I know I’ve mentioned this before but real people are the main source of inspiration for my fictional troupe. People are amazing and unpredictable, and every experience among them teaches.
Without further ado, an experience of mine.
Adventures in Dentistry: Meeting Mr. Hoyle
During my awkward first months as a dental assistant, the receptionist Claire alerted us that a certain gentleman had arrived. Exchanging a taut look with Doc, Claire returned with me to the front where she instructed me to seat the gentleman (we’ll call him “Mr. Hoyle“) in an exam room, confirm the reason for his visit, and GET OUT. And to let Doc do all of the talking.
According to staff, the man had a history of being verbally hostile with everyone in the office (including other patients who, within minutes of meeting him, avoided eye contact, hoping not to become his next target) while somehow still demanding service. (I thought it was odd. Thought she was overreacting. Mr. Hoyle didn’t have a history with me so, logically, he had no reason to be rude to me. I shrugged off her warning and went to work.) Matter-of-fact, I could hear him raging through the door to the waiting area before I even opened it.
I summoned the middle-aged man from the waiting room and his first gesture, before he even rose from the sofa, was a glare. Claire was right — ‘Hello’ barely left my throat before he went off like a long-winded one-man mob. Getting him into Exam Room #1 was easy. Removing myself from the Exam Room #1 tirade was an entirely different matter. Once able to escape into the hallway, I felt trampled and deflated by the unprovoked verbal thrashing. I handed off the patient file to Doc, who had been waiting for me leaning on the wall, and asked what I did wrong (because I knew there as no way I handled that situation correctly). Me: “What SHOULD I have done?”
Smiling apologetically, Doc straightened. “You did it.”
The office was up in arms for the next 45 minutes. Silent, listening, waiting. I assisted Doc but stayed far out the way. It was soon decided that Mr. Hoyle would return multiple times in the next couple of weeks and, as Doc walked the man out, I lingered in the hallway, watching them go, dreading the future.
I’d never experienced that before (a situation where politeness had had zero effect). How the crap do you deal with someone like that?
My Thought Process: He’ll be back and I have no idea what to do. What happened today CAN’T happen again… He’s so angry. People aren’t angry for no reason… SO angry. Why? (I realized that I’d likely never know why and so I considered another angle. The friend he brought with him behaved similarly.) Maybe the people he’s around most are all generally like this, generally angry people.
Maybe, for whatever reason, he thinks other people don’t deserve for him to treat them better. Why not? Well if you think about it, when confronted with a trite or rude person, you’re bound to recoil, be defensive, hope/attempt to get rid of them as soon as possible; or maybe you snap back and arm yourself with an attitude as well, eye-for-an-eye stuff. Either way, that reaction confirms his idea that people are jerks, reinforces his negative attitude, and therefore detracts from any reason to revise his behavior on others’ behalf.
(While that seemed like a valid conclusion, the problem remained. I had no plan to counter his hostility when he returned.) I can’t change how the outside world responds to him but me, here, in this office—what can I do here? Let’s think about this.
What makes me happy to see people? I’m always happy to see my nieces and nephews. Why? Well, I love them. Sure, yes, but beyond that. Because they’re always stoked to see me—they shout and come running. If they didn’t do that, if they responded with indifference and carried on with what they’re doing, if they made a sour face, if they ignored me completely, if they somehow hated my guts, if they were abominably and irrationally rude every single time, then I think I wouldn’t be nearly as enthused to stop by. I think I feel most welcomed by those who are excited to see me—not simply “happy”—excited.
So maybe Mr. Hoyle doesn’t have that. What if no one is ever excited to see him?
(I thought all this in the middle of the hall as Doc was seeing Mr. Hoyle out. At first this thought saddened me because I had reacted like everyone else. The reaction made sense, yes, but that makes it no less disappointing. I should’ve done differently, done better. I accomplished only an average reaction in the moment by thinking only about myself and not considering him at all. If I were in his position, I would hope that someone wouldn’t give up on me… Though I barely knew him, I felt like I let Mr. Hoyle down. And his visit quickly switched from feeling like my helpless defeat to my inexcusable failure, and it pissed me off.)
(I had my answer and knew what I had to do. Back then I may have been shy-ish but I recognized that it was an all-or-nothing situation. If I wasn’t 110% committed, Mr. Hoyle would stomp me into the ground.)
His next visit will be different.
The receptionist gave us the heads up like before. Leaving any residual uncertainty in the back office, I made my way to the front desk, snatched up the correct patient file and pushed open the waiting room door.
When our eyes met, I lit up as though I’d waited all week for this moment (because I had). His default glare faltered, and he followed me wordlessly back to the exam room.
I maintained that regard throughout his stay. Excited to assist, eager to be helpful, at ease, showing no hint of past maltreatment, leaving the only assumption to be that he must’ve left a particularly positive impression during his previous visit which must be the reason for eliciting such a jovial response. Needless to say, he seemed confused.
At the end of the appointment, Doc, per usual, showed Mr. Hoyle out while I was busy in another room. I spotted them departing from down the hall (“Ah! He’s escaping!”) and called after them quickly, “Bye, Mr. Hoyle!” And I waved as I would to any of my favorite people. (That’s important to me. I don’t “act” happy to see people. That’s rude, and rudeness is my least favorite thing ever.)
He offered a vague, puzzled smile.
The Third Visit
Doc and I were in with another patient and so we were unaware when Mr. Hoyle arrived.
Exiting one of the exam rooms, I moved to cross the hall but stopped as someone called me by name from the front of the office. Mr. Hoyle had been signing in, oddly silent, at the front desk when he caught sight of me over the receptionist’s head. Nodding to me with familiarity, he flashed a comfortable smile.