So, the story began about two decades ago when, after a majority of my upper teeth had absented themselves, I determined to have the rest extracted and a prosthetic device installed. The dentist wasted no time, pulled the teeth, made an imprint and within about a week I was fitted with a device that serves me still.
However, in the interim, more of my bottom teeth absented themselves and those left moved around and eventually dislodged three front teeth out of the upper plate. It was obvious that there would no point replacing those as long as the five on the bottom continued their wandering, so I determined to have them removed and treat myself to a whole new mouthful.
Well, actually, I wasn’t really treating myself, but alleviating the distress being visited by my gap-toothedness on observers, both casual and intimate. An appointment was made and I submitted myself for a fitting for plates that would be ready to be installed once the five obstructors were removed. That the removal would have to be done by an oral surgeon whose schedule was so full it would be about two months before I could be seen came as an unpleasant surprise. But, the reprieve was not entirely unwelcome.
So, I waited and following a prompt in an email went online and filled out a many paged questionnaire by checking the ‘no’ box. I did admit to having low blood pressure upon occasion. That the directions involved a commitment to reduce my bill by $25 for having submitted the electronic forms was not motivating, but it did suggest that the oral surgeon had a figure of $50 an hour in mind for the value of a patient’s time.
When I arrived at the surgery, which happens to be located next to the offices of International Auto Processing, an enterprise that makes our port unique by exporting or importing more cars than anyone else, there was more paperwork to fill out. After that, I was led through a maze to visit the rotating x-ray machine in its own little room from which I and the image got sent to another room with a small chair, a monitor and no dental equipment. And then I waited. The cell signal was so weak I couldn’t even use my phone.
After about twenty minutes, Dr. Capes made an appearance and explained that this was to be consultation so he could get to know me and, no, the appliances had not been delivered. He was not prepared to extract the teeth on the spot because his assistant enjoys her job and he would not be able to operate as he had for 19 years, if he just pulled people’s teeth at the first visit. He did offer that if that was not satisfactory, I could look for someone else.
After telling him that I did not appreciate having my time wasted, I picked up my bag and walked out. It was left to the spouse to call the referring dentist who, it turned out, was quite expert at doing a complete job and removed the teeth the next day in less than an hour. It seems that oral surgeons are now drawn into the process as are many other middlemen who manage to complicate procedures so they all cost more. Insurance companies, apparently, pay up.
But, the more I thought about it, the angrier I got at having my time wasted and the more I realized that it’s a universal problem. Working people have to work longer to earn enough just to live and, as a consequence, they have far less time to be parents, friends, citizens and informed critics of what is going on around them. I keep remembering the steel worker father of one of my college classmates, who spent his leisure hours reading the complete works of Charles Dickens over and over. Who’s got time nowadays to pursue an intellectual hobby at the end of the work day? After being hassled all day by a host of middlemen, who’s got energy for anything but vegetating on the couch?
If they stole our money, we could do something about it. But, when the pay keeps shrinking and the time to earn it keeps growing, what can we do about that? What do we do about public officials who keep stealing our time by lying?