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Diaries of a dentist during COVID-19: Fishbowl perspectives

July 1, 2020
Over the last few months, Dr. Stacey Gividen has come to despise several things. But even with COVID-19 in our midst, she's choosing to focus on the comical silver linings. Here’s a sneak peek into her new life.

Over the last few months, I’ve come to really—and I mean really—despise a few things: the phrases “social distancing” and “six feet apart”; navigating and interpreting the craziness of PPP loans; being bombarded with the “must do,” “should do,” “can’t do,” and “not good enough anymore” with regard to PPEs; and getting the ball rolling again to resume practicing dentistry.

Suffice it to say, despite the extreme ride, I wouldn’t change it for anything.

You think I’m crazy, right?

Yes, I’ve been accused of being that a few times in my life, but I’m a cup-half-full kind of girl and I’ll admit that sometimes I’ve had to get a smaller cup. Regardless, I’ve found my silver lining in a comical and “let’s make the most of it” sort of way. Keep reading ... if you can relate to my experiences, then we’re all supercool, awesome fish swimming in a really big pond.

Just to be clear, I’ve worn the same N95 mask all week. Granted, I’ve had a level one mask over it, but the new “in” is to make those priceless, coveted face coverings last as looooong as possible. I love the fact that breathing is now an effort, my glasses fog up, and the masks make me itch like I have ants crawling all over my face. And let’s not forget about the bands that get looped around our ears and heads, putting pressure on our brains and pulling out our well-earned gray hairs, one by one. Let’s see ... N95, level one, loops, face shield, and the perfect recipe for an end-of-the-day headache. Now that’s legit.

Admit it—face shields really aren’t that bad. Look at it this way: the sexy fishbowl look is the new thing, and I’m always one for looking first-class in scrubs with my big eyes popping out beneath it all. The cool part is that when the lighting is just right, I get to see reflections of teeth and the computer screen behind me, all at the same time! It’s like I’m at a 3-D cinema! How cool is that? Good thing I have a loud voice because between multiple masks and a shield, I literally have to shout to be heard ... and then everyone thinks I’m “Miss Grumpy Pants.”

Geez, can’t I get a break? What’s more, if I move my head just right, my shield gets bumped. To get it back in place, I have to do a series of arm/shoulder/head movements, which to the casual observer more than likely looks like I’m attempting to master a new series of dance moves. You know exactly what I mean!

Furthermore, I don’t know how many times I’ve brought my hand up and banged it into the shield. My patients must think I’m really incompetent or that something is wrong with me. Luckily, I’m able to wear my loops just fine because the look the kids give me is a sight to behold—a conglomeration of comedy, curiosity, and fear that will either make them laugh or turn and bust a move for the nearest exit. Moreover, I’ve had to overcome a touch of claustrophobia, which has been a venture in and of itself. It’s gotten better but it’s still a struggle to get excited about doing anything with a handpiece because of it. Hygiene checks never looked so good.

Have you been overwhelmed with all of the new infection control guidelines? I have. The investment to get up to speed has been so “welcomed.” I’ve always wanted to spend money I didn’t have on purchases of air filtration systems, new PPEs (when we can get them!), overpriced thermometers, new patient flow, and protocols. Plus, is it just me or is there a thermometer that always seems to read the same temp on everyone?

Oh, and let’s not forget how thrilled patients are with those preprocedural rinses that were once highly recommended but now are considered to have less benefit than originally thought. The verdict is up in the air on that one like a lot of things, but, hey, having patients rinse the chunks of broccoli out of their mouths before we dive in really isn’t such a bad thing. My favorite part is when they force-spit the rinse back into the cup, splattering the lovely liquid all over their bib and themselves. As for me, I’m on the other side of the room behind my shield.

I’ve always been hand-washer so not much has changed on that front—except I make it a point to do it in front of the patient when I walk into the room. The skin on my hands continues to take a beating, along with my face from the added masks. I must look like a mess when I take off all my PPE and inhale a huge breath to regroup. Then, I look at the schedule and realize I have another crown prep to do in 15 minutes. Lovely.

Did I say silver lining? Indeed I did. When all this started, I had the opportunity to really dig deep into the finances of my practice—i.e., what was coming in, what was going out, and the impact made from residual insurance claims and outstanding accounts. Being able to dial in my payroll and discuss business with my staff and office manager have given me an insight into the beat of my practice, so to speak. Were my staff worried? You bet. However, as leaders, we rise to the occasion and this time was no different. We arranged emergency protocols, and the budget was set to ride out the storm for the next six weeks. Now that we’re up and rolling again, I’m grateful for the insight and perspective I received while being able to push that reset button.

As a single mom, I was able to spend time with my boys (who clearly weren’t in school), so the opportunity to be a teacher was ... well, let’s just say I’m a better dentist. Apparently, the computer doesn’t like two spaces between the capital city of Minnesota, so it was marked wrong and, as a result, my boys’ vocabulary lessons were on point that day as I may have said a few words that weren’t in the lesson plan. I also put my carpenter skills to the test and built a whale-tail bike jump, which, I’ll have you know, I successfully jumped without breaking any bones. Lastly, I’ve come to appreciate my trail shoes, coffee, and red wine even more than before. Balance, my friends ... it’s all about balance!

All in all, the experiences provided by this epidemic have been for the better, both professionally and personally. My heart goes out to loved ones lost and the irreversible impact COVID-19 has had on numerous businesses and individuals. As a dental community, we must continue to band together for each other and for our communities, in any capacity that we’re able. Educating patients about their oral health and its impact on systemic health is even more important now as we work to catch up on the backlog of dentistry and ever-increasing demands of our patients and profession. Our work has only just begun.

While I may be just one fish in the pond, together we can make a difference as we improvise, adapt, and overcome. It’s what we do. It’s how we roll. And, for the record, I still don’t like the phrases “social distancing” and “six feet apart”!

Cheers to fishbowl perspectives! (This is where we lift our shields to make that toast ...)

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Chairside Daily newsletter, a publication of the Endeavor Business Media Dental Group. Read more articles at this link and subscribe here.

Stacey L. Gividen, DDS, a graduate of Marquette University School of Dentistry, is in private practice in Hamilton, Montana. She is a guest lecturer at the University of Montana in the Anatomy and Physiology Department. Dr. Gividen is an editorial co-director of Chairside Daily. She is a contributing author for DentistryIQPerio-Implant Advisory, and Dental Economics and serves on the Dental Economics editorial advisory board. You may contact her at [email protected].
About the Author

Stacey L. Gividen, DDS

Stacey L. Gividen, DDS, a graduate of Marquette University School of Dentistry, is in private practice in Montana. She is a guest lecturer at the University of Montana in the Anatomy and Physiology Department. Dr. Gividen has contributed to DentistryIQPerio-Implant Advisory, and Dental Economics. You may contact her at [email protected].