Sunday, December 29, 2013

An Open Letter to Our New (Old) Dentist

Before I get into this I want to make clear...I bear no ill will toward our dentist.  I'm not going to mention who it is...but if you know me personally and you ask me, I will tell you who I may not recommend.  I hope she enjoys success in her new practice and helps many many people find their way to proper oral hygiene and dazzling smiles.  Having said that, let me get started.

A while back (about 35 years ago give or take) I started seeing a dentist.  He was nice, and funny, and gentle, and my whole family loved going to see him.  His office staff was nice and caring and at least one person seemed to have been with him the whole time he was there.  Honestly, in my childlike, mind I thought that he and the receptionist were married.  I won't tell you how embarrassingly old I was when I figured out that she just worked there.  After seeing him for so many years we built up a rapport.  I could call and ask dumb insurance questions without being laughed at.  I was counseled on which procedures could wait for the new monies to become available and which needed to be sucked up and taken care of now!  After so many years and so many times sitting in his chair listening to bad jokes that were so bad they were good...I missed him when he retired.

Enter the new dentist.  She started taking over immediately and it seemed that the transition would happen without too much of a hitch...I thought.  When the receptionist retired as well, I thought this may not be the smoothest of transitions...but we'll give it a shot.  A few cleanings and a referral to an oral surgeon later I was hit with the cold reality that there would not be so much a transition as a complete restructuring of everything that we held near and dear to our hearts.

In teaching there are sometimes events that happen after school.  Most are planned, some are not.  On the day before my scheduled cleaning I found out that I was not going to be able to make it to the appointment.  I called.  I told them that something had come up and that I wasn't going to be able to make the appointment.  It was at least 30 hours beforehand.  When I called to reschedule I was informed that I would be billed for a missed appointment and that the dentist had changed her policy to needing 48 hours notice for cancellations.  The poor girl on the phone informed me that all of the dentist's friends operated like that.  Being the responsible bloke that I am, and not wanting to waste money paying for services that I didn't receive, I rearranged my schedule.  I worked through my lunch (as if I didn't most days) and my understanding principal allowed me to take care of my responsibility earlier in the day.  When everything was in place and I was sure that I could indeed make it to the appointment, with three hours before I was supposed to be there I called the dentist.  It went like this.

"Hello.  My name is Jeff.  I had an appointment scheduled that I wasn't going to be able to get to.  I rearranged my day and I will be able to make it after all."
"I'm sorry.  That slot is no longer available."
"Oh, you filled it.  That's great!  That means that I won't be billed for missing it."
"Uhhh, no.  You will still be billed."
"I don't understand.  The spot is filled.  You won't be out any money."
"I'm sorry that's the new policy."
"No.  I'm sorry I don't agree with that policy."

And then I went back to teaching.

I was frustrated and upset that they were going to bill me for, the way I saw it, not being out any money.  My phone rang during class and I didn't answer it.  I was curious.  After school I listened to my message and it was the receptionist asking me to call them back.  When I talked to her I was told that the dentist would waive my fee "since it was my first time."  I told her that she should waive my fee since it was the right thing to do.  Another explanation of her dentist friends' policies being the same as this...and as nicely as I could...I snapped.  I didn't raise my voice.  I didn't use foul language.  I was not banned from being in my own reality show.  I simply, without giving any leeway, said, "The next time you hear from me it will be to tell you where to forward my records."

Then I felt bad.

Did I overreact?  Should I have given one more chance.  I did what any modern nerd would do in this day and age.  I appealed to social media.  I gave the Reader's Digest version of the events and asked, "Was I a jerk?"  The results were unanimous.  Apparently, I was not only un-jerky...people were proud that I stood up for myself.  So I went about my business.

