For me, trying to stay away from sugar, candy, desserts, has always been a battle… so it wasn’t too often that I would leave dentist without battle scars. We went to the dentist once a year, and for the most part, I didn’t think too much about the battle with sweets–until it was the dreaded day of the appointment. Then I’d be dying with curiosity, wondering if I’d won or lost. Cavities = I lost. No cavities = victory for me. If it were a batting average, my no-cavity average would be about a .097.
But MY dentist made it so that getting teeth worked on wasn’t so bad. Not because of the laughing gas (though, let’s face it, who doesn’t like the laughing gas?), but because of his nature.
My parents would load up the van with anywhere from 4 to 6 of their kids, make the hour long trip up to Layton, and we’d flood the small waiting room, looking for Highlights magazines and any kind of game or toy to pass the time.
In the waiting room, I always felt an even mix of dread, nerves, and excitement.
Dread, well, from being conditioned at an early age to fear The Drill.
Nervous, because besides the fact I was about to go under the pick and drill, my parents would pay us 5 bucks if we didn’t have any cavities…so for a kid under the age of 10, I felt like I might win the lottery. Could this be the time that sugar didn’t get the best of me?
And excitement, because I was about to see my uncle Richard, who was my dentist–and one of the kindest people I know.
After getting patched up, I’d chew my numb cheek and tongue in the waiting room, and wait for my siblings and parents to get finished. I’d almost feel disappointed–like my time in the spotlight was over. The attention, the equipment, the care, the focus–Uncle Richard was so good at taking what could be a bad experience for a kid with a sweet tooth, and turning it into something not only bearable, but enjoyable. He could actually make you feel like a little bit of a rock star in that moment. He was gifted in this regard, and I’ve never had a dentist since with that ability.
I rarely won the no-cavities lotto, but it was never a disappointing visit. We’d load back up in the van and head home, a little less excited, a little less energy. The excitement was over, back to ordinary life, but it always had been a pleasant visit.
We don’t see each other as often as I’d like, but every time I do, I’m filled with excitement just to be talking with uncle Richard. As gifted a dentist as he is, he is just as gifted inter-personally, making me feel like I’m the most important person in the world. This has happened countless times at weddings, baby blessings, baptisms, funerals–whenever I run into uncle Richard, we pick up right where we left off.
Well, I’m praying we can have another conversation like that soon. Because right now, Uncle Richard is fighting a much harder, and much more significant battle of his own, while his body tries to recover as he lays in a hospital bed, hooked to machines keeping him alive.
Unlike the slow formation of pesky cavities caused by neglect or carelessness, this came on quite suddenly. He has always done the physical equivalent of “flossing daily”, by exercising and eating healthy, but for some reason, his healthy strong body had a negative reaction to some medical treatment. Without getting into too much detail, it set off a chain reaction that led to sedated life support. Without much warning, he went from playing with his grandchildren one day, to the shutdown of vital organs the next. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for his wife of over 50 years, and all of his children, grandchildren.
His doctors initially didn’t give him much hope. Said he might live a day, maybe a week. Well, it’s been over a week, and he is battling. He’s battling because he is a warrior. Not the fighter, confrontational type of warrior–he’s one of those optimistic, always cheerful kind of warriors. And in a world filled with doom and gloom, dispair and disappointment–to be that positive, that cheerful, you HAVE to be a warrior. And that’s what he is. I’ve never seen him unhappy, even though I’m sure he has been. He’s just one of those people who chooses to be happy, and is.
And with that warrior spirit, his body is making progress.
I talked to my parents today and got an update. They were just returning from the 5 hour drive to the hospital where uncle Richard is staying. He is responding to people’s voices, to his wife’s voice, his daughter’s. He is squeezing back, and showing signs of listening, of being able to understand what is going on. Doctors are much more hopeful now.
My thoughts about this have been all over the place. At first, the harsh reminder of our own mortality, and the fragility of life. It was shocking to hear the news that all of the sudden he was on life support, and was a rude awakening. I also couldn’t help but think about how awful it would be for me to go through what my cousins are going through–with my parents also healthy, and about the same age.
But as he has continued to improve, my thoughts have gravitated towards the power of hope, prayer, and positive thinking. Because of the man he is, I can attest that the progress he’s made in this battle is a direct reflection of who he is.
My prayers are that he will continue to improve… that I’ll be able to see him soon and have another one of those moments where I feel like I’m the most important person in the world to my dear uncle Richard. The best dentist I’ve ever had, one of my favorite uncles, and a truly great man.