One of Roy Blount Jr.’s funniest collections of poetry is titled I am the Cat, Don’t Forget That. One of my favorites goes like this:
When I purr
It’s because you pat.
No, you pat
Because I purr.
I am the cat,
Don’t forget that.
I thought of that poem the other day when my husband came home from a routine dentist appointment. We’ve both been going to to the same dentist for 6 or 7 years, and during most of that time, we carried dental insurance through my previous sales job. (Believe it or not, as a public school teacher, hubby does not have dental insurance available to him through his employer. Technically, you can teach without teeth.)
As of January 2010 when I started my new job, we judged it too expensive to carry dental insurance for a spouse–my new employer is smaller, and stingier than, my last 2 previous employers, and dental insurance is really, really pricey. So, hubby doesn’t have dental insurance. He realized, however, that this doesn’t mean he shouldn’t go to the dentist regularly. The dentist always tells you to get your teeth cleaned every 6 months to prevent tooth decay, right? So hubby made the appointment and showed up for his cleaning, checkbook in hand so he could pay for the appointment that day. (I know, who still writes checks!? Another post.)
Once at the dentist’s office, he got situated in the patient’s chair and the hygienist came to clean his teeth. She said they’d do x-rays first, which they usually do once a year. Hubby said politely, “actually, I’m just here to get my teeth cleaned. I don’t want x-rays.” The rest of the conversation went sort of like this:
Hygienist: Oh, well, you have to get your teeth x-rayed today. It’s been a year since you’ve had x-rays.
Hubby: I just want to have my teeth cleaned. I don’t have dental insurance right now, and I don’t want to pay the extra cost of x-rays just now, so I’ll pass on the x-rays, please.
Hygienist (confused): Oh, no, you have to get x-rayed.
Hubby: But don’t I need a 6-month cleaning? You’re the ones who called me to set up this appointment. I just don’t want x-rays right now.
Hygienist (befuddled): But, if something goes wrong with your teeth, you could come back and sue us because we didn’t do x-rays.
Hubby (he gets it): Well, I promise I won’t sue you. Should I sign something?
At this point, an entire conversation began with other employees at the dentist’s office in order to determine if it was OK to clean hubby’s teeth and not do x-rays. Finally they agreed to clean his teeth (gee, thanks) but he had to “promise” (no signature required, apparently) not to sue the dentist if something goes wrong with his teeth.
The take-away . . .
Could this really be the first time anyone ever refused x-rays at this dentist’s office? Three or four dentists work there full-time, plus hygienists, office staff, etc. so this isn’t a start-up business with inexperienced people. It seems unlikely that no patient had ever refused x-rays before.
And isn’t “I want to keep my medical costs down” a good reason for refusing x-rays, but for sticking with routine preventive care?
If they require x-rays, why didn’t they just send him away? And if they require x-rays, why didn’t he have to sign a legal waiver to avoid the x-rays?
If a patient doesn’t want x-rays (for whatever reasons), is he or she still entitled to a routine teeth cleaning?
Or isn’t getting your teeth cleaned really that important? Maybe dentists’ offices make a lot more money on x-rays than they do on routine cleaning. Maybe they’re not really there to clean our teeth but the whole teeth cleaning thing is just a ruse so they can make money off of x-rays. It seems unlikely, but they sure were upset that hubby didn’t want his x-rays.
Anyway, hubby got his teeth cleaned and got no x-rays. It seems right, since he’s the patient, although the dental hygienist forgot that.
Brush your teeth!