Dale, the leader of a noted local jazz trio, was in the living room playing live jazz on his bass, while Maria, a noted local personal chef was in the kitchen preparing a very special dinner.
Phyllis and Ernie had a good life, but their later years had not been very kind to them at all. Pillars of the community, they had ordinary working lives that were filled with volunteer work, and the love and admiration of many for all the good things they did selflessly through the decades. They could not have children of their own, so they adopted two great kids in the 1950s. Their oldest, Bob, was the child of an alcoholic mother and he overcame the mental disabilities he suffered to fall in love with a wonderful woman and get married himself, only to succumb to his mental illness in his 40s and take his own life. Barbara, their youngest, grew up, got married, and had children of her own, only to develop breast cancer and then pass away, leaving her husband and young children on their own. Phyllis and Ernie were stunned. All they now had were each other, and their 60th wedding anniversary was fast approaching.
For more than 50 years, Phyllis and Ernie were patients in our practice, seeing Dr. Roy Rasmussen for 30 years and me for the past 21 years. And now, all these years later, they were not just patients anymore. We laughed and we cried with them, and now we wanted to honour an amazing achievement—60 years of marriage. There was no way Ernie wanted to really celebrate, but we could tell Phyllis wanted to do something special. So we did it for them.
We called Dale and Maria, another married couple in our practice, and told them about Phyllis and Ernie. We asked if they might be able to go to their home, prepare a special anniversary meal for two, and top it off with romantic jazz music. They thought it was a great idea, so together we made it happen. And the evening, so we heard later, was as magical as we hoped it would be.
Phyllis, sadly, now has also left this earthly realm, and Ernie has not long to be with us either. But for one special evening, we made a profound difference for them that went beyond dentistry.
Sophia, age 2, came to our office for the first time. What a delightful little girl, in her purple Anna (from Disney’s “Frozen”) dress, she talked our ears off and had us all laughing. After she left, I sent a handwritten note to her, welcoming her again to our practice and letting her know how much fun we had meeting her. We stuck in a few “Frozen” stickers as a gift, too. Not only was she delighted, but her dad tweeted about it and we heard from many sources how much they enjoyed that simple show of gratitude.
John and Danni had been dating for awhile and now their wedding was just around the corner. John’s teeth were a little yellow, about an A3 shade. Danni had a beautiful smile. As a thank you for being patients, and as a wedding gift from us, we did a free in-office whitening for John, and a free supragingival biofilm removal (or “polish”) for Danni in the week before their wedding so the their smiles for pictures would be as best as they could be. We got a lovely thank-you card and a mention on Facebook from the newlyweds.
Aziz and Zara were expecting their first child. Early in the pregnancy, we asked Zara to increase the frequency of her hygiene visits during the pregnancy to lower the risk of a premature, low birthweight baby. On her final visit, we asked them to please put us on their notification list after the baby was born because they were so special to us. They sent us a beautiful picture via email with their announcement of the birth of their daughter, Sarai. We posted the picture on our Facebook page (with permission) and welcomed the new addition to our practice, too. We waited one month, and then sent a unique bouquet of flowers to their home, congratulating them on the birth of their daughter from our team. Aziz and Zara were delighted with the timing of the receipt of these beautiful flowers and shared the results on Instagram.
Dentistry is all about relationships. We practice comprehensive general dentistry, because we have taken the time to know our patients as people and, as a result, we earned their trust. We have carefully focused our efforts on major life events. We welcome new patients with handwritten cards, mentioning something specific about them, to show we paid attention. We send personal thank you notes to people who refer to us. We celebrate births, weddings, milestone anniversaries, and we send a handwritten note of condolences to family members when someone passes on.
What we don’t do is send birthday cards. Many patients have told us that birthday cards, although cute and nice to receive, just seems like a computer-driven, reminder-based action that does not seem genuine. So we stopped doing them a long time ago.
It’s the little things, in celebration of the big things, that have made a difference for our patients, for my team, and for me and my family.
What “little things” do you do that have made a difference? Please share your stories.
Larry Stanleigh, BSc, MSc, DDS, FADI, FICD, FACD