Read Part 5
…The naïve intern appeared and asked me to follow her down the hall. She stopped in front of her examination room, seemed embarrassed and stared at the carpet as she began: “I didn’t want to say anything in front of anybody.” She raised her head. “But you really upset my receptionist, to say the least. I won’t see you until you’ve calmed down. Go make an appointment with the other receptionist.” I didn’t say anything, turned and wheeled past the reception window, through the waiting room and out the door. I parked on the sidewalk outside of the building and used my cell phone to order a cab. While I waited, I vowed to write a letter to whomever bore responsibility for Special Needs Dentistry.¹
As soon I returned to my apartment, I wheeled over to my computer and searched the directory of the major hospital hosting the Special Needs Dentistry program. I found a contact’s name and mailing address, and copied it into my address book. I’ve discovered that letters of complaint submitted via snail mail generally command more attention than emails.
I kicked off the letter by emphasizing that that I’m 100% mentally competent. Then I mentioned the rudeness and incompetence of the receptionists; the undependability and caveman decisions of the entire medical staff and especially of the revolving-door novices with whom I came in direct contact.
I questioned a system that assumes anybody who uses a wheelchair and talks kind of funny is necessarily mentally disabled. And I asked if the administrators of the Special Needs Dentistry program consider mentally disabled people seventh class citizens, only worthy of serving as guinea pigs at the convenience of bungling rookies and their lickspittles. I concluded by suggesting that only cowards and bullies manipulate those organically weaker than themselves. That evening I mailed the letter.
Three days later, a woman representing Special Needs Dentistry phoned me while I listened to a pre-geriatric Stooges CD. She cheerfully observed: “That music sounds familiar. Who is it?”
Without skipping a beat I answered²: “Fritzy and the Dickweeds.”
She made a transparent attempt to ingratiate herself with me: “Oh yeah, Franny and the Dickweeds. They’re one of my favorites.” I immediately knew that I was dealing with a mealy-mouthed PR shyster.
The PR shyster clearly based her spiel on a script. She apologized for the public aid stooge’s “oversight” and predictably stressed that his folly wasn’t the Special Needs Dentistry program’s fault. She went on to brag that the program provides a vital service to the community by serving those “less fortunate.” After declaring, “We’re willing to work with you,” she paused as if expecting thanks for a tremendous favor. Rather than acknowledge the mistake and send me to an appropriate dentist, she suggested that “we” forge ahead and “get your work done.” Then the PR shyster divulged that she’d made an appointment for me to visit Special Needs Dentistry a little less than two weeks from then; she assured me that I wouldn’t experience any problems.
An intern different than the naïve woman saw me. To my surprise, she worked with an assistant. While I settled into the examination chair, a male MD barged into the room—at least I assumed he was an MD; he wore scrubs, whereas the interns settled for street clothes shrouded by a lab coat. The intern and her assistant instantly switched into subservience mode. He ignored me, made eye contact with them and asked if everything was okay.
After he popped out of the room, the intern regarded me. She spewed the same crap about yanking the cavity-damaged tooth before proceeding with the bridgework, but this time she added a twist: She must surgically remove it. According to her, my X-rays exposed abnormally long roots anchoring that particular tooth. The fact that some unseen ‘them’ had unceremoniously lost my first set of X-rays didn’t bolster my faith in her diagnosis. She made a point of reminding me that public aid doesn’t cover anesthesia. Before concluding a typically abbreviated visit, she advised me that she’d devote my next appointment to a proper cleaning. I’d already decided that I wouldn’t return and didn’t bother mentioning that another intern already cleaned my teeth.
Before I rolled out of the examination room I slid my sunglasses into place. The assistant asked: “Are you a player?”
I turned to her: “No. It’s sunny outside.”
She cracked a dramatic smile and nodded her head: “I’ll just bet you a player! You look like a player in those cool shades! I better watch myself ‘cause you a player! Watch out ladies, he a player!”
Eventually I visited a private dentist (i.e. not sanctioned by public aid) who examined my teeth and immediately began the bridgework. I charged the whole shebang on a credit card designed to facilitate payment of medical fees on easy terms.
¹ By the way, I completely understand the concepts of triage and appropriate money management. I also realize that my procedure, though potentially warding off serious infection, was cosmetic. I’m not some pampered Little Lord Fauntleroy with an attitude of entitlement. But given the manner in which every branch of the medical establishment treated me, I’d be remiss to shirk conclusions because they’re unpopular and/or hard to swallow.
² As I’ve written: Many people accuse me of having a chip on my shoulder. The fact is, while occasionally strangers harbor genuinely good intentions, wheelchair users can almost always spot a condescending asshole—I get lots of practice—though the condescension may not be apparent to others. It’s like a seasoned auto mechanic who can diagnose an engine by merely listening to it, while the vehicle’s owner remains oblivious.