This Ain’t Your Father’s Dentist

I lost a crown the other day while trying to chew up a Tootsie Roll.  I should have known better than to try gnawing through the putty-like candy but, before I knew it, my tooth was embedded in the chocolate goo.  I don’t know if I was more upset about losing my tooth or having to spit out a perfectly good Tootsie Roll. How many chews does it take to get to the center of your gums? I guess about three.

My list of things to do was now to throw away all remaining Tootsie Rolls and find a dentist. It has been an unwelcomed part of our traveling adventure trying to locate doctors, dentists and truck mechanics while on the road. The fear of the unknown is just that – fear. Fear of mechanics finding that your “Master Cam Separating Springs” need to be replaced, fear of doctors who couldn’t read a thermometer – let alone diagnose a serious illness, and now – fear of trying to find a dentist that doesn’t use a pipe wrench and wire brush. So, I said a prayer and hit “Google Search”.

Cambridge does not have a plethora of dentists (which may be a good thing) and I made my choice and called for an appointment. Fortunately, the “Family” dentistry practice accepted my dental insurance and could see me the very next day.  It turned out to be quite an experience.

Upon arriving at the office, I approached the main desk to sign in and was greeted by an enthusiastic, young woman who welcomed me to their office. She walked out from her glassed in reception area to greet me in person. Wow! I’ve never had this kind of welcome before.  After shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, she proceeded to take me on a tour of their facility – showing me the various rooms where they cleaned your teeth, pulled your teeth, x-rayed your teeth, replaced your teeth, whitened your teeth and even provided Botox services.  I was expecting them to say I could even get a hair transplant and sex change while they cleaned my teeth.  Dentistry has come a long way, baby.  My tour guide then invited me into a room where she took all my information.  A large monitor hung on the wall next to me allowing me to watch as information was shared and entered into their computer.  She then handed me a gift bag and guided me back to the waiting room.  On our way – she stopped to show me a new outdoor gas grill sitting in their hallway and she explained that it was to be given away to a lucky patient in July.  We shook hands again and she told me to relax with a magazine while I waited.  I was a little disappointed that a spa treatment was not offered.

I had just opened my “Woman’s World” magazine ( seemingly the only magazine in any doctor or dentist office I have ever been in) when my name was called and a different lady met me with another firm handshake and asked me to follow her to the exam room.  I was asked to sit in the skinny dentist chair as she began asking me questions about why I was there that day.  Along with asking about my Tootsie roll crisis, she wanted to know what was important to me in regard to my treatment.  In all my fifty-five years on earth I never remember being asked by anyone in the medical field what was important to me as far as treatment and care.  Somebody pinch me! Is this really happening?  She asked if pain control was important?  Hmm, let me think about that a moment.  “Yes!”  What about low-cost treatment options? Again, I had to think for a minute. Do I want my treatment to be less costly? “Well – Yell Hess!”  There were other questions asked but the first two stunned me so much that I don’t remember much after that.

Next it was time for dental x-rays and photos.  Another large monitor on the wall displayed my broken back teeth.  It was the first time I had really seen inside my mouth in living color and I then understood why dentistry is so expensive.  The human mouth is a disgusting place.  Maybe they should have shown me the pictures before they asked me how much I was willing to spend.

Finally, the dentist arrived and took a look inside.  By my estimation it took him about forty seconds to determine I need two extractions, one crown, two bridges and a partridge in a pear tree.  I decided that pulling just one problem tooth was best for now since we will be home in two weeks.  The hygienist then spoke into her headset (you heard that correct – a hands-free communications system was used by all the staff) and told someone, somewhere on the other end that “Mr. McFarland was ready.” I followed her to another room and met the business/scheduling person.  My appointment was scheduled, payment collected and  I was then thanked for coming in – escorted back to the waiting room and exited to the parking lot.

