Fry Cooks or French Fry Styling Specialists?

The only thing most people do better than anyone else is read their own handwriting. ~ John Adams

Recently, I asked a friend to recommend a dentist. I was having some difficulty with a tooth and was being shuttled around from specialist to specialist, all of whom were out of network with my insurance. In the process of requesting that recommendation, I lamented the fact that it seemed you could no longer find a general dentist who did dentisty type things like pulling a tooth. That, apparently, is some other specialist’s purview.

My friend suggested that I was, perhaps, a little behind the times. She said the type of country dentist I was trying to find simply no longer existed – had, in fact, gone the way of the dinosaurs and phone booths. She then suggested that she felt certain I could/would probably write a blog about this situation. My impression was that she was inferring that she felt certain I could/would write about most anything in a blog whether it needed writing or not.

I was, naturally, stunned at the inference. I decided, of course, to write about this situation in order to prove her wrong – or right, whichever the case may be. The gauntlet had been thrown down, after all.

I’ll admit I haven’t paid a lot of attention over the years to the changes in dentistry – how specialists have taken over in such a big way. Not that I hadn’t been to the dentist over the years, just that I hadn’t noticed the subtle shift from the one-stop shopping of my dentists in the past and today’s “let me send you across the street for that” way of doing business.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dissin’ nobody’s specialty. However, I couldn’t help sitting in the plush salle d’attente (it couldn’t possibly have just been a waiting room) at the endodontist’s office wondering how much less it might cost for a root canal if I were to wait on a folding chair in a lobby and if they didn’t provide Keurig K-Cup individual coffee selections for me to brew while I waited. I’m in pain, of course, so my thoughts about the injustice of bright, shiny anterior settings and the relationship to expense were not gelling adequately. That would come afterward, as you can see.

Years ago, I was in need of a dentist. I didn’t want to go to the dentist but a co-worker suggested hers and tried to calm my fears about dentists and pain. My last surviving wisdom tooth had come in – crooked – and was in need of removal. I was tempted to simply leave it there but for the fact that its angle of entry as it came through the gums meant I was consistently chewing on the side of my mouth. So, I called the dentist. To my dismay, they asked if I wanted to come in that day. I’d expected at least a two-week lead time but accepted the appointment just the same. It didn’t seem right to refuse the offer of a quick resolution to the problem – and I hadn’t yet learned that “no” is a complete sentence.

Anyway, the dentist turned out to be a great guy. He deadened the area after determining that, yes, we would need to pull that sucker. He’d leave the room for a bit to do something else, then return to check on whether I’d numbed sufficiently. It seemed that happened a number of times. Finally, he was talking as he checked the tooth and I felt a sudden pressure. He’d pulled the tooth while I was distracted. It was over. I’d survived. Chalk one up for the “country dentist” from Austin back in the seventies.

Dr. Martin H. Fischer said, “The specialist is a man who fears the other subjects.” Dr. Fischer was the author, in 1940, of Death and Dentistry, published by C.C. Thomas. I don’t think that one’s still in print and perhaps not a book you’d want to read before a visit to the dentist.

Of course, the good doctor also said, “A conclusion is the place where you got tired thinking.” There seems to be a lot of that going around these days.

The problem with our increasing focus on specialties? With each new subdivision of specialties, we seem to find less human interaction and more focus on each of us as merely a set of symptoms – a riddle to be solved. Just a pile of parts with very little relationship to each other. But I’ve learned in almost every situation I’ve ever encountered, the more I zeroed in on one small part of a problem, the less I was able to step back and see a larger picture.

Please don’t imagine I have it in for specialists. After all, it was a specialist who finally figured out why I’d had vertigo for seventeen years. The difference with this specialist, however, was that he was someone willing to listen. He knew the possible reasons for my dizziness and nausea were huge and that he’d have to ask the right questions and listen to the answers to those questions in order to find a solution.

I’m willing to bet, though, that most of us have already had run-ins with a specialist or two who can’t see the forest for the trees. We seem, in fact, to be a bit of a nuisance to them. Don’t we realize, after all, that they are busy trying to find the problem? I have a urologist – perhaps I should say had – who spent every visit with me staring at his Apple laptop. I’m hoping he was studying my chart intently and not playing Grand Theft Auto IV with the sound muted. I mean, who knows? He was certainly not talking to me about how things were going.

It seems our society is a bit obsessed with titles. It’s a pesky part of that need we’d rather not admit we all have to one degree or another – the need to feel better-than. I noticed today they’re looking for a Civile Engineer here in the Dallas area. Perhaps this is an opening for a female engineer as civile is French and the feminine form of civil. Personally, I’d rather not be a Mortgage Funder, regardless what that means. Sounds like a risky proposition that would involve a good deal of my own money. Many of us, I’m sure, have worked as Sandwich Technicians at some time in our past. Sadly, the job pays no better than simply being counter help at the local Subway. Then, you may find yourself excited to be a company’s Director of First Impressions until it’s explained that you will actually be the receptionist. Thankfully, the title doesn’t necessarily say those first impressions absolutely have to be positive.

It’s taken me a long time to understand that we all tend to take ourselves a tad too seriously. We forget that what we do is not who we are. That mistake in understanding creates enormous problems for the world in general and for us individually when the time inevitably comes that we no longer do what it is we think we are. That may be at retirement but it may also simply be one morning when you discover the company where you work at being your work decides they really don’t require your services any longer.

My father was afraid of the idea of retiring. “What would I do?” he’d ask. This was an immensely talented man we’re talking about here. There was a wealth of things he could do to occupy his time. Or, he’d say, “Sure, I can write that book once I retire.” Sadly, if we don’t take a step now toward doing the things we think we’d like to do, it’s unlikely we’ll ever actually do it. The excuse that there’s simply no time is usually just that – an excuse. We tell ourselves we’ll do it someday to make us feel better about ourselves.

Why do we do that? I believe we tell ourselves little lies for the same reason that we’re tempted to take the job as Director of First Impressions. It would look good embroidered on a shirt. We think it would alleviate a little of the guilt we’ve heaped on ourselves for not doing something we believe we ought to be doing. On ourselves is the operative term here. No one has a right to make us feel guilty. Why, then, do we do it to ourselves?

Specialists. Could we do without them? I personally believe the answer is yes. What I’ve found is that the specialists I’ve known who are truly excellent at their occupations are those who are specialists in the tiniest sense of the word. They can specialize only because they have left themselves open to the broadest knowledge possible.

Wouldn’t the world be a better place with a few more people who choose to specialize in being Director of What Needs to be Done Next?