When Doctors Don’t Listen

He was the third dentist I saw last week. After 7 days of unrelenting pain, no sleep, and a failed root canal, I was referred to an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. During the long drive to his prestigious offices, I imagined him to be my knight in shining gloves, mask and goggles, the hero who was going to extract the fractured, unsalvageable tooth. Although his introduction was a little brusque, I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he said he’d get me out of pain. Even after he’d roughly forced open my swollen, inflamed jaw I followed him like a lamb to slaughter into his O.R.

Knowing I have a high pain threshold, I opted to have local, rather than general, anesthesia.   Smiling, I braced myself for the needle, almost looking forward to the numbness that would finally take away the discomfort.  One, two, three cartridges of local anesthetic later, I was still waiting.  “Numb?” he asked.  “No, nothing’s happened yet” I replied.   He looked at me with the kind of look normally only seen on the face of a driver who’s just been rear-ended.  “If we are going to do this,” he said, “you’re going to have to be straight with me.

Straight with you? Do you think I’m making this….Oh My God!  It suddenly hit me. This white-coated icon of the medical establishment had branded me a hysterical female. Everything I’d said, every symptom I’d described was being filtered through his base conclusion: This bi**h is crazy.

Whether to prove his point or the invincibility of his drugs he started to prod and poke at the problem tooth.  I almost hit the ceiling, and let out a high decibel scream. Not my finest moment, I admit, but it was to be followed by one that was even worse.

Naively, I guess I expected some sort of apology or maybe a placating hand on my shoulder. What I got was a stream of expletives, the dramatic gesture of him peeling off his surgical gloves and throwing them to  the floor and a parting image of his backside as he stormed out of the O.R.

I could not have known that my pain would call into question my right to treatment.  Was it my fault that he’d failed to provide adequate anesthesia?

His assistant looked acutely embarrassed, his receptionist told me I may want to find another doctor.

I slunk back to my car, in tears, in pain…and angry beyond belief.  If it wasn’t so painful to talk, I’d have called the American Dental Association and reported him.

Instead, I’ve let a week pass and tried to learn a lesson from this encounter. I’ve asked myself again and again: what did I do wrong? The answer is clear. I trusted a doctor who did not trust me.  It’s a common mistake. And it’s one I would urge patients everywhere not to repeat.

Nevertheless, I still believe in the medical profession and I know most clinicians put their patients above their egos.  But, I’m still hurting. Anyone know a good tooth-puller in the Washington DC area?