Jump ahead to last week.  Sylvia went in to this very same dentist to have her teeth cleaned.  We talked about my experience but I would never try to say she had to follow my departure to a new dentist.  She has a brain, a great one, she can decide for herself.  At the dentist she was told that she would need to come back to have a filling.  (Sorry Honey...I spilled the beans)  She asked, "Do I have enough insurance to take care of the procedure?  It is so close to the new year I could wait and do it then.  I do not want to pay anything out of pocket for this."  The response, "You have plenty of insurance left!"  She gave the amount, but that is irrelevant.  She made the appointment to get the filling and came home.  The night before her appointment we got a bill from the dentist.  It was itemized to an extent and there was an amount due.  We have a small amount of insurance but that amount applies to 100% of the bills we get...until we run out.  The way it looked to us was that our insurance had been exceeded and we were now being billed for overages.


Now, we have two problems.  First, we don't understand how we got a bill for something that we had never been billed for before...especially after we were told that we had "plenty of money"...and we were approximately 12 hours away from her appointment.  This was a quarter of the time the new dentist allowed for her cancellations...and since Sylvia's appointment was nearly first thing in the morning, and they wouldn't get any kind of message until then, we had approximately 0.02% of the time she allows for cancellations. We had learned, from my experience, that we would be billed if we cancelled and since it seemed that we were out of money, we would be billed if she went in.

Double crap!

Sylvia got up early and called as soon as she thought the office would open.  I wasn't I got the blow by blow through text.
Called.  We do have enough money but the extra $28 is possibly for fluoride treatment that isn't covered.  Never been charged for that before???
(I didn't think you had fluoride treatment)
She called back.  We were billed because it was my third appointment and we are only allowed two???
(Never heard of that before)
That time the crown fell off, she counted it as a visit.  Old dentist didn't do that.
Receptionist just called.  She said the dentist doesn't think we are transitioning well and wants me to find a new dentist...not only that.  She is cancelling my appointment for the filling.  She is refusing to do it.  Asked to talk to the dentist.  She won't come to the phone.
(Hello new dentist)

When I came home Sylvia mentioned that the dentist had not given her 48 hours before cancelling her appointment so we should bill her.  I think we will let it go.  But if she had taken the morning off of work to make this appointment and then had no work done, we would be very upset.  As it is, you probably don't want someone who is upset with you to stand over your open mouth with a drill.  It's probably best that we let it go.

So, finally, we get to the letter that I want to send.  (But I probably won't...I haven't decided)

Dear New Dentist,

We regret that we weren't able to have a "smooth transition" to your new practice.  While you may feel that we have been difficult to deal with, we feel that you have not had your patient's interests at heart.  I am not going to say, "It wasn't like this before."  What would be the point?  You are your own person.  You make your own choices.  Your choices affect real people.  When you try to bill even after a time slot has been filled, all I see is greed or punishment.  When you say that there is "plenty of money" and then send a bill, what I see is an unexpected expense.  To some, a $28 dollar budget error is difficult.  It is true that you waived these fees but it is disappointing that the reason was, as it appears, to get a difficult person off your back.  The true reason they shouldn't have been billed was because it would have been the right thing to do.

We, of course, are going to take our business elsewhere.  You asked us to do that.  But I wanted you to know that people are more than just sets of teeth and insurance forms.  We do not live in a vacuum where actions do not have consequences.  I am not the type of person who goes to Yelp and fills out a scathing review.  I think I would be justified in telling people what they might encounter, but that is just not my style.  I will, however, give friends and family (should they ask) my opinion about where they should not go.  It's a shame.

I wanted to let you know why, even if you hadn't asked us to leave, we would have been leaving.  Without a relationship the only benefit to coming to you as our new dentist is that we wouldn't need to find directions to a new place.  I do not wish you ill.  I hope you are able to take this criticism for what it's intended and remember that all of the files from your predecessor (a number of whom have been referred by my family) are looking for a little more than "what your other dentist friends" are doing.  I wish you luck in your practice but I think, if you are not careful, you and your receptionist should learn some card games to play while you sit in an empty office.

Jeff Garrett

There...Rant finished.  I feel better.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ave Maria and The Fully Monty

Today...I am torn.  I would really like to write about a financial and personal business issue involving our new (soon to be old) dentist...but I want to give it a day before I do so I can maybe calm down a bit.  Too bad for you would have been scathingly hilarious today.  You'll just have to settle for poignantly humorous tomorrow.

