My boyfriend BG likes to brag about the fact that he gets free health care from the VA (Veteran's Administration). He goes there for his HIV meds, and to see his shrink (and get those zombie shrink meds they give schizophrenics like BG). Dermatologists, bone specialists, urologists, what-have-you. Plus a psych ward for those special times when pyschosis pays a call.
I sometimes try to point out to him that he has Medicare and could go to an outside doctor from time to time and perhaps get better treatment, particularly since he has almost been killed--literally-- by VA doctors a number of times. If he were the litigous type, he might very well be a wealthy man by now.
The Manhattan VA has metal detectors and guards, as well it should--though not all VA's do. But BG did tell me a story (I don't know if it's true, but I'd bet it is), about a time before the metal detectors were in place and disaster ensued.
Seems a vet needed to have one leg amputated, so he went to the VA. The story goes that the doctor, in his infinite ineptitude, performed the operation--but did so on the wrong leg. The vet, it is said, came back with a gun and blew said doctor away.
I must say, I'd have been a bit miffed myself. And I have no trouble at all believing this story is true, considering the care BG and others receive at the VA hospital. Recently BG had to schlep to Manhattan--a one hour trip--three separate times before a doctor finally kept her scheduled appointment and saw him--after a three-hour wait.
Be that as it may, BG takes particular pride in the fact that, since he is a vet with HIV, he gets free dental care. I have a dental plan, but it pays bubkis, so at first glance this might be seen as a great perk. However, although the BG family crest does read: 'Cheap is good, free is better," I tend to think that if you receive free shit sandwiches, it might be best to do without.
In any case, BG's been seeing his current dentist, Dr. U, for a number of years. I've met the woman, and she's courteous enough, I suppose. But she is so peculiar that we long ago gave her the nickname of Robo-dentist.
Every time BG comes there for dental "treatment," as soon as he sits down Robo-dentist goes through the exact same routine without fail and without deviation:
Mr. BG, please rinse with this. Some-people -say-that-it-tastes-like-Listerine-and-some-even-say-it-tastes-better.
Then, she points at the chart on the wall and goes down the list.
Do you have any sores in your mouth. Do you have any bleeding. Do you have any pain....
Admittedly, this is certainly better than some of the sadistic psychoshrinks BG has encountered at the VA, but it is very strange nonetheless. BG and I have often pondered why Dr. U goes through this Listerine routine as if she's never laid eyes on BG before. I said, what could cause this strange behavior? Does she have a very bad short term memory? What's the deal?
Gradually, BG filled me in on more details about Dr. U. For one thing, Dr. U wears full surgical scrubs, as if she were in a burn unit. No other dentists we've ever encountered, there or anywhere else, do so. She also seems to have no sense of humor whatsoever.
BG is a very affable fellow, and loves to laugh and make people laugh. To cite one instance, Dr. U seems to be particularly obsessed with getting BG to stop smoking. One time she asked how the smoking was going, and again gave BG the newsflash that smoking could be harmful to his health. Her wise words on the matter: "Mr. BG, you can live without your teeth, but you can't live without your lungs." To which BG retorted with the old chestnut: "Hey, I've been smoking for 40 years, and my lung feels great."
Her reaction to this, as with all BG's attempts at wit, was the same as it always is. Not even a smile, or a fake laugh to be polite. Rather, total silence, followed by: "Oh Mr. BG, you are so funny."
She also has a full dossier on BG, and it has nothing to do with his teeth. Long ago, I submitted BG's slides for an art competition, where the prize was inclusion in a full-color catalog. One of BG's paintings was reproduced in the book, which was, perhaps, 150 pages in length. BG brought it in to show Dr. U, and she asked if she could xerox the picture. BG said certainly, and sat there for about 20 minutes. When Dr. U had returned, he saw that she had xeroxed not just the one page, but the entire book, and then put it in her "BG" file.
Admittedly, BG's teeth--what is left of them--are in bad shape. Nevertheless, Dr. U seems to view BG as a continual work in progress. She is always giving him "temporary" fillings. I have heard of temporary crowns and caps, since the permanent ones need to be made, and this takes some time. But temporary fillings?
I'm no dentist, but I do believe that Dr. U's endless crotzing around has cost BG several teeth already. He's had two painful extractions in the past year alone, and I am convinced from what BG has told me that Dr. U is not interested in saving the teeth BG still has, but in making sure that he loses all of them. Perhaps since her husband specializes in dentures, she apparently is very intent on making sure that BG has a full set as soon as possible.
One day she said to BG: You know, Mr. BG, you are going to eventually lose all your teeth. The next time he saw J, the dental hygienist, an affable man who did have a sense of humor and personality, he asked BG: "What is that woman doing for you, exactly?"
BG told the hygienist what Dr. U had said about being toothless soon.
To which J replied: "You know, BG, Dr. U is full of it."
J used to work in a private dentist's office. He saw firsthand how the dentist he worked for would, say, do a filling for one tooth, but deliberately create a new cavity in a healthy tooth at the same time. So J quit, and came to work for the VA.
In any case, BG was coming back over and over to see Dr. U, but most of the time she didn't do much. But she liked to schedule 2-hour appointments nevertheless. After giving BG the Listerine spiel and the chart rundown, first Dr. U would start writing furiously at the computer for quite a long time. When BG would see her scrolling down, he saw all the endless data she had written about him which had nothing to do with his teeth, including details about his artwork and such.
She then would disappear for about 20 minutes at a clip, come back, work on a temporary filling, leave again, come back again.
At the end of the session, she would always give BG a limp handshake, and say, in her robotic way: "Thank you for serving our country."
The more I heard about Dr. U, the more fervently I tried to understand what her motives might be. I had a suspicion that the VA, which was constantly threatened with budget cuts, had to justify each employee's continued tenure there by the number of appointments each doctor logged in. Could that be the reason for Dr. U's two-hour sessions, with perhaps 5 or ten minutes of real dentisty (such as it was) perfomed?
But it seemed to go deeper than this. It seemed to be some type of personality disorder--or perhaps, lack of personality disorder. BG and I tried to imagine her having sex with her dentist-husband at the end of a long day:
I will now fondle your penis until you obtain an erection. Now you can insert your penis into my vagina. Some people say it feels good.....
Ugh. Whatever. Best not to go there.
NEXT TIME, PART 2: THE DIAGNOSIS.