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?