Alright...I have an equally emotional topic today, and I am just as eager to express it, so here we go.  Unlike the topic involving money, this involves my heart, and the wonderful memories it includes.  As is often the case with my blog topics, today's comes to me from a variety of sources: Our anniversary, Music, and an old friend.  (No, I am not calling you "old" Michelle.)

Precisely four days ago, Sylvia and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary.  We exchanged cards.  We were surprised by a wonderful meal by our kids.  (Fondue, steak, and Caesar salad ...Mmmmm!)  We even posted it on you know it's official!  And I, being the moderately romantic guy that I am, took part in a tradition that I have done for many years now.  As close to the time that we were saying our vows as my schedule will allow, I arrange for Sylvia to hear the song "Ave Maria" on our anniversary.  Once I left her a note on the CD player saying, "Turn this on to track 2 at 11:30."  But that didn't seem to cut it.  So recently, I have been finding recordings and playing them over the phone when I call.  Music hasn't been a huge part of our relationship, but there are a handful of songs that will make us grasp hands, smile, and even dance (including in a hardware store).  Ave Maria is definitely a hand holder.

At our wedding we wanted to include this song.  It was a favorite of her Mom's mom in Germany, and including it (and her wedding ring) in the ceremony was like a part of her was there.  Sylvia had even secured a German version on cassette tape so we could play it during the ceremony.  I think the discussion was, "Would it be ok if we..."
"During the ceremon...."
"It's the German versi...."
"YES!"  (I knew that family is a huge part of who Sylvia is...hence, the proposal.)

It just so happened that on this particular anniversary there was an odd convergence of events.  While I was getting ready to call Sylvia this year to play Celine Dion's version of the song, I got a Facebook message on my phone.  It was from Michelle.    She wanted to wish us happy anniversary.  She also wanted to comment on, you guessed it, Ave Maria.  WoW!  As I was fumbling with YouTube and my apparent lack of technological savvy, I received confirmation that it was a memorable part of that day.  Michelle mentioned that the song stuck out in her memory because she had never heard it live before.  (OK, so it wasn't live...but it did stick out in her mind.)  I'm gonna let it slide...she's really old.  (OK Michelle, now that time I did call you old.) Michelle and I messaged back and forth for a bit and I mentioned that it may have stuck out since, as it turns out, it was the longest known recording of Ave Maria...EVER!!  I am sure it's not hard to imagine a long version of this particular, wonderful, song since the first two words, eight letters long, are often turned into at least a minute and a half ...and about thirteen syllables.  Ahhhhhhhhhhhh Vayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy Marrrrrrrrrrr Eeeeeee  Eeeee eee eee eeeee EEeeeee eee eeee eeeeeee ee UhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhHhhhHhhhHhh....You get the idea.

That's not the best part.  The best part is that a few minutes before Sylvia was supposed to go walking down the aisle, the sound guys came to me in the pastor's office where I was waiting all alone for the ceremony to begin.  (It's all right Craig...Best Man...I have forgiven you for leaving me all alone...sniff)  It seems that these two people had listened to the recording, determined that it was too long, and wanted to ask me a question. They wanted to know if they could just turn it off after two minutes.   I was dumbfounded. I was about to take part in the most important day of my life and they were on a schedule?  I stammered, "Wh, wh, wh, Huh?"  They explained that it was really long, about five minutes, and there was a pop at about two minutes where they could pretend that was the end and just turn it off.  I thought, Sylvia and I never discussed this...that won't work.  I thought, it took us two hours to decide which garbage can we would have in our kitchen...this is not going to be easy.  I thought, it's in German!  What if we are cutting it off at her grandmother's favorite part?  I thought, I am NOT going to try to involve Sylvia in this...she has enough to worry about.  While inside my head I really thought the 1994 version of, "SERIOUSLY!?!"  It was probably, "SAY WHAT!!?!"   

I had mentioned this lopping off the song option to Michelle while we messaged back and forth and she added the possiblility, "Louvre director to Monet: 'can we just cut a few feet off these damn waterlily paintings? They're so freaking big'"  

I of course, suggested that the reason the Venus de Milo looked like that was because they couldn't get her to fit in the door. Is it any wonder we are friends?

