Pandemic Dentistry

During the great pandemic of 2021, medical personnel were hard pressed to serve their patients. Dr. Ezra Zachary Payne, aka Dr. E.Z. Payne, was particularly concerned about the welfare of his patients.

What should he do? Fumigate the entire office? Require his personnel to wear sanitary and disposable clothing? Close up shop and retire, which was possible since he had just turned sixty-five?

Dr. Payne and his staff finally agreed on certain protocols designed to protect the dentist, his staff, and of course, his patients. Patients were to call from their cars when they arrived in the parking lot. No cell phone? Too bad. Then patients had to answer questions about where they had traveled in the past month: Europe? Antarctica? Australia? Almost all of them had traveled just a few blocks, with the more adventurous driving a few miles more, perhaps into the next county.

Then, after the questions were asked and answered, the patient was instructed to walk to the door of the office. Once there, the patient met an assistant clad in plastic and a mask and who knows what else, who took the patient’s temperature. Then the patient was allowed to enter the inner sanctum.

Some patients were reluctant to go through this rigmarole, as some called it. Josiah P. Jenkins, one of Dr. Payne’s long-time patients, was heard to say, “I’ll be gosh-darned if I’m going to go through all that rigmarole. Not me.” Gladys Bonaventure echoed Josiah’s sentiments: “You won’t see me sitting in my car and calling the dentist. Heck, no. I don’t even have a cell phone. What am I supposed to do, sit in my car and yell?”

Dr. E. Z. Payne was troubled by his patients’ responses. He wanted everyone to have a pleasant experience while visiting the dentist, however unpleasant and painful it could and probably would be. He recognized how contradictory all this was, yet he lived to overcome the more awful, dangerous, painful, and generally disagreeable aspects of his chosen profession.

On the twentieth day of his new procedures, which corresponded with the rules set down by the state, Dr. Payne summoned his staff for a meeting.

“Listen, guys, this whole thing is not working. We have to come up with a different procedure.”

His staff stared at him. Finally, the office manager, Olivia Oglethorpe, cleared her throat and spoke. “What did you have in mind, Dr. Payne? We’re complying with the state regulations.”

“Yes, yes, we are, but my patients are unhappy. I want them to be happy.”

Dental assistant Penelope Struthers laughed. “Dental patients are always unhappy. Why should they be happy, what with the pain, the awkwardness, the whole messy situation?”

Dr. E.Z. Payne disagreed. He was determined to ease the pain of his patients. Finally he decided to do what other professionals were doing: use a computer program to meet with his patients online.

His first patient to sign up for an appointment on the computer screen was Wanda Woggleman. Dr. Payne had always liked Wanda, with her lovely teeth and winning smile. She seemed nervous when he greeted her on the computer screen.

“Good morning, Wanda. And how are you today?”

“Hello, Dr. Payne. My tooth hurts. It hurts real bad.”

“Where is the painful tooth?”

“Bottom left, in the back.”

“All right, Wanda. Get closer to the screen and open wide. Wider. As wide as you can.”

Wanda did her best. Dr. Payne looked and looked. “Well, that tooth looks like it needs to come out.”

“Oh dear,” said Wanda. “I thought you weren’t seeing patients in the office right now, because of the virus.”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“I am going to supervise while you pull your own tooth. This will not be as expensive as a normal extraction.”

“How am I going to do that–with string and access to a doorknob? I think that’s how we got some of my baby teeth to come out when I was a kid.”

“No, we will need something stronger. A lot stronger. Two things stronger. One, a bottle of whiskey and two, a pair of pliers. I’ll wait while you look for them.”

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