Grumpy Dave. Everyone has a story

Our provincial elections are about to occur and my thoughts turn to how fortunate we are to live in a place where social democracy is allowed to flourish and succeed. We have freedom to act and behave reasonably, to dream and find a way to bring that dream to reality, and to have a government that is freely elected, governs according to our collective wishes, and looks after our population, as only a government elected by the people, acting for the people can. Corporations cannot do what governments do. And I am grateful for the birth lottery that has my family and me living where we live.

In my practice, we try to treat all of our patients—regardless of age, gender, income, religious background, sexual orientation, and more—with compassion, care, and dignity.

Grumpy Dave came to my office some years ago. He came to me from a place called “1658 house”. It’s a home where former addicts live while they are putting their lives back together. It is a place where the residents, with some staff, support each other through their healing and re-entry back into society and their families.

Dave was an alcoholic. He used cocaine as well. His mouth was a mess after years of neglect. His clothes were clean but old. His face was scraggy but clean shaven. He looked old but was younger than I am. And he was nervous coming into the dental office after so many years of neglect.

Physically, he was now clean and he had been sober for a long time. But he was in considerable pain. He had several abscessed teeth and rampant caries, mostly in the molar region, that were hopeless. And I was the third dentist he had seen. The other two treated him like he was trouble, like he did not deserve the time, care, and attention they provided to their other patients. The patients and staff in the other offices did not like how he looked, and he was judged based on his appearance alone.

But Dave had a story to tell. For all of my new patients, I book one hour with them. You cannot devise a true health care plan for someone if you don’t know his or her story. Dave was born in England. Lived in Ontario. Was a father to a now adult girl. He had not seen his child in years, was estranged from his wife, and no longer lived in the same province as they did. But he cleaned up. 1658 house was giving him a second chance at life. He was finishing a diploma program in counseling, so he could help support people just like him, because it had made such a difference in his life. And the provincial government had a dental health care plan to assist in his basic oral health care, allowing us to provide good comprehensive care without concern for Dave’s financial ability to pay for the treatment. The government plan paid less than my fee schedule, but I felt that Dave deserved the break. The treatment meant more to him than the money did to me, and the number of people I see who are like Dave is very low.

Dave had been down and out, but he was back, looking for an opportunity to make amends, to contribute, to turn his life around. And we were in a position to help him reach those goals.

We treatment planned to remove the hopeless teeth, to eliminate the cavities on the teeth we could keep, and to replace the missing teeth with dentures to provide good function. He ended up with a complete upper denture, partial lower denture, and 10 lower teeth had fillings completed. We also provided periodontal care to restore his soft tissue health as well. By the time we were done, he was out of pain, eating better, and feeling much better about himself.

He found his daughter and she moved out to Calgary to be near her father. He was thrilled to play a positive role in his daughter’s life. He finished his diploma program and 1658 house hired him as a full-time counselor so that he could help others in a place that was so helpful for him.

Dave always seems to be grumpy, and that is why he has the nickname, but he really is grateful. So grateful that he wrote me a lovely note saying that at a time when he was struggling to re-enter society and put his past behind him, we treated him with dignity and respect, took the time to listen, and to come up with a plan that was going to work for him in his situation. We were touched by the gratitude, and he deserved nothing less than what we provided for him.

Everyone has a story. We all have a book inside of us waiting to be written. But the best of all of this is that we live in a place where social democracy gives us the opportunity to help and it gives us great joy to provide that assistance to people who want to help themselves.

Thanks for reading.

Warm regards,

Larry Stanleigh, MSc, DDS, FADI, FICD, FACD

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