Last Saturday was April 1. I celebrated my 32nd year of practice at my Padre Town Center location. I started from scratch in 1985 with my father as my first patient. He gave me a 2-dollar bill that I have mounted in the office with a picture I took of him that day. April Fool’s Day reminds me of some of the dental pranks that have occurred in dental offices over the years.
Years ago before I was computerized (it is hard to believe there was such a time), I had a fun receptionist, Charla, who made a fake patient schedule on April 1. The schedule was totally overbooked with all of the most challenging patients having the most difficult dental procedures. The schedules were posted around the office. My staffed freaked while I just shook my head. After a few minutes of turmoil, Charla produced the real schedule. “April fools!”
Twelve years ago, my good friend Gordy called the office on April 1 complaining in a mumbling sort of way of crown treatment done a few days prior. I was surprised when he came into the office “swollen and in pain.” I looked into his mouth and he had stuffed his cheeks with cotton. “April fools!” Five years later, he came into the office on April 1 for a cleaning. Just prior to entering the office, he had chewed an entire bag of Oreo cookies. “Very funny!”
On Boss’s Day one year, each of my staff members called me at home early in the morning before work. Each member told me they were not able to come into the office that morning. One was sick from the flu, one hurt her back tying her shoe, one had to take her son to the emergency room after he fell off his skateboard, one had food poisoning from a lobster dinner, and one was in extreme pain and couldn’t walk after stubbing her toe. They sounded in agony or stressed over the phone. I rushed to the office to see what I could do by myself about the day. Fifteen minutes later, they all showed up and wished me a Happy Boss’s Day. I wanted to kill them but all I could do was laugh.
The following fall, the staff and I decided to dress up on Halloween. I never got a costume together and Halloween morning I decided to shave half my face. I had not been without a beard since before dental school. The half beard looked too weird, so I shaved my whole face. I called the office and said I was going to be late and that I had received an emergency new patient call from an executive Chris Cardinal, who was coming right into the office on his way to San Francisco. I then went into the office in a three-piece suit and pretended to be him. No one recognized me. I sat in the waiting room filling out forms. Everyone was wondering where I was. Finally, “Chris Cardinal” was brought back to the treatment room. My prank was going well until my voice gave me away. I tried a German accent, but it wasn’t good enough.
My dentist friend Dave Straub is a fun prankster. A practical joker friend of his needed a new front crown. Dave had two crowns made by the dental laboratory. One was a beautiful light-colored crown made to match her existing teeth and the other was an ugly blackish-brown one. He fitted the natural white one and showed his friend with a mirror. She happily accepted the crown. Then Dave temporarily cemented the ugly dark one. He had his entire staff tell her that her new smile was gorgeous and made sure she avoided mirrors in the office. She left on her way to a women’s luncheon.
While driving a few blocks away, she looked in the rearview mirror, slammed on the brakes and returned in a hurry. Dave then removed the dark crown and replaced it with the beautiful one. They had a good laugh together after she released some steam. I might try this trick on my friend Gordy if I ever get a chance.
A final weird prankster dentist story took a dark turn when a Washington State oral surgeon, Dr. Woo, who played a practical joke on an employee. The employee, his assistant Tina, owned and took care of abandoned pot-bellied pigs. Woo would occasionally tease Tina about her pigs. Tina alleged that she endured such ice-breakers, such as “I am going to hunt Walter (Tina’s pet pig) down...and I am going to barbeque him.” Dr. Woo supposedly showed Tina an office “picture of himself in front of a skinned pig hanging from a hook.”
Woo sealed his unique team-building philosophy by graciously offering to perform dental work on Tina. While she was sedated for a different procedure, Dr. Woo temporarily implanted fake boar tusks in his assistant’s mouth as a practical joke. He took them out before she awoke, but he first shot photographs with the tusk flippers in her mouth. Thinking this would make the perfect birthday gift, Woo presented his artistry to her. The assistant felt so humiliated when she saw the pictures that she quit and sued her boss.
Dr. Woo’s insurance company refused to cover the claim, saying the practical joke was intentional and not a normal business activity covered by his insurance policy. He eventually settled out of court and paid her $250,000, and then he sued his insurers. The jury sided with the surgeon and ordered the insurance company to pay him $750,000 plus the $250,000 out-of-court settlement. The insurance company won the next round with the state Court of Appeals, saying the prank had nothing to do with the practice of dentistry. Finally, the following summer, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in Dr. Woo’s favor and restored his award.
Maybe it is just me, but I think our country is a little bit too litigious – too many attorneys and insurance companies. I guess it is the American way and I do love our country and our way of life. But $750,000 to Dr. Woo for being insensitive and $250,000 to Tina for being uptight seems over the top.
The moral of the story is mean-minded practical jokes are not good. Let’s just stick with the silly ones that make both people laugh and feel good about each other. Happy belated April Fool’s Day!
Enjoy life and keep smiling!
George Malkemus has had a Family and Cosmetic Dental Practice in Rohnert Park for 32 years at 2 Padre Parkway, Suite 200. Call 585-8595, or email email@example.com. Visit Dr. Malkemus’ new Web site at www.malkemusdds.com.