This post has been sitting in my drafts for over a couple of months now. I just re-read it. I think at that time I had reservations about posting it. I know I don’t mention names or anything. Honestly, I can’t even track the name down anymore because I don’t remember the date of this draft. I came here to delete it, but I wanted to read it one last time. Well, I like it so I’m taking a chance and posting it! Some details are a bit confusing on the read, but you will get the message. Have fun!
This post is a long time coming, and I’m trying to organize my thoughts. What is this post about? Religion? Business? Dentistry? In truth, it’s all of the above. Perhaps I should just state my two stories and let you be the judge? Interesting, another “two story” occurrence.
Story one. The story that really prompted this blog started on a Friday afternoon. I was at the cleft lip/palate clinic and wasn’t expecting any calls or texts, except from my mother, because those are random. The text tone on my phone goes off and I assumed it was my mother and I looked to see what she wanted but it was from a number I did not recognize. “Interesting,” I thought and opened the message. The message started with “AssalamuAlaikum sister!” and I rolled my eyes. Great! A religious sermon from someone wanting money! It wasn’t that though. I continued to read and it was basically a message stating that he had a daughter in pain caused by her teeth and he would like her treated ASAP before his insurance ended in 10 days. Of course, the text ended with a “May Allah bless you” etc etc etc.
Couple of things, I am a dentist and I treat patients with respect, honesty and dignity not because it is required of my religion. I do it because it is the right thing to do. Period. I would do it irrespective of being a Muslim! I personally do not like bringing “religion” into treatment.
Back to this situation. I had a major constraint. All my appointments were fully booked for the next 2 weeks. At the back of my mind I did feel, “a delay on your part, does not constitute an emergency on mine!” but the child was in pain. I could have turned down helping them as they were not patients of mine. However, the text felt very “beggy”. Please help us! May God bless you for your help! We’ll pray for you! Can we milk this anymore?
I replied professionally that I would love to help them but I would have to look at my schedule when I got into the office and if I had an availability, I would fit them in. Another text. May God bless you etc etc. That was Friday.
Sunday night rolls around and I get a call from a father of another patient of mine. A Muslim. Although he wasn’t pulling the religion card on me, he was introducing this other patient (the one who called me on Friday), and he was pulling the “Call Dr. **. She’ll take care of you,” card. She’ll take care of you? I’m a miracle worker now? When someone believes you are magical, you strangely feel the need to pull a rabbit out of your hat. So, the patient who called me was basically requesting that I see this other Muslim brother’s daughter (the one who texted me on Friday) as she was in pain. He was hoping I could help them and he had basically told that other patient that I was the right person in this situation. If anyone would help, it would be Dr. Me! I explained to him that I would do my best. I explained that I was pretty booked up in my schedule but if I had an appointment to give, I would give it to them. I explained that the other patient had texted me earlier that week and I had told him the same. He said, “that’s all I’m asking! If you can help them, help them!” There was the “May God bless you” at the end of that, but it was what it was.
I felt badly for the patient’s parents. It felt like they were helpless and pulling at straws. Texting me, and now having someone else call me. I imagined that maybe this “emergency” just came up and they felt stranded with their insurance running out and they didn’t know where to turn to. I decided to help them. It wasn’t to receive the blessings of God. Like I said earlier, I thought the patient’s parents must have felt desperate. I do have an emergency slot every day, slotted for my existing patients and I was working in my mind that I would give it to them, and if I had to, I would work through my lunch to help them out.
Funny thing is that I had a prior social commitment at lunch time and I had blocked out an extra half hour of my schedule, and I realized that I was being unfair to a visitor from out of the state but what could I do? I wanted to help this child. So, on Sunday night I picked up the phone and left a message for my front desk that they should look at our appointments for the next 10 days and hold any available spots for this patient. My staff usually come in sooner than I do.
Monday rolls around and I come into work. I finally get to glance at the schedule with my front desk. The next 10 days were booked solid. We did have the half hour slot that I had blocked for my social commitment, there was a reschedule and long story short we moved patients around also. We had to call a couple of our patients and request they move to help us accommodate the emergency and patients were wonderful about it and it was great. We opened a 11pm slot for 2 days in a row. Those were the only availability or wiggle room I had.
