Patients with Pain/Patience with Pain

In dental school we studied a lot about pain. We defined pain as the perception or experience of current or future physical and/or emotional harm. Physical pain involves large unmyelinated/slower "C" nerve fibers (more like dull/chronic pain), as well as smaller myelinated/faster "alpha-something" nerve fibers (for heat/cold/temperature pain)... uhh... something nerdy like that. Some people are born without those nerves that sense pain, and end up seriously harming themselves. Pain protects us, in a way. Another interesting tidbit is the concept of phantom pain, where one can sense pain in a limb or other body part that was actually amputated. Fascinating, eh? Ok, now that I've rattled off all the facts I could remember, I can say that none of those lessons have cut as deeply as my first encounter with a patient in severe pain.

This patient was irritable, bossy, and repeatedly flaky. After she belittled me over the phone, I complained to my supervisor. I thought that I was generally a patient person, and had a relatively high tolerance of loonies. So, if someone were to upset me, then it must be an extreme case that didn't deserve to be a part of my dental school experience. I subtly requested that my supervisor not let this patient come back to our clinics. To my dismay, she simply but wisely replied: "pain can make people say and do some crazy things." Great. So, I was obliged to give this woman another chance.

Finally I was able to meet her, and I saw why she would have been in pain. She had half her teeth left, and most of them had lots of decay. Her front teeth looked like apple cores. Apple cores that turned brown and mushy because your freshman year roommate didn't bother to throw them away and left them on your desk. Nope, not apples. Yup, apple cores!

Eventually we got all the rotten teeth out and hallelujah, there was transformation. From what looked like was going to be a sour relationship has turned into a pleasant one. We now share much laughter, even prayer requests, and she calls me names like, "Honey" and "Sugar" (which is fine for old ladies to do that), all attributed to the elimination of pain.

I'm glad I was forced to persevere through this situation. I've learned that to be Christ-like is to extend myself disregarding past offenses and to give freely in this way. That is grace.