So right there, in the Pastor's office, and then I made the first solo decision of my soon-to-be married life.  I went for the full Monty! I sucked it up, I erred on the side of caution, and I told them to play the whole darn thing, all five minutes of it, pop and all!  And it was a memorable part of the ceremony.  One that I look forward to reliving each and every year.

Sylvia read this, as she does with all of my posts, and she said, "I cannot believe you didn't write what I said during the song!"  To address this egregious error, I have decided to make an unprecedented change.  (It's unpresidented too but most of what I do is)  So here goes.

During the song, Sylvia and I held hands and looked lovingly into each other's eyes.  She was teetering and I was a little worried that she may go down.  I squeezed her hand, told her to hang in there, and bobbed and weaved so I could track her gaze.  That's when she said it..."This song is soooooo long!"  Too late I thought.  We are already past the pop...we have to ride it out to the end!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

One? Two? Three? Four?

One? Two? Three? Four?  Yeah...I got no clue.

A painting I made for Sylvia in 1995.  It still hangs in our room.  
So I decided to be really romantic one year and paint a picture for Sylvia for our anniversary.  I was taking a class, I had bought a painting at a garage sale to paint over (a money saving trick the teacher taught us), and she was away with Kristiana for a while so I had alone time where I could leave the painting out and no one would know about it.

Well it is our anniversary once again and I thought I would drag this out and "give" it to her again because it may just be the right year.  I have no idea actually.  You'll see.  I am not one of those "grumble grumble anniversary again" kind of guys.  Don't get me wrong.  I can grumble with the best of them...but not about anniversaries.  In fact, whenever someone asks Sylvia and I how long we've been married, she always looks sheepishly at me to double-check her account.  She is much much better now and I am happy to say that we both know that today is our nineteenth anniversary.  Then why, astute reader that you are, do I keep saying "I have no idea"?  I'll tell you now.

When I painted this picture...titled, 'beginning painter, moderate talent' I got distracted.  If you have read more than twelve sentences in any of my blogs you will have seen that I am easily distracted.  SQUIRREL!  Anyway, in the middle of painting this, in the kitchen of our old house, I lost track of my counting.  This shouldn't be a problem...just count again.  Well that would be easy enough for someone who wasn't colorblind (OH!  NOW I GET WHY THE PICTURE LOOKS LIKE THAT!!)  You were all thinking it, I just said it.  I had a plan.  Get my wife's favorite vase. (I thought)  Put it on the small round table with the lace tablecloth that dwarfed our tiny little kitchen.  And paint.  What a great surprise for her when she came back to flowers on the table and flowers that would last and last. (until some guy buys this at a garage sale to paint over it to save money on canvas...I heard that somewhere)

Here I was happily painting away, I had the leaves in.  Some were light, some dark.  Then I started putting in the flowers.  One, two, three, bacon, silverware, brillo pad, honeydew, waterslide, (Did I mention that in addition to being colorblind, I am also ADHD?)  That was it.  I had no idea how many roses were on the painting and I'll be darned if roses and leaves don't have a very similar shape in the world of Jeff Garrett masterpieces!  I was sunk.  I knew that roses, for whatever reason, were supposed to come in sets of twelve...and here I was clueless.  So I went rose happy!  There were, by gum, going to be at least a dozen roses.  Any less and the rose cartel would have carried out the hit.  As it turns out, the first thing Sylvia said when I gave her the picture was, "There aren't twelve."  OK, so it wasn't the first thing...but it was in the top three.  I'm glad I covered my bases.

So now here I am, nineteen years later, assuming that this is the year that I can give her the painting again (in the form of a blog post) with, hopefully, the correct number of roses.  I'll never know.

What I do know is that I love Sylvia more now than I did when we got married.  She is the rudder to the craziness that happens in my wacky brain.  I'm grateful every day for the love that she gives and the patience she shows toward this crazy guy.  I hope you enjoyed this Honey.  But more importantly...I hope there really are nineteen roses in that painting.

I love you!