A letter to my son’s orthodontist.
You came highly recommended by my dentist, whom I trust. Being a caring, conscientious mother, I immediately called to make an appointment for my son, Chad. The first question I asked the lady, who answered the phone, was whether your consulting room was wheelchair friendly. After she explained that it wasn’t, I politely declined to make an appointment.
I felt a brief moment of disappointment, wondering why my dentist hadn’t taken that into consideration. But, over the years, we have grown close and often my friends forget that I am disabled. Besides, she possibly has never had a need to visit your consulting room herself and she probably never gave it a second thought.
So, I called the only other orthodontist in town (that I know of).
You see, for me, it was so important to be able to accompany Chad to his appointments that I was even willing to compromise, going against my dentist’s advice, by going to another orthodontist. It’s not that I didn’t trust the other guy or that I had heard some scary stories about him; it was just that I would have preferred to have gone to the one my dentist had suggested – you. After all, she knows Chad and I well and she knows exactly who would suit us best.
Sadly, the lady who answered the phone there was not even apologetic as she promptly told me that I would not be able to get into their rooms and that they were in the process of moving to another premises. When I asked her if the other building was wheelchair friendly, she said she didn’t think so. By then, I was a little irritated, more so by her don’t-care-attitude than anything else.
You know, there are many advantages to living in a smallish community, as I have had the privilege of experiencing firsthand since my accident. If it weren’t for the love, care and support of the wonderful people living in Nelspruit, I don’t know where I would be or how I would cope. But, there are also some disadvantages like not having a choice of specialists and having to put up with obvious contraventions to the accessibility rights of people living with disabilities in South Africa.
So, I was left in a predicament. My son needed orthodontics and I was out of options.
Accepting, that my son’s well-being and dental health care are my first priority, I once again called your rooms to make an appointment for him, knowing that I could rely on family or close friends (as usual) to get him there.
The lady I spoke to very kindly offered that some of your staff could lift my wheelchair up the steps. She obviously has no idea of what it’s like to be paralysed from the neck down.
You see, my power-wheelchair probably weighs close to 70 kg, without me in it. If you saw me, you would automatically assume that I am as light as a feather. But, I’m an absolute deadweight. Besides, there is way too much risk involved, for all parties, in trying to lift an awkward object, like a heavy wheelchair, up a steep flight of stairs. Believe me, it is a near impossible task trying to keep my balance alone. That is on top of the humiliation and the indignity of it all.
How would you feel if somebody had to carry you into your rooms?
So, with much trepidation, my dad brought Chad to you for his first appointment, while I sat at home with every fiber of my being aching to be there for my son.
Do you have children? Can you imagine not being there for your child when he feels scared or anxious?
Dentists are scary and invasive, with a tendency to get on one’s nerves. And I don’t mean to insult you in anyway.
But, the discomfort of having a bright spotlight shining into your face, while a strange man’s big hands work with sharp, metal instruments in your mouth, drilling and creating noises which set alarm bells off in your head, leaving your ears ringing, and trying your best to keep your mouth open, controlling your tongue from instinctively pushing your tools away have been known to send the mightiest of men running for their lives.
Most people, I know, hate dentists and avoid going until they absolutely have to, which, I know, is not really the right thing to do. Please don’t take that personally. It’s not like we have anything against you. But, I would love to know, what on earth motivates somebody to take up a profession, doing the same old grind every day, staring into other people’s disgusting, dirty mouths? You can also hardly have a decent conversation because even the most intelligent of your patients can only manage a barely audible mumble. It must be so boring.
And people think quadriplegics are weird?
Anyway, there have been times when I was so thankful that there are strange people like you in this world. I remember developing an abscess one Sunday. I couldn’t wait for the following day so that I could make an appointment with my dentist to be relieved of the pain.
I also have a full understanding of your value to society.
Now that I am disabled, I constantly have to deal with people staring at me. I know that they are just curious but, it doesn’t make it any easier. Mostly, I make eye contact with them and just smile. You would be amazed if you knew how much emotion I hide behind my smile every single day. At least, my teeth are reasonably straight. That is thanks to expert orthodontics many years ago. I’m extremely grateful to my parents for insisting that I wear braces as a kid, even though I hated every minute of it.
So, if I am going to put my own son through the same torture, the least I can do is to be there with him, like my mother was. You denied him that right. And me, that privilege.
Chad is brave with strength of character way beyond his 13 years. To be honest, he probably didn’t need me to be there as much as I needed to be there for him.
Do you have any idea of how hard it is for me as a mother not to be able to be there for my son?
You have been treating my son for many months now. You called me once.
I really think that you need to make a plan to get your premises accessible for these wheels.
What happens if I need orthodontics again at some stage? What about a disabled child? Don’t you care that you cannot accommodate all patients irrespective of their ability to walk or climb stairs? Isn’t there some type of oath that you have to take? Or is it simply just about making money?
All I want is the right to be a decent Mom to my son.