So, it’s still Monday and my front desk calls the patient and tells them that we had to move patients around, but we have a 11am slot for them. Now the rest of this conversation was told to me by my front desk. Apparently, the patient stated that he couldn’t do 11am and wanted to come later. My front desk stated again that we moved patients around to help accommodate them and 11am was the only spot we could manage. Apparently this went on for a while where the patient’s father kept stating he had a meeting with his professor or something like that. He stated he would come 30 minutes later. My front desk came to me and asked me what I wanted to do. I couldn’t believe it. If it was such a huge emergency, they would have come when we gave them an appointment. It was hard enough to extract an appointment and now they were doing this dance like I had my entire schedule open and what I was doing for them was really nothing. It was just required! I was not happy. So, I said to my front desk in no uncertain terms that if they weren’t there by 11:15am, I would leave the office for my social commitment and lunch break and I did not want to deal with this anymore. After going through all that, I couldn’t believe it.
I was very surprised. The patient showed up at 10:50am. Yes. On time. Early, but they had paper work to fill out. So, I finally get to do an exam and looked at all the teeth. I don’t think we were able to get X rays. Communication was an issue. The child did not speak English and dad was in the room trying to translate for us. That adds its own dimension of complication in communication and treatment of the child but anyway the child had 2 lower molars that had large decay and she’s been complaining of pain. She had other cavities also.
Based on everything, I suggested we can finish all her work in 2 days. I usually do not do treatment the same day I meet a child. I like them to get comfortable with me first and choose the first appointment to be easy and a way for the child to build trust. However, this was different. So, I talked to the father and stated that we could do half her mouth that day and the other half the next day. We had after all planned for this and moved patients around for it.
The next step of course, is the finance of all of this. Although they were in network with the insurance, every insurance is different. My front desk gal went to work and called the insurance company and found out exact out of pocket costs. This is when things get fun. I explained everything to the dad and he stated, “but the other dentist said it would all be covered”. What other dentist?
Apparently, they had gone to another dentist a month ago and according to dad, all treatment would have been covered. I don’t recall why he didn’t go back to the other dentist or why he was coming to me in the first place. I stated to dad that I could only tell him what our costs are based on what his insurance company told us and we are in network with this insurance company.
Dad says that he’ll think about it. I said OK. That day was crazy. We had another emergency patient waiting in the reception area. So, I told dad that he could think about it while I helped the next emergency kiddo. I got the next kiddo done. It didn’t take long. I come back to the father in the waiting room and stated that we could start seeing his daughter now.
He started a totally different dialogue with me. What if she doesn’t do well? What if she cries? Of course, I explained about treatment and about how children don’t really understand why we do what we do and how it’s important to get her out of pain. She may be anxious but we did not want her to continue to be in pain. Dad says, “let me think about it.” By now, I was looking at my watch. I was already into my lunch hour. If dad wanted me to do treatment, I would still have done it. You guessed right. He said, he needed to think about it some more. He didn’t think he would have to pay anything. He would let us know if he could come the next day. He did thank me for seeing him and thanked me for my time, but I have not seen him or his child since.
My thoughts. I’m going to be blunt here. What is your child’s well being worth to you? That’s what I think. I get it. There’s a cost for dental treatment. I run a business. This story might be different if the child was not in pain. I don’t know. Am I supposed to hand out free treatment because someone is a Muslim? I don’t know. I’ve met parents who just wanted what was best for their child. Period. I’ve met parents who after I’ve given them permission to delay my payment, refused to leave the office until they got someone to give me a credit card number because they felt that it was right to pay me immediately after doing the treatment. I’ve met parents who questioned everything. I’ve even met a parent who told me that I was wrong because insurance didn’t cover something and insurance companies knew better.
Now, back to the situation above. After all that effort, and moving patients and the texts/phone call over the weekend and to my front desk on the Monday, how should I have reacted? The TTR I know would be livid, but strangely I was very serene and at peace with the whole thing. I wished what was best for the child and I hope they were able to get the care somewhere. I don’t know if I’ve become hardened with experience. I feel exceptionally well for offering above and beyond and I think internally I’m very happy because I’m applauding myself for doing the right thing. And yes, I would do it again! I know I was being manipulated. I know God was being thrown in the mix. The final result was no treatment. Their insurance coverage probably already has ended and what is left to say. Nothing.
The second story? This post is long as it is. Perhaps I’ll write a part 2 with the second story some other time. So, I’ll leave you here for now.