A good patient

What do we mean by the term ‘a good patient’, I wonder? Someone who pays their bills on the day? Someone who carries out all the instructions to the letter, or one who turns off their mobile phone before sitting in the chair?

All are contenders for the title in my book and deserve our thanks and appreciation. I am aware that we can only do what patients allow us to do, and I tell them that they are the gatekeepers.

Obviously we can create a relaxing ambience and make them as comfortable as possible to facilitate compliance, but at the time of the appointment we are largely at the mercy of that person with the large slippery tongue, or the one who continually crosses and uncrosses his legs, making the chair bounce each time, or the woman who talks incessantly, effectively keeping us at bay.

There are those, myself included, who genuinely have difficulty in keeping their mouths open for long periods without jaw ache, and many who produce such copious amounts of saliva they need to keep swallowing, some seem to do it just to irritate us!

Do nothing

Having struggled for so many years with difficult patients, I am greatly appreciative of the ones who allow me to do the job to a good standard and I encourage them as I work to let them know this, saying: ‘You’re doing really well’, and ‘not much longer now’. I was saying this to one rather tetchy lady, trying to maintain her tolerance for just a few minutes more, and as she rinsed out she let her irritation show in a sharp intake of breath.

‘You keep saying I’m doing really well, but I’m not doing anything’, she spluttered. ‘Yes, that’s just the point,’ I said. ‘When you’re doing nothing I can carry out the treatment and it’s really helpful. If you were fidgeting or closing your mouth all the time I would be able to do very little. You’re being a very good patient.’

I could tell by the way she fell silent that she had never considered this before, and was pleased I’d been able to explain something about our job which might make her more sympathetic.

It is important we recognise the difficulty patients have in keeping still, not swallowing our fingers, and maintaining the deep breathing. So often they forget to concentrate, hold their breath and become really tense, so that they’re much more likely to gag. I think they deserve a bit of praise.

Do you ever wish cleaners could be less assiduous in their task? On countless occasions I have come to grief because of a cleaner’s compulsion to shine the seats of the operator’s chairs. I moved around the patient but the chair didn’t, the

surface being so beautifully polished that my bottom slid off it in a graceful movement, almost propelling me into the patient’s lap before slipping to the floor. You really have to smile.

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