Back in a previous life, I was a kick-ass dental assistant. If there were awards for dental assisting, I’d have won the dental equivalent to the Pulitzer. Call it the Spitpuller. That said, know that dental assistants do far more than suck spit.
I have many a story from my golden days of plaque and floss, but today I shall regale you with the tale of Dr. Rage, also known as VLR.
VLR was a highly-respected dentist within the community. When I was hired on to his practice, I thought he seemed like a kind, easy-going, middle-aged fella. Harmless. The practice was small with just one dentist, one receptionist, two part-time hygienists, and a single dental assistant. That would be me.
It was probably within my first week of employment that I saw the first of many flaws in VLR’s personality. Located in a posh part of town, the practice seemed to attract more than its fair share of an affluent patients. Surgeons, lawyers, commercial pilots, CEOs, and a few nationally known names in the media came to our office to be drilled and filled, along with the common folk like you and me. So in our morning meeting, where one would expect the dentist to review the day’s schedule with the staff and say, “Our 10 o’clock composite filling on Mr. Jones might turn into a root canal, Middle, so make sure you have the instruments needed set out for both procedures,” he instead turned to me and said, “Middle, our 10 o’clock owns Vandelay Industries*, so I want you to really roll out the red carpet for him.”
First of all, I wasn’t really sure what red carpet he was referring to, literally or figuratively. There was no champagne in the joint, no caviar, no heated neck rolls to offer, no scented candles to light. I wondered, should I double up Mr. Vandelay’s bib? Make him an origami chair companion out of his paper tray cover? Offer him a venti-sized swish of Listerine?
Secondly, this is the healthcare field we’re talking about. People come to the dentist to receive care for their dental health and hygiene needs, and are presumably given the same high standard of care applied to all patients. Dr. Rage’s implication that we should treat our wealthy/famous/influential patients better than the Regular Joe patients didn’t sit well with me. At all. Mainly because in the healthcare field, the same high standards should be held for all patients. Equally. (Which is not to imply VLR didn’t use the same high medical standards of treatment for all patients; he did.) But from a business standpoint, even Mrs. Middle America knows you should kiss all your customer’s asses equally. The patient is also a customer. They are coming to you by choice. Make sure they are happy with their choice, and want to come back; even recommend you!
Suffice it to say, I was super nice to Mr. Vandelay. Bibbed him up (single bib!), prepped the necessary instruments for his procedure, and sucked his spit efficiently, the same way I would for anybody. The only thing I did differently was to see my boss in a new and hugely unflattering light.
Flash forward a few months, and VLR had decided it was time to hire a second assistant to enable him to see more patients per day. Second Assistant was good—not Spitpuller good, mind you—but she was competent, sweet, and took direction well, at least as far as I could tell.
But Dr. Rage started complaining about her. To her. To me. To the receptionist. To the patients, behind her back, and in front of her. There were no real solid complaints. It was just nitpicking. Nitpicking delivered in a super-condescending way. Eventually there was a closed -door meeting whereby voices were raised and Second Assistant stormed out, never to return.
Dr. Rage replaced her. Same cycle: she’s great, then she’s not, he complains, nitpicks, embarrasses, then the dreaded closed-door arguing. This assistant quit or was fired (I was too afraid to ask), and runs out in tears. The next replacement was the perfect fit. This lady worked out great, and the office was finally back on an even keel.
Months later, our front office lady announces she and her husband are moving out-of-state. Dr. Rage says he will sorely miss her, and he hires a nice, qualified lady to replace her. He starts his cycle again. Pick, nitpick, embarrass, complain, screaming match, storm out. Now we have no front office lady.
Mrs. Dr. Rage (VLR’s wife) comes and fills in while they hire and train a new front desk lady. I observed Mrs. Rage handling Dr. Rage with kid gloves, acting as a buffer to any and all potential triggers that might set him off. I contemplated warning the new hire off, away from this nuthouse, but I was torn; Dr. Rage had never had a problem with me. I was afraid to draw attention to myself. I was now modifying my behavior so as not to potentially incite his wrath. Having this realization woke me up. It was while this new front desk lady was being trained by Dr. Rage’s enabling wife that I came to the conclusion that Dr. Rage was a bully, with some sort of explosive anger disorder, and it was only a matter of time before he was inspired to turn his bullying and rage on me.
I sought out and found another job quickly. I prepared a formal two-week notice letter. I decided on a plan of action: I would give my notice to him first thing Monday morning, privately, in his office, before we started seeing patients. He would be surprised by this, I knew. I had given no indication, up to this point, that I was anything other than a happy, good employee. But as all employers know, the fact that employees sometimes quit is part and parcel to owning a business. It will be fine, I’d tried to assure myself. People quit their jobs every day.
“Middle, Middle, Middle,” I’d said to myself. “You hope it will be fine. The reality is, Dr. Rage is a certifiable whackadoodle, and the forecast for Monday could be partly ragey with an eighty percent chance of colossal shitstorm.”
