Story in Chicken Soup for the Dental Soul

The Secret Element

by Katia C Guerra, DMD, from Chicken Soup for the Dental Soul


When Susan called to say she needed help with a broken tooth, I was confused since she managed the office of another dentist. She told me that her boss, Dr. Benjamin Karp, had been ill and was in the hospital. While I repaired Susan's broken tooth, I realized I simply was not qualified to fix what was really broken. Ben was dying of cancer. Susan told me how wonderful it had been to work with him over a period of many years; and I shared with her my own experience that Ben had always managed to find time to give advice to a young practitioner like me. Susan realized she could refer Ben's emergency patients to my practice and expressed confidence that we would treat them well. Soon our office team was overwhelmed. We agreed that our goal was to deal with current problems of these new patients and then return them to Ben. We provided the necessary care for their emergency needs and recommended they resume visits with Dr. Karp when he returned to the office. But it was not meant to be. After a few weeks, I began to notice a pattern. Ben's patients all loved him. "He was more than my dentist; he was my friend," I heard repeated several times a day. Their comments reinforced my own understanding of the "secret" element in successful dentistry. One morning, I awoke with a start at four o' clock. My heart pounded as I felt driven to express what I was feeling. I sat down at the desk in my study and took pen in hand. Magically, without contemplation or rewrite, the words flowed onto the page. I thanked Ben for the opportunity to continue for his patients his lifetime of providing quality dental care. I wrote that his patients valued him not only for his technical skill and caring manner but for that very special connection he was able to develop with people. He deeply understood the satisfaction we dentists get from meeting people, helping them, and becoming part of their lives. I quoted his patient's belief that he was their friend. On my way to work that Friday morning, something told me I needed to deliver the letter right away; so I dropped it off at his home. I did not realize the importance of the timing of my action. Early the following Monday, I received a call from Mrs. Karp. She said that while visiting with Ben at the hospital Friday evening, she had read my letter to him. With a smile on his face and tears in his eyes, he squeezed her hand and whispered, "I guess I really did make a difference." Dr. Benjamin Karp died later that night. Having told me of Ben's reaction to my letter, Mrs. Karp said she was also calling to ask that I read it at Ben's funeral. A few days later, as I walked to the front of the assembled mourners and looked at them from the podium, wave after wave of emotion engulfed me. Hundreds had gathered to pay homage to the memory of this wonderful man, a man whom so many had called their friend. Today, I still treat many of Ben's former patients. They serve as a constant reminder never to postpone telling others words that can make them feel whole. As dentists, my colleagues and I understand that the mechanical aspect of our job is only one small part of what we can do for people. Now and then, I reflect on the passing of Dr. Benjamin Karp and the occasion of my writing that letter. I ask myself what Force awakened me before sunrise on that day. What Power created those words that helped bring peace to a dying man and solace to his mourning widow? Had I waited another day to drop off the letter, my words would have fallen on newly-deafened ears, Clearly, there is never a wrong time to tell people how much we care about them. If we don't act, those chances slip from our grasp and are lost forever.



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