Cambridge, Ohio has about thirty thousand people living here.  I would never have expected the red carpet treatment I received from this unknown dentist and his staff.  Perhaps much of what they did was a little over the top. But, not really.  I liked their questions, their kindness, their welcoming of me to their business.  I liked them – period.  And if I resided permanently here I would return as a patient and gladly refer others to them. I don’t know how my treatment will go later this week, but I have complete confidence in these people. If it was their intention that the tour, questions, inter-office communication system, dental photos, large screen monitors and gift bag would impress me enough to return and maybe even refer others to their office – it worked.  I was very impressed.

And besides  – I could probably use a new gas grill.  But, after seeing my teeth in those colored photos – I may need to trade it in for a nice blender.

Smile!  Love Steve and Lisa!

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Reflections on Retirement and Growing Old

King David of the Old Testament peaked early.  Read his story and you learn that his success as warrior and king was overshadowed by his failures as he grew older and, so-called, wiser.  The great fallacy of aging is the idea that we learn from the life lessons of our youth and live out our mature years with sage wisdom and sound decisions.  David was a great example of a man who struggled with aging and felt increasing remorse for his sins and failures (Psalms 51).  His early successes did not build upon themselves into a great cathedral of strength.  On the contrary, the aged David appears frail, afraid, weak and in despair and the psychology of self-actualization was never his to enjoy later in his life.  It was through those haunting failures that David became the contrite psalmist desperate for God’s forgiveness and protection.  I can relate to that David.

I have written nearly two hundred articles on this blog site that have pertained (mainly) to our travel experiences since I retired in 2012.  Those articles are fun and easy to share. There have been some of a more serious nature – even heart wrenching in their honesty.  I never wanted to hide from the truth in what I wrote and the more honest I have written – the more people seem to respond and indicate their own need for truth.  People relate to honesty.  For that I am very proud.  But, it occurred to me that I have not written much about being retired and what the experience of growing older is really like.  Knowing many of my friends are retired or nearing retirement, I decided to pull the curtain back and take a look at what growing old and being retired has looked like for me and how this stage of my life has been painful and joyful – despairing and exhilarating.  Where to begin?

Just before I retired in July 2012, I was asked to speak at a memorial service as part of my high school’s thirty-fifth reunion celebration.  The service was designed to honor and remember classmates who had passed away and I felt privileged to speak at that event.  I shared with those in attendance that as the “baby boomer” generation, it seemed, we carried a sense of permanence in our lives.  That is, we had the false belief that our life would go on forever and that things would really never change.  The ‘Bee Gees’ sang, “Stayin Alive – Stayin Alive” and that is just what we believed would happen to all of us as we went our separate ways in 1977.  The delusion of life’s permanence evaporated quickly as we stepped into the real world of work and family and children and illness and broken marriages and, sadly, in death.  But the residual effects of that attitude has really stayed with me all these years later.  Although I, like so many others my age, have experienced loss and sickness and failures – somewhere in my brain lived the little boy of twelve and thirteen years old who would never grow old, never get sick, never break down physically and, certainly, never die.  Those concepts never really entered into my thinking about my own life – until I retired.  Retirement changed how I saw myself and my world.

My retirement was a little different from most.  Lisa and I hit the road for Hanover, Pennsylvania and her first travel job as a Echo-tech Sonographer before my actual retirement date had even arrived.  Having a couple of weeks of vacation, my last official day at my job was in mid June and I really never had much time to think about not going to work again as our days were spent adjusting to this new place and new lifestyle.  In many ways that made the transition easier for me.  Having been so involved with the school system where I worked for twenty years – being twelve hours away helped put those past memories and the co-workers I missed out of sight and out of mind.  I’m not sure how it would have impacted me had I been home the past three years.  My hunch is – it would have been much more difficult.  We traveled around central Pennsylvania and went to DC and other places and my mind was as far from work as it could possibly be that first year retired – for the most part.  But, there were difficult moments and I remember one in particular.

