Our Town: Happy birthday to my dental hygienist

Birthdays can mean different things

One of the many dreaded consequences of COVID is that all the medical specialists I go to have been out of touch with me for many months. And that’s no small problem when you get to be my age. Over 70 years of age is what I call “the eternal danger zone.” But since we have returned to some measure of normalcy and as I begin to renew my acquaintances with them all, I have come to appreciate their value even more.

Finally I get to see Dr. Spitz, my dermatologist, to excise the variety of growths that have emerged over the last six months. Finally I get to see my urologist , Dr. Goldberg, so we can await with baited breath my next PSA scores. Finally I get to chat with Dr. Bartolomeo, my gastroenterologist to discuss how I might be able to cleverly postpone my next colonoscopy.

Let us not forget my quarterly visits to my dentist, Dr. Catherine Fascilla of Carle Place. I am lucky to have such a good dentist. Dr. Fascilla is Ivy League-educated, kind and gentle and has surrounded herself with a very good staff. Even though I want to show my gratitude to all these fine doctors, it’s hard to figure out just how.

That is until the dental hygienist, Diana, who was working on my teeth, told me she was having a birthday in the beginning of September. Then it dawned on me how I might show my appreciation to them all. Diana is this sweet, beautiful mother with two kids who confessed to me that she loves vanilla ice cream. Now you might ask me how I recalled the arrival of her birthday which was only casually mentioned as she was working on my teeth.

I think the answer to that question has something to do with fear, anxiety and terror. When one is terrorized as in war or as in being at the dentist, one tends to pay close attention to everything. I think they refer to it as hypervigilance. I have memorized the color of Diana’s eyes, the curl of her hair, the fact that she loves either coconut and/or vanilla ice cream and that she runs exactly 4.2 miles every other day. This is the power of post-traumatic stress and hypervigilance.

But now let’s get back to showing my appreciation to my doctors. I thought I might bring Dr. Fascilla’s staff some coconut or vanilla ice cream, but I couldn’t be sure Diana would be there that day and I fully realize that ice cream promotes tooth decay as well. I quickly nixed that idea and then I realized that I might pen an homage to birthdays and dedicate it to Diana, my dental hygienist, who can represent all these front line defenders I mentioned. That may be a nice way to show some appreciation. So here goes.

Birthdays are one of the most basic of special days, rivaling Jesus Christ’s birthday and the Fourth of July. However, I think kids and adults value these days in very different ways.
For kids they will want a birthday cake, some balloons, a few presents and some friends singing “Happy Birthday” to them. Then they are told to make a wish, keep the wish a secret, close their eyes and blow out the candles. Of course, the mother orchestrates this yearly ritual and it some way it all comes down to a celebration of love of the family to the child. I think kids basically understand this and it all seems quite right.

But for adults this yearly ritual is an entirely different matter and carries a variety of more complex feelings. We who are adults know the taste of battle scars, life’s many disappointments and God forbid those every growing numbers of wrinkles. Now mind you, Diana is still young and pretty so she need not worry about aging quite yet. But still adults do experience birthdays differently than kids. We know that birthdays mark time and that for better or for worse our time is limited here on Earth. For adults birthdays ought to be a full-on celebration of life with the keen and ever growing awareness that life is precious and limited.

Life is like an orchid. So beautiful to behold and it can last for quite a while, but then you begin to see one of the 10 blooms begin to wilt on the vine and slowly shrivel up. This is, of course, the sadness of birthdays and of life as well, such a thing of beauty but something that cannot last forever.

Orchids don’t last forever nor does childhood nor does anything else. Even the universe will be at an end in about 13 billion years or so. But until it does come to an end, I hope that Diana has a sweet and wonderful birthday and that when she closes her eyes to make a wish, I hope that whatever she wishes for, whether it’s a vanilla cone from Hildebrandt’s or a trip to Laduree’s in Paris, comes true for her. She deserves it all as does Dr. Fascilla, her perfect staff and all the other good doctors who are doing their best to keep me alive despite the dread of COVID and of aging.


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