treated his patients well and took the time to know intimate details about their lives. It may have come from pure nosiness, but they loved that he was interested. The connections between the patients were amazing, whether they were related, married into the families, or divorced and remarried. It was like being caught up in a soap opera at times. The doc would get all giddy spilling out the gossip. All in all, I loved the dental days and sometimes I really miss them. Mostly, I miss the people. And maybe the gossip!

31 thoughts on “Drilling, Filling, And Billing

  1. All the dentists I have visited have quirky personalities. The magazine arrangement thing is pretty amusing. I do like the way he described the burnisher…a creative guy! Loved this post.

  2. This is a wonderful story my friend. My doctor and his staff is very close to me and my husband, of course we have been going to him for 18 years.

  3. I wonder why so many Dentists are such unique and often quirky characters? So you have to be a little odd to want to stare at people’s teeth all day?!?

    This is a wonderful story about a job and boss you clearly loved.

  4. Oh, I love these stories! The bits about his idiosyncrasies are my favorite. We all have odd little habits, don’t we? And all you can do is laugh about them – some things we can’t change!

  5. “As soon as they said hello, I addressed them by name.”

    OMG…I SO envy that, because I have the worst time remembering peoples names. I can know a customer for months, and still have difficultly remembering their name.

    Sounds like a wonderful job, SC. Isnt it funny how we can look back on our various careers/jobs and be reminded of the ones that were really AWESOME??? That’s how I feel about my current job. Love it.

    Thanks for sharing, dear lady!

    Wishing you a great holiday weekend…..X

  6. A great dentist is truly a find! And to have such a great boss is wonderful too.

    I am amazing at recognizing not only voices on the phone, but peoples faces! And I usually remember where I saw them – we’d be walking in a mall, a man would walk by, and I’d tell my husband “that’s the cashier at Trader Joes!”

    Have a great weekend!

  7. Since most jobs require you to go in at least five days a week and spend a huge amount of time there it really helps when you like your boss. You are fortunate to have had such a great boss.

    Sound so much like you really loved the job. I can image why you miss it. Good times.

  8. What a chapter from your life! I can imagine how working for a person with such idiosyncrasies was a challenge. You seemed to know how to manage him, though. I’m impressed. I’ve always been afraid to speak up to superiors.

  9. i guess you are preaching to the choir on this one. We are idosynchratic…it is just how it is with us dentists. I think the job calls for it. I so relate to his magazine obsession and nosiness. What you descibe is very much what my office is like..a family with its own unique stories to share.

  10. I love my dentist! He was a regular customer when I used to work at the body shop (spell of bad luck for the family). He used to bring in muffins all the time. I thought that was awesome. When I started going to him, he asked why, noting that there were several dentists between him and myself. The right person makes all the difference though, doesn’t it? Nice post Suzi

  11. it’s so rare to find a job we love. I consider myself lucky to have had one.

    As far as quirky patients, working in an ER, boy, i’ve seen quite a few. The lady with the Coedine “problem” OMG. I’d be embarrassed too and happy to be alive

  12. i used to have a dentist named Dr Malice…he lived up to his name…i have had my fair share of quirky customers in the jobs i have held…they sometimes make it worth it just for the laughs…

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