Charlotte at the dentist
No, we did not just adopt a person or a dog and then have her teeth examined but we did learn a new word. As with most non-essential medical appointments during lockdown this spring, our annual visit to the dentist got postponed and it was only recently that we rescheduled it. Since we prefer to make our appointments in person, we walked the short distance down to his office where we found a notice on the door stating that only those patients who had already scheduled their rendez-vous by telephone could enter. Oh boy, that meant we’d have another lesson in communication without being able to see the other person’s face. In reality, since everyone is wearing a mask these days, that’s not unusual, but even body language at least gives you a clue that you are being understood. So we went home, made the call easily enough, and secured a time for 2 weeks later when we discovered that it wasn’t just the appointment process that had changed.
If you saw the 1982 movie, ET, you might remember when the Extra-Terrestrial is gravely ill and the government sets up a bubble-like temporary isolation hospital at Elliot’s home. My first impression upon entering our dentist’s office was that I’d stepped into that scene from the film except there were no Reese’s Pieces there to greet me. Instead, a nurse dressed from head to toe in surgical attire, politely asked if she could take my temperature before aiming a “pistol” at my forehead. Then she handed me a clear plastic envelope, pointed to one item inside and said, “for your head” and to the other items with “for your shoes” before retreating behind her desk totally surrounded by Plexiglas.
Now in my abbreviated version of surgical attire I walked into the waiting room that was unsurprisingly empty. On the front door in addition to saying that you should only enter if you had already made prior arrangements it also advised you not to show up more than 5 minutes before your scheduled time. Bill and I had anticipated that we would no longer be able to go into the examination room together and there was indeed a sign posted saying exactly that: only one person per visit. Only seconds after reading that the dentist arrived in his “Hazmat” suit and only then did I realize why the office seemed so chilly. It was an attempt to keep the staff comfortable while wearing all the protective gear. Being able to remove my mask for the teeth cleaning was a relief so I can’t imagine what it’s like working in all the extra clothes all day long.
At last year’s exam it was exactly that: just an exam. The dentist performed a contrôle, carefully looking at each tooth, said that everything looked fine and that he’d see us again in a year. This time we both requested the exam with a cleaning/polishing so he went through the process we were used to from the US that included scraping and high-pitched screeching—the machinery, not us! He told Bill that he wished all of his patients took care of their teeth as well as we did. It seems to have paid off that we use manual floss, a water flosser/irrigator, and a sonic pulsating toothbrush.
Speaking of paying, what did this visit cost? Last year’s exam was 25 euros while this year’s exam plus cleaning was 43 euros. Five days after the appointment, national health insurance deposited 30 euros for each of us in our bank account leaving our out-of-pocket charge at 13 euros per person.
And what about that new word? When the nurse had said, “for your head”, she was pointing to a hairnet that I heard other patients calling a “charlotte”. In the 18th century, women who wanted to “maintain their respectability” wore hats known as “charlottes” that covered their hair. In the 21st century it seems that we all now wear them to “maintain and respect” the health of ourselves and those around us.