New step added to the plan of action: remove office key from keychain ahead of time, and keep in pocket in case shitstorm ensues. If that happened, I needed to be able to get out of there quickly, leaving nothing to slow me down, and no reason to return to the office, ever.
Monday rolled ’round. Patting my pocket, I verified I had my office key situated for easy access. I set my purse on the counter, near the back entrance, just in case. I came into Dr. Rage’s private office, written notice in hand, closed the door, and took a seat in the guest chair.
Sensing something was afoot (atooth?), Dr. Rage looked up from his charts. “What’s going on, Middle?”
I passed the paper across the desk, and said almost apologetically, “I’m officially giving my two-week notice.”
His face went dark instantly. He pinned me with what can only be described as a death glare, never once sparing a glance to my letter on his desk.
“Why!” he demanded. It wasn’t really phrased like a question. More like a “How could you sleep with my brother, you filthy whore!”
“Uh…I’m looking to-”
“You should have told me!” He wasn’t really listening to me. He was on a Rageroll. Far less amusing than a Rickroll, I’d discovered.
“Who are you leaving me for?”
What? He made it sound like we’d been lovers and I’d betrayed him. Ick. He wanted to know which of his dental competitors dared hire me. “You know, I’m really not comfortable—”
“This is really selfish of you!” he blustered on. “I have a lot going on in my life right now! My mother’s been sick! I don’t have time to deal with this. You can’t do this to me!” His voice went up a decibel with each sentence. By the end of his tirade he was full-on yelling. There was no way the entire office could fail to hear him.
Up to this point in my life, I’d worked at a fast food restaurant, a few retail stores, and for two other dentists. I’d given notice maybe six times. It had always been met with seemingly sincere disappointment, but well wishes, and a few times, lovely send-offs. Never in my life had I experienced this scorned lover/third degree/Mommy Dearest bullcaca.
Deciding two weeks of sitting a dental chair’s width from this sputtering, narcissistic, raging man-child would be two weeks of me he didn’t deserve, I stood and pulled the office key from my pocket and tossed it on his desk.
Seeing that as a gauntlet thrown, Dr. Rage’s face went florid, verging on purple. Coming to his feet, he shouted, “SIT! DOWN!” pointing me back to the chair. Ordering me. Like a dog. An abused dog.
That was when I realized we had entered the Jerry Springer zone. And that I needed to get out of there before we became forever conjoined by a headline: Dentist Murders Employee in Fit of Rage.
My heart was pounding and my ears were ringing, but I said as evenly as I could, “My husband doesn’t talk to me that way. No one does. You get no notice. I quit.”
Opening his office door, I headed toward the back entrance. The only other way out was through the waiting room, but by now our first morning patients would be seated in there, a captive audience. There was no way they hadn’t heard Dr. Rage bellowing; the waiting room butted up to his private office. The office building’s walls were really thin.
I hustled down the hall, away from the waiting room, fully aware fellow employees (and his wife!) were now observing this drama unfolded.
I threw a glance over my shoulder and was shocked to see he was closing in behind me. Like a horror movie bad guy.
“Where are you going!” he demanded.
I didn’t slow down and I didn’t answer. This guy was unhinged, and chasing me. He was honest-to-God chasing after me.
I got to the back door, inches from freedom. I fumbled with the deadbolt. My hands were shaking.
From behind me he stops and bellows, “WHAT ABOUT THAT SECRET CHRISTMAS BONUS I GAVE YOU THAT NO ONE ELSE GOT?”
Door open, I grabbed my purse, darted out, yelling back, “I guess it’s not a secret anymore!”
He slammed the door behind me, the aforementioned thin corridor walls shuddering from the impact.
Later that evening, my husband, having been apprised of the day’s events, stood beside me at the answering machine, so that he could hear the message Dr. Rage left sometime after The Shitstorm. I’d already listened to it half a dozen times, in shaking disbelief, while I’d waited for Mr. America to come home.
“Hi, Middle. This is VLR.” Long pause. “I guess I sorta lost my temper today.” Medium Pause. “About a 10 on the Richter scale.” Medium Pause. “Anyway, let’s talk about this. If you come back, I’ll give you a bonus. And a big, fat raise. Call me.”
My husband laughed. “This is VLR? This is VLR?” he mimicked my ex-boss perfectly. “He refers to himself by his initials? What’s he think, we’re on Falcon Crest?”
He plays the message again, shaking his head. After listening to it the second time, he turns to me, mock doubt on his face. “You sure you weren’t sleeping with him?”
Narrowing my eyes at Mr. America, I only say, “Dude.”
He plays it again. Looks back at me, speculative. “I wonder what kind of money ‘a bonus and a big fat raise’ entails…”
I look askance at him, incredulous. “Seriously?”
He concedes, “Yeah, no … but aren’t you curious?”
He pops the answering machine tape out to save for posterity. He shakes his head slowly, wonderingly. “You must be some assistant.”
You bet your bippy I was.
And I have the Spitpuller to prove it.
*The fictional company made up by George Costanza on the sitcom Seinfeld
photo credit: Markus Spiske / ffcu.io