One day after driving Lisa to her job in Hanover, I had returned to our camper in Gettysburg (thirty miles away) and was sitting in the shade of our camper awning.  It was nearing fall then and the leaves were starting to turn colors.  Suddenly and without any warning – I felt completely lost.  For the first time since I had stepped away from employment, I had a sense of regret. What had I done?  I should be at school working. This vacation should be over.  It was a horrible feeling and so strong and so real that to look back on that moment rekindles the hurt I felt that day.  Where that came from or, even more importantly, why that happened has been a mystery to me.  I wonder if other people who retire have that strong sense of remorse on occasions or did they, like me, experience it in a bursting shock.  Over time I have been able to accept that I am no longer the “working” man I had been for over thirty years and have allowed myself to just “be”.  Our identities are so closely linked to our employment that retirement forces us to lose a sense of who we are and, hopefully, rediscover oneself.  It is a journey I continue even today.

In many ways I find retirement much more difficult than working.  That may be the last thing readers may want to hear who are contemplating retirement.  Allow me to explain.  When I was working my life and my schedule and my calendar and my days activities were all set for me.  All I had to do was get up, get dressed and go do it.  Retirement takes all that away.  That seems like a really good thing and it is.  I mean, everyone looks forward to the day when they do not have to answer to a clock or a schedule.  But the reality is that it takes a greater effort for me today to stay busy, fill my days with activities and be engaged with others.  I also discovered the change it had on my marriage.  Where Lisa and I spent our first thirty years of marriage discussing our work with each other – our conversations have now changed.  She tells me about saving an elderly person’s life by discovering a blood clot in her aorta while doing a test – I tell her it took almost four dollars to wash clothes and that I dropped a quarter under the washing machine and had to bend down and dig it out.  You get the idea.  Even my conversations with my kids are different.  They talk about their jobs and things that happen at work.  I listen and give advice when appropriate and think about what I can add to the conversation.  Working gave me an automatic conversation starter.  No wonder the elderly talk about their aches and pains in every conversation – there simply is nothing else to discuss. My poor kids have already had to endure my droning on about my arthritis or other mundane topics and I’m just fifty-five.  If God allows me to hit eighty – they will be running for cover as soon as I roll into the room – assuming I probably won’t be walking by then.  I suppose retirement impacts all in the family.

Somewhere, sometime long ago I came to believe that with age came less worrying about things, more laughter, more relaxing, better conversations and generally better quality of life.  Commercials on television show white-haired couples laughing on the beach in flowing garments while sipping wine in their cabana.  They look robust and at peace – their life’s work now over and now it is their time to enjoy living at its fullest.  What a crock!  Here I come down the beach.  I am limping because my left knee is shot and needs to be replaced.  The flowing white garment is flapping around my large belly and highlighting too many high calorie meals and canceled work-outs.  My hair no longer flows since it fell out years ago and I would sip some high dollar wine with Lisa but it makes her sleepy and the cabana alone costs $75 a day to rent and my fixed income budget does not allow for such extravagance.  It was also told to me that with age comes sage wisdom – the kind of wisdom that can see through daily problems with grace and understanding.  Another crock!  As I get older I find myself just as stressed about things as before – maybe more so.  I worry about my kids back home, I worry about my home back home, I worry about worrying.  Like the psalmist David, I seek God’s grace and forgiveness as much now as ever before and my thoughts are often on mistakes of my past that still haunt me.  It is a fallacy to think that with age comes less worry and higher living.

But before anyone gets the idea that I am a complete mess as a member of AARP, I’m really not.  Lisa and I have never enjoyed life more than we do now and though we miss our family and friends, cannot imagine our life outside this experience of traveling around the country.  The friends we have made are an absolute treasure to our souls and as a couple we have never been closer.  Perhaps my image of retirement has been the problem all along.  It does not come worry or pain-free.  Regrets will hit like slaps to the face, doubt and second guessing is inevitable.

But, in the words of an old gospel song, “I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.”

Love, Steve and Lisa

 

 

 

A Pat on the Back

Our days here in Ohio are numbered.  In about four weeks we will pull our RV home to Owensboro, Kentucky and enjoy a few weeks of furlough before heading west to Arizona on May 27th.  Lisa begins a thirteen week assignment in Kingman, Arizona on June first.  June will also mark our third year of traveling with Lisa’s job since I retired.  Hard to imagine that we have been on the road three years.  It does not seem that long ago that we loaded up our car and headed to Hanover, Pennsylvania without any idea where we would live or how we would like being away from home and family for several months at a time.  It has been quite an adventure and that adventure will continue – at least for a little while longer.

