Now what?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Murphy's Law

In high school Carrie and I were in a class called Aquatic Science. It was almost as whimsical as it sounded, and we enjoyed it very much. We have many great stories from that class, however many of them follow a very similar theme: Murphy's Law; or should we say Murphy's Aquarium? Part of the class was to create and maintain an Aquarium. Ours seemed to have a self-sabotage mechanism attached. During the first week of class we were given our aquarium and a location in the classroom in which our aquarium would be kept. Then we got filters, decorations, everything that we would need for an aquarium except for fish, so we all dutifully set up our aquariums. I mean everyone except for Carrie and me dutifully set up their aquariums. We walked over to our assigned space, aquarium already in place, and tried to place the filter on the back. In lieu of it gently sitting on the back, it clunked into the cabinet. It was quickly determined that whoever built the school had decided to not use a level for the science wing and this resulted in slanty cabinets that were maybe an inch too short for our aquarium to have a lovely, easy filter sitting on the back. How Mr. Smith didn't figure this problem out sometime before our class, seeing as how he has taught it forever, is beyond me. But, whatever.

So Mr. Smith pulled out an interesting looking contraption that he happened to have in the back, which was a filter that sat behind the aquarium and was attached to the aquarium by two tubes. Hm, lots of parts and a more complicated setup definitely equals an exponential rise in possible things that could go wrong. Still optimistic we set up our aquarium, went out and bought fish and a few other things that we thought would look pretty. That optimism quickly faded as we had a fungus take up residence in our filter, (especially the tubes. it did not make our water look very nice) the beautiful piece of wood we bought was burned at some point which released poisonous acid into the water, the fish tried to bully/eat each other, and two of our red claw crabs escaped. One was found and returned after trying to climb a freshman girl in one of Mr. Smith's other classes, the other was smushed by a librarian after she "tripped" on him and then "accidently" stepped on him. I'm still impressed that he made it to the other side of the school via his own, stumpy little legs. So we ended up staying after school basically every day trying to fix it, but at least we enjoyed it.

What can go wrong will. I would like to learn a little more about how Murphy's Law came into being. At least in my life it hasn't seemed to take a hold. Horrible "everything goes wrong" moments, days, classes don't seem to happen to me very often, however I am now convinced that technology will bring more of that into not only my life, but everyone else's as well (I'm sure my mom would agree with me there). My dental office is all digital which is a blessing to dentistry, but a curse to not only me, but everyone else who works there because we would be the first to perish if someone held a gun to our heads and told us to fix the computer. So when the server decided to die a lot last Thursday we knew that bad things were going to happen. No server means no XRays, no schedule, no patient phonebook, no patient charts, nothing. How to we see and treat patients if we have no information and no diagnostic tools? By the way, this happened at the end of the first patient of the day's appointment. Then two emergency patients walked in. One of them had half of her face swollen almost double what it would have normally been. We can't figure out what is wrong with them without XRays!

We sent them home and promised to call them when we were back up and running. We limped through a crown procedure and then had our staff meeting lunch. Good lunch, but Dr. Cope was seriously about find a machete and teleport himself to the server company's headquarters and bash some skulls in. I have NEVER seen him mad, except when the computer will not work properly. We finally get that problem fixed and squeeze both emergencies into a tight schedule while seeing everyone else on the schedule. Both emergencies turned out to be extractions, but oh wait, we only have one surgery kit right now. And, oh wait, both had waited so long that the abscess hurt even though every other single thing that could hurt was ridiculously numb. This requires a special syringe that has lots of moving parts which of course got stuck and I saw Dr. Cope bring a wrench into the operatory for the first, and I am almost certain the last, time. We also had to resort to using an instrument from the kit that he really wanted to save for the last emergency, so we took so much longer, and caused them much more pain than was really necessary.

One of our last patients was luckily very jovial, which helped since what would have been a crown turned into a root canal that needed to be performed by a specialist. Luckily we have a temporary filling material that we could patch it with until her appointment, which was this Monday, incidentally. I think this goes to show that any desire to say, "What else could go wrong?" is always a big mistake that you will probably pay for. I think for now it's safe to say that that day was one of the craziest days in dentistry that any of us had ever seen, because we still can't stop shaking our heads and just exist in awe at that set of circumstances.

Monday, January 05, 2009


So while I know that this job is a first step towards a more prestigious career, I now realize that every single dental office ever would probably fall down and then explode with an unexplained fire ball that also inexplicably didn't harm any other business surrounding said office without dental assistants. The dentist does not know where anything is kept, obviously that would inhibit him or her from actually performing any dental procedures, so we assistants provide the tools. We also help prevent the patients from drowning. Most people probably know that there tends to be a lot of water involved in dentistry; there are also those people who happen to produce a lot of spit. So in order to stop the patients from having the indignity of dying by drowning on their own saliva, there is a dental assistant.
We also have to deal with people. Some are terrified of dentists, some are terrified of needles, some may be normal humans, but really; how often will one of those people actually grace the dentist's chair? Those people are normally pretty good about maintaining dental hygiene, and if they do need something done are perfectly polite about it. Those appointments tend to be finished early. Now that leaves all the paranoid people and the ones that are, shall we say, a little strange. There are those that are so petrified of dentists that they haven't been in awhile. If it's a new patient this tends to mean thousands of dollars worth of dental work and a person who is even more paranoid of dentists. People who are scared of needles are a little easier to deal with. If you hold their hand and give them a lot of topical they tend to be ok. If not, giving them nitrous tends to help, so we just have to get them through that one part of the procedure that scares them, which is easy. Finally there are the "crazies" that you can never be prepared for and yet have to talk to them and relate to them as if they were on the same playing field as you.
On a plus note, many of these people can ramble on about nothing for awhile, so all you have to do is listen, unless you're trying to actually do something in their mouths, in which case you really wish they could shut up for two seconds.
When I was interning we saw an emergency patient who needed a partial root canal right then. Having to sit alone for awhile, I sat there too so she could have someone to talk to. She basically told me all about how horrible her previous 11 dentists were, and since I actually engaged her in conversation she told the dentist that she was really upset that I would not be there in the future, to which the dentist said, "Don't be too sure; I like her." Obviously so since I got the job. Referring back to the patients you want to shut up, we had a drunk lady come in last week. At least she was a jovial drunk. Honestly, when I was cleaning her teeth, all I could smell was the tobacco because that smoky smell is one of the most offensive odors in the world to me, but both the dentist and the other assistant smelled the alcohol. She also happened to laugh at everything anyone said, which definitely made me raise my eyebrows since she thought it was funny that I lived in a house. Not really, but you can see my point. She definitely almost fell asleep a few times, which made applying fluoride difficult, and she would do the exact opposite of what I asked her to do. "Turn your head towards me" somehow indicated "Open your mouth wider." I'm not sure how. She also kept stopping me when I was trying to polish her teeth just to say something; at least it was in the same vein of what we had been talking about.
We'll see what next week brings, it was the end of the year after all. However, that does not totally negate the existence of interesting people in the office. After having a good experience at our office some of these stranger people tend to say that they're going to bring in their whole families to get a cleaning. Sometimes this declaration is then followed by, "By the way, my husband never brushed his teeth when he was growing up, so he might be a challenge," or, "I'm glad that I didn't have anything seriously wrong because my parents had bad teeth and my Uncle Frank only has two left." What do you say to that? I suppose after I've been working for awhile I will actually be able to come up with a response, but until then, I guess I will just have to smile and nod.