December 10, 2011

Floss: Not Just for Teeth Anymore

           I am a dental hygienist. It's a wonderful profession and I enjoy it immensely.Yes, I may be a secret Sneak Knitter, a Lucille Ball-esque wife, a wannabe knitwear designer and many other things, but when I am not moonlighting as a pseudo-sock-developer and writer-in-training, I am helping to take care of people's oral health as an RDH.

Notwithstanding some of the sillier stereotypes you may find yourself calling to mind upon hearing this acronym, such as the RDH portrayed on "The Office" as a short-term love interest for Dwight, the alpha male beet farmer, you may be wondering right now if you like me anymore. You might be thinking, "Hey! Isn't she the chick who yells at me about flossing everytime I visit the dentist?" Then you might snort to yourself--the sort of involuntary sound that leaves one's throat, via the nose, in disgust--that you must now decide whether or not to read on.

Well, dear reader, this story will not be about tooth flossing today, per se, so you can relax. (Though you really should consider the habit. New Year's fast approaches. And oral bacteria sleeps for no man.)

I work in a wonderful dental office. We have a terrific staff and are fortunate to have doctors who regularly implement the latest research and technology into the practice. Consquently, we have pretty high tech equipment and we all try our hardest to pass on the latest health research to our patients in order to best serve them. Yet, while 3-D panoramic xrays and cutting edge restorative materials may really help to improve patient care, some of the standard equipment still seem irreplacable. Like good ol' dental floss.

Floss, it could be argued, is one of the most important things we use in our homecare instruction, and we generally spend a lot of time and energy teaching people how to use it correctly. And usually it is in the promotion of the health of their gums.

A while back, I was working very early. It was one of a few days in the week where we all arrive at 6:45a.m. and begin seeing patients at 7:10 a.m. Anyone who has ever worked that early knows that everyone, including the patients/customers/students (depending on the setting), feel a little reserved, mellow, at that time of day. In a phrase, all is quiet.

On that very early morning, one of my favorite patients was coming in. She is a knitting friend and a super all-around person. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to see her. I knew she would set a positive, energetic tone for my whole day.

Enter Dory, one of the coolest, spriteliest (did I just make that word up?), red-headed, tiny women to ever walk the earth. She bubbled into my operatory, smiling and generally exuding sparkly energy all around her. Time of day has no effect on her and she instantly livened the atmosphere in our little space together, even if the rest of the world seemed sleepy.

Dory was a beginning knitter at the time--and let's face it, so was I. It was hard for us to get down to dental business when we had so many stitches, patterns and ideas to discuss. We excitement to share in our newly-discovered lifestyle--er, hobby. We enjoyed helping each other and there was trouble shooting to do.

We went through most of the hour resisting the urge to break out into a full knitting discussion. We updated all of her dental care, did her cleaning through short, frequent breaks to add one sentence pieces to our ongoing knitting conversation and before we knew it, we had happily completed our dental necessities--our real reason for being there. We agreed that we really needed to get together sometime to have a full on help-each-other session in knitting. While we waited for her exam with the doctor, Dory mentioned to me, "You know, I just can't get that purl stitch down."

I gave a rough beginner's explanation of how to purl. But there is something that happens when one is a beginner. You might know yourself how to do a new task, but have a hard time explaining it to another. You don't have mastery yourself, so you simply cannot use terms that mean anything to anyone, let alone another learner. I struggled to explain where to place the right needle in terms that made sense and the counterclockwise direction of the yarn needed for wrapping said needle for the new stitch was lost in my words.

Dory looked at me. I knew I was the blind leading the blind. Now we were both confused. There was a little silence. Then, as is often the case with people who are excited to share a new skill before they are really ready, I decided I needed a visual presentation. Right then.

I did not have yarn. I had floss, though. Miles of it. And I had no needles. I looked at my hands. Fingers would not do. How about...pencils? I had heard of children using them to learn on. I had none. I had pens. Two of them in the pocket of my white coat. One red and one black. I pulled them out. They were both covered in the poplular non-slip rubbery coating so often seen on office pens.

I held them in my left hand and pulled out a length of waxed floss with my right. As I attempted to explain what I was doing, I made a slip knot and tried--out of context--to cast on. That was even lost on me for a moment. I faltered. Then I got it. I put a few challenging, sticky waxed stitches onto the even stickier red pen. They looked really uneven. I mentally flashed back to a 1979 summer recreation class for kids and really bad macrame.

Dory was trying to watch what I was doing as though I were some sort of expert. At this point, I think she thought that I knew what I was talking about and that she was just not understanding.  I kept the truth to myself as I struggled with the black pen and tried to decide how I was going to even slide the makeshift "yarn" along the "needle."

I poked the black pen towards myself through the first loop on the red one, wrapped the floss around the black pen and attempted to make a stich.

It took me about 3 minutes to get 3 stitches transfered from left pen to right pen. I held them up as I used more and more words, trying to get the right description, explaining not only the actual stitches and how they should be executed, but also how they were looking different in this waxey format.

My friend looked puzzled. I think she was catching on. I caught a pity smile. She even tried to imitate my jerky purl motions on the pens.

After a long pause, she said, "Oh, I'll get it! I'll try it at home. Don't worry about it!" Now she laughed as though to laugh with me (and it was pretty convincing), "There's always Youtube!"

Just then, the very patient dentist I work for came into the room. He smiled. "Did you get any cleaning done in here?" More pity smiles? Maybe I imagined those. Maybe not.

Two things are certain. First, there will unlikely be any classes on knitting with waxed floss offered anywhere anytime soon. Second, I now have a knitting basket in my room at work.

You never know.

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