All Night Dentist

With a mound of medical school debt what's a new dentist to do but take the first job that comes along? Even if it is at an all-night dental clinic that caters to the creatures of the night...or soon will.

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2. The Master

Dr. Edelstein showered and dressed quickly; he was out the door in minutes and speeding to the clinic.
When he arrived he was a bit surprised to see a shiny black limousine parked in the lot of the little clinic. It was hardly the type of car he would have expected to see. Usually his late-night patients had a cab wait for them while he worked: Drilling teeth was hard enough without a cabbie out front honking his horn in frustration.
Edelstein parked his Hyundai in the only reserved space and grabbed his briefcase from the backseat He thought it made him look more professional; all he kept in it was a few magazines, some cheese and crackers in case he got hungry and some tongue depressors. But it was heavy, with an aluminum frame so he could always use it to fend off any would-be muggers that thought he was a “rich Jewish doctor.”
As he walked to the door of the clinic, the driver stepped out of the limousine and walked around to open the door for his passenger, Edelstein’s patient. A tall black man, dark suit and sunglasses, stepped from the back of the car.
The accent must have been South African, Edelstein thought. Then he chastised himself for jumping to conclusions based on skin color. It was like him being a “rich, Jewish doctor.” For all he knew this guy was from London. Edelstein would find out soon enough.
As he was unlocking the door to the clinic he turned to look back at his patient and jumped. The man was right behind him.
“Dr. Edelstein, thank you so much for seeing me at such a very late hour,” he was smooth, his voice mellow and sweet sounding. Edelstein felt immediately comforted and relaxed despite the odd quickness with which the man had crossed the parking lot.
“Sure, no problem,” he said, although he hadn’t really thought it. The words had just come out of his mouth. He shook himself, squeezed his eyes shut and said again. “Come on in, let’s get the light on in here so we can both see what’s going on.”
He should have felt uncomfortable, even a bit afraid, but he did not. He was still relaxed, though aware of his situation. He shook it off again and set about turning on the lights and activating the equipment. Mr. Kulu’s driver had remained standing beside the car. Apparently waiting for the man to return. Obviously he was being well paid.
Mr. Kulu removed his jacket and followed Edelstein as the young man walked to the rear examination room.
“Take a seat here if you will please, Mr. Kulu,” he directed him to lay back and brought the bright overhead lamp around. Kulu had hung his coat on the stand at the exam room door, but he had not removed his sunglasses.
“Would you like to remove your glasses, Mr. Kulu?” Edelstein said.
Kulu looked up at him, still wearing the glasses, smiled and said, “No, thank you Dr. Edelstein. I’d prefer to keep them on if you don’t mind.”
Edelstein thought it was odd, but not overly so. He had seen enough bleary-eyed drunks to know they didn’t like the bright exam light. But too bad, he needed it.
“Nope, keep them on if you’d like. I’ll work around them, no problem,” he said, suddenly cheery. For some reason he was feeling ever more elated; not the least bit resentful at being awakened at such an ungodly hour. In fact, he was on the verge of breaking into song as he arranged his instruments on a sterile steel tray and sat down to work.
“So, what seems to be the problem, Mr. Kulu? Can’t eat your dinner, huh?” he leaned down to peer into the man’s mouth; a small mirror in one hand, and a scraping tool in the other, he set straight to cleaning as he continued asking questions.
“So, I noticed an accent. Where are you from, if you don’t mind me asking,” he was scraping teeth and examining every facet of Kulu’s mouth. It was obvious where the trouble spot was. There was slight swelling and redness behind the front right upper canine. Both canine appeared enlarged and elongated perhaps from some slight periodontal disease. Otherwise the teeth appeared good, straight, without any sign of dental work at all.
Kulu was making vain attempts at speech, but Edelstein wasn’t really listening anyway. Dentists only attempt conversation because they know trying to speak with a mouth full of dental instruments is enough to keep anyone from concentrating on the pain.
He poked and prodded at the back of that front right canine tooth with his little scraping tool. Something was lodged just beneath the gums. He used his mirror for a better view. Whatever it was, he could see it’s outline under the gum line.
It was no wonder Kulu had been unable to eat. This must be terribly uncomfortable, if not painful, Edelstein thought. He pulled his hands from Kulu’s mouth, allowing the man to relax his jaw.
“Well, I definitely see something there, below the gum line,” he was gesturing with his hands to help explain what he meant, but Kulu seemed to understand immediately.
“Yes, yes,“ he said softly. “That is quite right. Can you help me please, doctor?”
Edelstein had no doubt he could find out whatever was wedged down there. It was a matter of personal pain tolerance for Mr. Kulu that was in question.
“The problem is, if I’m going to be fishing around down there, you might want something to maybe dull the pain a little-”
Kulu waved him off.
“No, no. That’s quite alright,” he said. “I’ll be fine. Your concern is appreciated, but I will be fine. Please, just proceed.”
Edelstein was suspicious, but simply shrugged. It was Kulu’s mouth, he knew what he could stand. Besides, a lot of people start out that way and then change their minds once the doctor starts probing the sensitive area. It was false bravado that made them wave off the anesthetic and real live pain that made them change their minds.
Edelstein went for a probing tool to lift the gum from the tooth. Getting the little angled mirror lined up to best view the sensitive area, he used the probe to pull at the gum line. It came loose from the tooth easily and immediately he saw what it was that had slid beneath it. Just the barest bit of gray was exposed, easily seen against the redness of the gum. He set the mirror back down and grabbed the small tweezers from the tray.
He pulled the gum down a little bit more expecting at least a wince, maybe even a clenched fist from Mr. Kulu, but got nothing. The little bit of gray was better exposed now. He grabbed at it with his shiny little tweezers and pulled.
It came free with a tug. A small, grayish piece of ceramic looking material. Edelstein held it up to the light. It wasn’t much bigger than a finger nail clipping, but it was enough to hurt if it got shoved under your gum line. It must be a fish bone, thought. Or a piece of pork chop bone. Definitely some sort of bone, unless Mr. Kulu was prone to eating dishes or flower vases.
“There’s your problem,” he said, holding it now for Kulu to see. But Kulu did not even remove his glasses. In fact he was still sitting calmly; a slight smile on his face now.
“Dr. Edelstein, I cannot thank you enough,” he said, with that same smooth tone.
Edelstein felt himself immediately relax again. This man was no threat, he thought to himself. In fact, he was a friend. The kind of friend Edelstein could use right now. The kind of friend who could make things happen for the young doctor; get him started in the right direction, pay off some of these bills, get him his own clinic. It was all going to be his now. All because he had woken up in the middle of the night and come down to the clinic and helped him.
Beneath these pleasurable fantasies Edelstein could feel his will power slipping away; his consciousness was not his to control. He belonged to the Master now.
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