This Really Happened. Am I Crazy?

Last week sometime I broke a tooth.  One of the back ones on the right, a raspberry seed got caught in just the wrong place, and that tooth was apparently weak from the fillings anyway, so it broke off and now pieces of the filling are coming with it.  Anyway.  It’s all very boring.

Up until this last month, I’d have called my Uncle David, who is going straight to the Kingdom of God for all the fantastic work he’s done on my teeth, and my family’s teeth, for the last 20 years.  Seriously, the man has given me $50,000 of dental care and never charged me a thin dime.  But he retired, sold his practice, and the fellows that have taken over are in some sort of giant legal battle over the practice, so all in all that’s not really the place I want to take my teeth, even if it were right down the road, which it is decidedly not.

So I’m looking for a new dentist.  There are a couple in town.  One of them, Stonehaven Dental, sent me a “new client” ad, where they were offering a free exam and full x-rays for nothing for first-timers.  Perfect timing, I thought, and scheduled an appointment for this morning.

Now, over the last few weeks, my wife and son and I have been listening to Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, and although we aren’t blown away by it, there are some very interesting ideas in that book.  The premise of it is that we all make snap judgments about things, people, events, what have you, and that those snap judgments are not to be ignored.  There is value in them.  That value has to be tempered, but there is value there.  You should listen to your intuition.

I walked into Stonehaven Dental and my Spidey-sense went off.

I can’t explain this.  I make snap judgments all the time, like everyone, and I follow my hunches probably more than most, but this is the first time I can remember where I walked into someplace – remember, this is someplace that I need to go and that is going to give me free stuff and fix a problem I have – and I immediately thought “I’m not going to like this place”, and here is the kicker – I absolutely knew that I was having a “Blink” moment.  This has never happened to me before.

So right away I’m going into damage control mode to see if I’m nuts.  I’m watching the staff.  I have to wait a second, not very long, say, less than a minute, before one of the staff comes over from the bank of headset-wearing phone jockeys and asks if I am there for an appointment.  I tell her that I am, and she finds me in the computer and hands me a clipboard so they can get a bunch of info from me.  Standard.  She seemed perfectly nice, although I could tell we weren’t going to be friends right off.

I watched the flow of patients, some in, some out.  Nobody seemed upset or rushed or anything.  It was all perfectly normal.  The waiting area was nice.  The seats were comfortable.  There weren’t loads of people stacked up.  The staff at the reception area smiled and seemed to be very personable.  I filled out my info and handed it back.

A couple minutes later, one of the receptionists called me back up, and had another sheet for me to fill out, this one for all the medical data, you know, are you fat, do you have allergies, are you HIV positive, that sort of thing.  Standard.  Short, even.  I was liking these forms.  And I kept telling myself that this was just dentist jitters and to forget about it and everything would be fine.

But I don’t have dentist jitters.  My dentist for 20 years has been my mother’s little brother.  I love that man.  I’d take a bullet for him.  I LIKE going to the dentist.  This feeling made no sense.

Then I flipped the medical form over and there was a long page of (very poorly-paragraphed) text headlined “Mutual Privacy Agreement” or some such.  The first couple inches was about how HIPAA requires certain privacy precautions, and that this dentist exceeded those paltry restrictions in every possible way.  Fine, I thought, even a bit laudatory.  I picked up my pen and got ready to sign, because, really, who reads this crap anyway?  But I’m practicing my speed reading, so I thought what the heck, I’m just sitting here.

And then I read the center three inches, which essentially said that if I signed this agreement I gave up the right to comment, in any way, in any forum, no matter how complimentary I was, about Stonehaven Dental, its procedures, practices, dentists, hygienists, receptionists, bill collectors, decor, carpet choices, avant-garde bottle decorations and aggressively dental aroma.  I would also use all possible means to prevent anyone I knew from commenting.  This means blog posts, newspaper articles, comments on web pages, anything.  You sign this form, you sit in the chair, and whatever happens to you, you say nothing to anyone in any public forum.

I sat there poleaxed, trying to figure out what on earth that bit of pseudo-legalese was doing in a dental office.  Or any office.  Oh, and it’s not just while you’re being treated.  The gag order extends for FIVE YEARS after the last treatment date.  I’ve never seen a form like that, ever, anywhere.  I can’t imagine such a form in my office.

I sat there, running my tongue over the shards of tooth at the back of my mouth, thinking, but, surely, this doesn’t apply to me.  I’m a blogger.  I write about everything.  Heck, I publish the complaints people make about my work, the things people don’t like about me, I mean, I have no dirty laundry anywhere that hasn’t been forensically examined by half the world.  I can’t imagine NOT writing about going to the dentist, a new dentist, and what my experience was like there.

But what if it does apply?  I need the dental work.  I don’t have insurance.  I have to get my work done very cheaply, or I have to suffer.  I won’t borrow money for this treatment, or any treatment, no matter what it is.  Here are some people that are willing to do the work for me and charge me nothing, and I need the work done, and what’s the big deal, anyway?  Nobody reads my blog.  Nobody cares much what I say.  Just sign the form, Ray.

So I stood up, walked over to the desk, leaned on it in my “now, pardner, can’t we have us a chat, here” way, and said, with a hint of apology, “I won’t sign this form.”  She said, with a smile, but without a flicker of hesitation, “you won’t sign the form?” I repeated, “I won’t sign the form.”  Her smile got bigger, and she said “thank you very much,” in a way that added, unspoken, but with crystalline clarity, “then you can go now.”  No discussion.  No argument.  No “what about this form is causing you difficulty?”  Just “thanks, and buh-bye.”

So I buh-byed, and now I’m at home, calling through the other dentists that are part of the Lehi Area Chamber of Commerce, trying to find one that has such a new-patient discount.  And guess what?  None of them do.  Curious.  One of them, though, will get me in this afternoon, and you better believe I’ll be blogging about that experience as well here, shortly.

Perhaps I’m overreacting to this.  I have to repeat this explicitly: I cannot see anything at all wrong with Stonehaven Dental.  I was not treated poorly, if a little cavalierly, and the staff was efficient and polite, the place smelled thickly of clean dentistry, and I am perfectly prepared to believe that nothing but the finest service is ever provided there.  Of course, if it were not so, how would you know?  There are two inches of precise legal threat at the bottom of that form.

I can’t sign away my First Amendment rights to get a free x-ray.  I just can’t do it.  I don’t want to do it.  I don’t think I should have to do it.  I wonder aloud, for all the world to see, what exactly Stonehaven Dental is trying to hide with that form.  I wouldn’t sign that form if I were being granted an audience with the Pope.

So this new and somewhat needy client, with his eight children and relatively large group of local friends, is going to Thanksgiving Point Dental instead.  Where, Bab informs me in a somewhat bewildered tone, I will not have any such form to sign.  Nobody there has ever heard of such a thing.

Is anyone else as confused about this as I am?

3 Responses to “This Really Happened. Am I Crazy?”

  • Rich Wiltbank says:

    Each time I enter into the house of a certain friend (no, not you, Chris), I get the same type of feeling. A feeling like something is definitely not right here. Despite that, I continue to go to his house on a regular basis and usually enjoy the conversations I have with him.

    Does this mean my intuition is wrong? I love being in dangerous situations? I’m just trying to be a good friend to someone who needs it? I don’t know!

    I have this argument with myself before and after each visit to his house. I don’t know yet if I’ve won or lost the argument….

  • Weird. Very weird. You’re right to be afraid.

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