Traveling home this past weekend to celebrate our grandson’s second birthday, we realized our next trip home from Ohio would end our year-long stay here in Cambridge.  There are so many people and places that we will miss and we are trying to squeeze as much into these last weeks as possible.  One thing I will miss is the close proximity to Pittsburgh and my last chance (for a while) to see the Pirates play.  Lisa and I are going to a game this Sunday and I am looking forward to her first game at PNC Park.  With the weather finally starting to cooperate for good camping conditions, we will be enjoying our final weekend campfires with our camping neighbors and as the seasonal campers return for the summer, hope to begin our long good-byes.  There is a (sort of) brother/sisterhood that comes with camping in a place for a year, especially after enduring a harsh winter together.  These are people who have helped us and whom we have helped and they will not soon be forgotten.  Should we ever travel Interstate 70 toward Wheeling, WV, you can be assured we will stop at the Spring Valley Campground for a visit.

For Lisa, these last four weeks will be especially important and, to a degree, sentimental.  As the Southeastern Medical Echo Department is now fully staffed, Lisa is spending her time preparing them for her departure.  She has described it as the same feeling of sending your child to school for the first time.  Did she do enough to get them ready?  Did she miss something?  Will they be OK?  Knowing that on her first day at the job (last May) she was handed the keys, beeper, and instructions to take over the department since the other Echo-Tech had quit the day before, Lisa did just that.  She helped change not only some of their procedures, she has enlivened the very culture of the department.  For Lisa it is a “Patient First” work ethic that she hopes has been instilled with the other staff – perhaps even more important than performing a perfect test.  She has often spoken to the staff about treating patients as if they are your family.  It has made a difference.  Her time here has not been always easy and she has had to overcome some “push back” from others, but she feels that the department is in good hands and will miss the friendships that have been made along the way.

For the job she has done here at Southeastern, Lisa was notified this week that she was named the top employee of Aureus Medical Staffing for this quarter and will be automatically nominated for employee of the year.  She won’t say it so I will:  She deserves it.  In every job she has been in since we started traveling in 2012, she has been asked to extend her contract for a longer stay.  That speaks volumes about the job she has done.  Way to go, Wife!

She also may or may not say that without my superb cooking and clothes washing prowess, she is nothing.  I don’t know if Aureus has a “Spouse Support” award but, if not, they should and I nominate – me.  Her clothes are always clean and (for the most part) unwrinkled.  Her lunch is always packed and ready for consumption and only rarely do they spill out due to my not putting a lid on something properly.  I’m always on time picking her up in the afternoons (except for those times that I am late).  And I cook every single night of the week (except for about four nights a week that we eat out).  I just don’t understand why people talk about the great job she does and never mention me.

Not that I am looking for a pat on the back or anything.

Love, Steve and Lisa

 

 

Greener on the Other Side

Lisa and I have traveled home this weekend to join our family for our grandson’s second birthday. In just four weeks we will leave Ohio for a final time and return home for a few weeks in May before heading west to Kingman, Arizona. Lisa will begin a thirteen week assignment in our old western stomping grounds on June first.

As we made our way across Ohio and into Kentucky, we noticed the trees had started to show signs of life and, unlike Ohio, seems to be showing winter to the door. Things always seem greener and more fragrant in Kentucky and our brief stay at home reminds us why we could never uproot completely.  Though everywhere we have traveled there have been opportunities for permanent employment, Lisa and I just cannot see ourselves anywhere else. We have enjoyed every place we have been, but home is and will always be the bluegrass state.

Four more weeks in Ohio. We never could have believed our stay in Cambridge would last an entire year. There is much we will miss. We have made lifelong friends and having endured the eastern Ohio winter – we feel a kinship with the proud “Buckeyes”. But all things come to an end and our hearts are now turning for home and, very soon, toward the western skies of Arizona.

But for now we are home. And Kentucky is a beautiful place to be.

Love, Steve and Lisa.