Recently I sedated a father for some major surgeries to rebuild his jaw in preparation for implant-supported restorations. As I was reviewing the post-op instructions with his daughter, she voiced her concerns that her father does not listen to post-op instructions. She said he was stubborn. Starting to hear a harsher tone from her, I interjected with my own father story to remind her that fathers are just stubborn. My goal was to keep her on my bandwagon of optimism. After exchanging a few stories, she stayed on. Suddenly my patient interjected with his own explanations of why my dad was so stubborn and mean at times. Obviously, the drugs did not take effect yet.
His stories started out benign and as he recalls his past experiences, they got deeply personal and extremely sad that even his daughter was surprised. I asked him not to talk anymore but his daughter wanted to hear them. I wanted to leave the room but he held onto my arm, wanting me to understand my dad better. Then as the drugs started to take effect, I stopped him. Both she and I were near tears and he wiped his away.
I remember being so strict with this patient because he doesn't listen. His rebuttal was typically, "I lived this long, I don't need to listen to anybody." Even after the first surgery with extractions and implant placement, he went home and smoked. How or why the implant stayed in there is beyond me. I have no explanations because he also has medical issues that was worrisome. But after this appointment, I could not repeat my restrictions to him. Instead, I helped him find a way that he could smoke and somehow protect the surgical site. I showed him a way to escape the "no smoking for 2 weeks" restriction. His daughter laughed but I was still determined to ask him not to smoke until the soft tissue is better.
Shortly afterwards Bob came into the room, his daughter said she needed to get her dad into therapy to address repressed emotional issues that he shared with me. When patients share stories of past traumas, I'm left aghast. The sincerity and heartfelt vocal vibrations in the narrator's recollection flood me with emotions. I'm so grateful for their trust. As for this patient, he and I will have a different relationship from now on. I'm going to have to treat him like my dad. I will only pick certain fights to fight. The rest of the time, I will just listen and let him talk. He was dealt with an unfair hand at the start of life. I am aiming for a place in his "nice" category when he recalls dentistry. He told me I was the one person that doesn't talk back to my dad so my dad can say anything to me, even unfairly. He's right. My dad is too old for me to argue with him. I just let him be.