Is that too much to ask?
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Tracy, sorry I didn’t discover this post earlier. What a great message this time. I hope more people could see it, and develop a mindset of inclusiveness. Everyone benefits in the long run, and not just financially. The laws differ in the United States, but good hearts and minds are universal. Pearls don’t usually come from happy oysters; something has to (infiltrate) and cause some irritation ! Doors CAN be opened, and if dentists REALLY want more pearly whites in the world, they would seize this opportunity to help you, with honor. In the meantime, just know that you’re helping culture pearls — in other places.
Things do change at such an unreasonable rate. The consciousness you are raising now may not see the light of day in your life time – but I have no reason to doubt that Chad will carry your banner all his life.
Tracy, it’s so good that you are speaking out and educating. I hope this was sent. I trust your son took great comfort that he could come home to mom and tell her all about it.
Thank you. 🙂
In my own unique way, I believe that I have the power to make a small difference by creating more awareness to these challenges and hopefully changing a mindset, or more, along the way.
Fortunately, my son and I are very close.
We must have big brains or acute planning skills that others do not.
How about having a mammogram? Now there is a trick.
Nancy, a mammogram is impossible. There are so many things which make our lives difficult — things that nobody even thinks about.
Tracy darling, you have hit the nail right on the head!! It should be mandatory for all premises to have wheelchair access before council or government approval.
I sincerely hope that your very clear message went to the “core” of those it was directed to. I just wish that the councils in South Africa could have the opportunity to see how much effort is put in to providing this type of access for the disabled in Australia. Love you, Aunty Dolores.
I think that we could most definitely learn a lot from the way things are done in Australia. We still have a long way to go. But hopefully by creating awareness through my blog and other social media, I am making a small difference even if it is just changing one mindset, at a time. Love you
Eish my friend. I hope he reads this and maak ‘n plan. If only you could go and toyi-toyi in front of his rooms 😀
Just as much as I sympathise with the fact that you’re not able “to be there” for Chad, I believe that Chad probably didn’t “need” you to be there.
As you said “Chad is brave with strength of character way beyond his 13 years.” Having had the privelege of meeting him I believe he’s as strong as you are.
Off the topic, but it’s a thought that just crossed my mind: Have you ever wondered how your relationship with Chad would have been if it wasn’t for the accident? Have you ever considered how Chad would have been at 13 if the accident did not happen? He not only had to grow up “differently”, but also much quicker. In this case the Afrikaans saying of “vroeg ryp, vroeg vrot” does not apply.
How would you have felt if he sat crying at home, refusing to go to the orthodontist because you couldn’t go with? Yes, you would still have been p!ssed off (rightly so), but something deep in you would have said “Hey, you’re not a baby any more, you’re becoming a man, so act like one.” I say this fully knowing, and understanding, that he will remain your “baby” even when he’s the father of your grandchildren.
I’m not good with words, so let me get to the point: Be proud of the young man that doesn’t have to have his hand held whenever he has to go through something not-so-nice.
If you see a compliment in what I’ve been trying to say: You’re not totally blonde!
Hmmm Anton you haven’t seen me in a while. I am no longer blonde. That’s the wonderful thing about being a woman. We can change our hair colour as often as we like. 😉
I am extremely proud of Chad and love him exactly as he is. I cannot imagine what my relationship would have been like with him if I didn’t have the accident. I try not to dwell in the past, wishing for things to be different. Rather, I focus on the present and try to live each moment to the full.
My motivation for writing this blog post was to create awareness to the challenges faced by people living with disabilities in this country. Not being able to get into a healthcare establishment is unacceptable.
I so feel for you, Tracy. How could I not, when you make it so direct and simple? Part of the problem is that old, Dickensian child “ignorance”. Perhaps the lack of societal sensitivity to your needs will require a change of laws, as it did here. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) doesn’t solve all the problems, but it does at least address issues like access to health care facilities. I won’t bore readers with details which you probably already know, but they can read about it here: http://www.ada.gov/
Businesses still gripe about having to comply, but the fines are large so they generally do. It’s a shame it takes that threat to push through some kinds of justice.
I have a cleaning next Tuesday. Dentists scare me more than anything else on Earth (really), but I do go – generally after a shot of whiskey and some self-hypnosis. You have nice-looking teeth. Thanks for the close-up.
Michael, we have had changes to our laws but, unfortunately they are not very good about enforcing them. I’ve seen brand-new buildings going up which are not accessible and I find that unacceptable.
I have my teeth cleaned by a professional hygienist every two months or so. I still hate it. But, the result and the feeling of having smooth, clean teeth afterwards is sooooo worth it. I highly recommend it to everybody. 🙂
I cannot even begin to imagine what it must be like to be in your situation but at the same time breathe sigh of relief that my husbands son is “only” an incomplete quadriplegic who even though with difficulty would be able to make it up the stairs!
Thank you for your comment, Mandy. I know that you truly understand these challenges we face on a daily basis.