She smiled and nodded as I continued, "well, since the last time, I have taken up flossing."
Now Lori was all smiles.
But then she is always smiles. That's how she has been for the eight-plus years I have been to her for dental hygiene. Unless there is a Jekyll/Hyde in her, and I can't imagine that at all, I would think that her husband and kids experience her smiling personality all the time.
Perhaps she was smiling in advance because she was expecting some lame joke from me--the reputation! But, I was serious. "It is not that I floss every night, but easily at least half the nights I have flossed over these months." Lori knows that I am quite maniacal about brushing my teeth--twice, if not thrice a day!
"So, when you examine my teeth and gums, I want you to give me a real, factual, feedback on whether the flossing has made a difference."
On the one hand, I would have been disappointed if Lori's verdict was that it was all the same as before. On the other hand, that same verdict could mean that I don't have to floss anymore, but will have to floss if there is a significant positive difference? Damn, as I get older, it is difficult to figure out if something is really a loss or a gain.
Reminds me of that Chinese parable about a young man rushing to his parents to tell them about a stray horse wandering into his field and that he is now the owner. "It is good news or bad news?" ask the parents. A few weeks later, he hobbles in and says that he fractured his leg after he fell off the horse. "Is it good news or bad news?" ask the parents again. The parable goes on to build situations like this to highlight the moral that we don't really know if something is good or bad until much later in life, with the events that unfold.
But, of course, in the case of flossing, I am exaggerating. I knew very well that whatever her verdict, I was going to floss more and not less.
A few minutes after peering into my mouth, Lori said, "yes, I can see a big difference." And she gave me the gross details, which I shall spare you, dear reader.
I gave her the reason for why I started flossing.
"After the last time, it occurred to me that you might be frustrated with patients like me, the same way I get frustrated with students when they choose to ignore the valuable tips I give them."
Lori laughed and said, "well, it is your health, and all I can do is advise."
"Exactly. That is exactly what I tell students too--that it is their life and they can do whatever, and all I can do is advise."
When that thought struck me, the thought that I was behaving no differently from my students, it felt so wrong. And the only way to right that wrong was, well, to start flossing. Which is what I have been doing, though not consistently.
After the end of it all, as I was driving to work, I thought to myself that I ought to thank her for the teaching that she has done all these years. For how she put up with this crappy student with a bad attitude.
Maybe instead of merely waiting for students to thank me with chocolate, I should thank this teacher with chocolate. Without boring her with this back-story.
That's what I did.
I used one of the thank-you cards from home. I had printed them a while ago using some of my travel photos. And, on the envelope, of course I had to try to be funny!
I took that card along with a box of chocolates--the ones that I always associate with my daughter, for how she used to gobble them up while watching Grease for the gazillionth time!
Lori was all smiles.