Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A reward of a thing well done is having done it.” And while I can’t disagree with this pronouncement (who am I to question the esteemed Mr. Emerson), I do find it incomplete. I am not gourmet chef, and yet I know that I make a mean chili, to-die-for baby back ribs, and an awesome chopped liver (created in my grandmother’s wood chopping bowl with genuine chicken schmaltz). How do I know this? Because of the overwhelming feedback I receive, the frequent requests for one of my three culinary creations, and the total lack of leftovers after the meal is served. In other words, the reward of a job well done includes the recognition and praise that follows.
This couldn’t be truer for me than in my role as a cosmetic dentist.
The experience of exceeding one’s expectations and the spontaneous joy expressed over a “job well done” cannot be put into words. It is an intoxicating feeling that once experienced is sought to be repeated (and this is not some middle child phenomenon- perpetual pursuit of validation and acknowledgement…hmmm…I’ll have to get back to you on that after I speak to my thera… oh nevermind!). Jonas Salk said, “The reward for work well done is the opportunity to do more.” Now this rings true for me and the opportunities that I have been afforded as a cosmetic and restorative dentist to improve not just one’s smile, or one’s ability to function, but to improve one’s self esteem and quality of life have been rewarding beyond anything I could have imagined when I first embarked on my professional journey.
Over the course of this past year, I have had the good fortune to make a difference in people’s lives by doing what I love to do and doing it to the best of my abilities. Whether it was completing Invisalign treatment for Jen in time for her pending nuptials, restoring lovely Rachel’s front teeth, correcting dental work gone bad for Lauren so she could put her dental nightmare to bed and start a family: I have been spiritually rewarded by the trust given to me by virtual strangers (new patients) and the gift of gratitude, appreciation and friendship for a job well done. (After hours of “togetherness,” we are no longer strangers.
Case Study: Ben
Ben has been a patient of mine for quite a few years. He is an affable fellow and a very successful businessman. Always on the go, always working the next big deal, he never seemed to have the time to commit to addressing the dental dilemma that had bothered him for quite some time. Ben did not display any of his teeth, not when he spoke, not when he laughed, and certainly not when he smiled. He looked as if he didn’t have teeth to show. And while he most certainly had a full set of natural teeth, they were very small and very dark – forever hidden under the drape of his lips and within the shadow of his cheeks.
It was just before Thanksgiving that Ben decided that now (as in “yesterday”) was the time to take action. So having allowed enough time for proper planning, Ben was given two lengthy appointments to enact his “cosmetic make-over.” Without going into too much detail, his treatment involved porcelain crowns on all of his teeth…that is all 28 of them! No small undertaking.
He came in for his first appointment ready for action in loose-fitting attire, music playlists pre-selected, and with appropriate anesthesia and nitrous oxide on board, we then began his first 6-hour appointment. Lost in his music with pad and pencil in his hands to scribble us notes or share with us his occasional epiphanies, with nary a break (by his request) save to visit the restroom and to secretly order us in a lunch buffet, the time flew by.
When then day’s treatment had concluded, I had designed a new smile for Ben by placing beautiful provisional (temporary) crowns on all of his upper teeth. Now for the coup de grace….I escorted Ben in front of a full length mirror for him to behold his new visage for the first time. He gazed into the mirror and flashed himself a smile…his face lit up with glee and he let out a very audible “Hoot!” as he jumped up and down, clapping his hands with joy. He looked at himself again and became giddy. He turned around and embraced me in a huge bear hug and kissed my dental assistant Kim. He looked in the mirror again and started laughing once more. His first words…”Game changer.” I couldn’t have been happier. Kim was brought to tears as was the rest of my staff when they came rushing in after hearing his hooting. Truly, a job well done.
Case Study: Sarah
I first met Sarah this past January: a mature, pleasant, and attractive professional singer who was in a dental crisis. Sarah came to me for a second opinion/consultation regarding her oral predicament. Actually it was more like a fourth or fifth opinion. Sarah had serious problems, which jeopardized her health, her looks, and above all, her career. She came equipped with all relevant X-rays and many, many questions. I examined her and spent about an hour reviewing her condition and how I would approach what would most definitely be a lengthy and involved treatment process (which involved bone grafting procedures, implant dentistry, and multiple provisional restorations). I emphasized that a top priority would be to maintain her ability to sing and perform during the multiple phases of dental care and healing.
This was back in January and I didn’t hear back from Sarah until November. In the intervening months, she had continued her “research” until her condition became critical. She was told by two dentists that little could be done for her, and that she was destined to become a dental cripple with no hope of even successfully wearing a denture: a harsh pronouncement, which was extreme, insensitive, and not true.
Sarah reappeared for a re-evaluation and yes, her condition had deteriorated, but it was certainly not hopeless. She was quite distraught (can you blame her?). We reviewed my plan with multiple contingencies, and she scheduled her appointment to begin in mid-December (two weeks ago). Over the nearly three weeks that transpired before her actual treatment (I had much to do in the way of pre-operative preparation): I received numerous phones calls from Sarah and gave her much needed reassurance. She couldn’t shake the image of a dental cripple-unable to eat, to smile, to sing.
Finally, the day arrived for Sarah’s first appointment. She appeared anxious, but ready. Seven hours, two root canals, three posts, 10 provisional crowns, a “permanent” bridge on all of her remaining upper teeth and innumerable jazz sets of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra later, we had completed the first step of her dental journey. She looked fabulous and breathed an audible sigh of relief when she looked in the mirror and saw that her smile was intact (better than what she started with) and more importantly secure (her teeth were a bit wobbly before we started that morning). Tears of relief and delight followed, and I’m sure I needn’t say that the mood in the office was celebratory. Certainly another job well done. I will be Seeing Sarah again very soon to continue our odyssey.
Patients often ask what “What are you going to do to me today?” My reponse never varies, “I’m not going to do anything to you, but this is what I’m going to do for you.” In the context of work, making a good widget can be a job well done. Closing a big deal after months of work is a job well done. But when one’s focus is on caring for people, a job well done is well done for someone. And for me that makes all the difference.