I don’t know who to send it to – my long-winded grievance – so I find the website of the hospital where my mom is recovering from unexpected surgery. On the long 9-hour ride back home from visiting her, I locate a blank “your concerns” form.
With one succinct sentence (“I am unhappy with the lack of support and communication during my mom’s stay”), the surprise transpires.
In less than 24 hours, I receive a phone call and an e-mail from “Dee,” the assistant of the hospital’s CEO/President!
We miss each other’s calls for the next two hours, so I e-mail a detailed listing of my concerns.
A day later, Dee e-mails me that she’s shared my grievances with other hospital personnel, and that she’ll call me soon.
I wait for three days.
But then, my cell rings.
“Pamela? This is Dee, from the hospital.”
“Oh!” I exclaim.
“I’m so sorry! I have TMJ and the pain sent me to the ER three days ago. I suffered a migraine and then horrible toothaches. I had to stay in bed on pain meds,” she explains.
“Do you clench your teeth?” I ask.
“YES! How did you know? I wear a retainer at night. The dental specialist I saw today said it’s all wrong for me. He wants me to buy a new $1200 device. I don’t know what to do!”
“Press your tongue up,” I advise.
“I never have teeth problems,” I continue. “But as my mom’s illness increased, I thought all of my teeth were falling apart. I found a new dentist, who discovered that my teeth pain is caused by clenching.”
I pause, not believing I’m opening up to this stranger – the CEO’s assistant– about my clenching problems. If it wasn’t so pathetic, it would be ridiculously funny.
Dee interjects, asking breathlessly, “And what did she suggest?”
“She said that physical therapists recommend just pushing the tongue on the roof of your mouth. When you do that, you can’t clench.”
A moment of silence ensues until Dee exclaims: “Oh, whoa, that does work.”
Then, Dee reviews my e-mail for the next 15 minutes, thanking me for the accounting of what went wrong at the hospital, and telling me that the hospital Board would meet in two days to discuss my e-mail and to suggest changes.
“I’ll contact you with the recommendations the Board makes. We are so thankful that you took the time to connect with us and to help us improve,” she says.
“You’re making a difference, being an advocate for your mom and for people with dementia,” she adds.
Damn, now I’m getting teary-eyed.
“And on a personal note, I never knew my tongue was such a strong muscle. I’m not clenching now – thanks so much! You have just saved me $1200.”
We both end the call smiling (yes, I can hear her smile). A clenching conversation becomes…helpful in many ways.
I think there’s a lesson here.
If nothing else, I hear the release of many tight jaws.