These days, if I get any phone call on my mobile from a number I don’t recognise, I reflexly activate the speakerphone and start the voice recorder up on my watch.
I used to get quite tense and angry when I received these calls. At my own practice a few years ago, we fell victim to a scam operated by UK-based scammers. We didn’t lose much money, but that was just by pure luck.
But nowadays I feel a quiver of excitement when this happens. It means there’s a possibility that I might be able to indulge in my new hobby – winding up scammers.
These people are beneath contempt. They will gladly empty the bank accounts of people who are far from rich, and don’t appear to be in any way ashamed of their actions. I therefore don’t have any qualms at all about wasting their time and being rude to them.
At my own practice a few years ago, we fell victim to a scam operated by UK-based crooks, who appeared to be based in the North of England.
The current crop of scammers I ‘like’ are the HMRC scammers. I know their script off by heart. They will say there’s a warrant out for your arrest for tax fraud and they will either get you to make a bank transfer for the money you owe, or try and get control of your computer via programmes like TeamViewer to empty your account.
I had a really elaborate attempt made on me a couple of weeks ago, where the buggers actually faked the telephone number of my local police station (which I had just given them), in order to ‘prove’ that HMRC had been liaising with the police, who they said were about to arrest me if I didn’t cooperate with their investigations.
I managed to waste 50 minutes of their time before I completely lost my temper and ended the call with a few choice expletives.
I was disappointed with myself. The aim is usually to get to the point where they give you a bank account number to transfer funds to, and then report that account to Action Fraud, who can then close that fraudulent account down. I’ve only managed that once, following the example of Dan Gleeballs – a YouTuber who is immensely successful at doing it.
This week, I had an unknown call from a woman who said “Hello” then appeared to end the call. I rang the number back an hour or so later and was about to attack, when I realised it was a recruitment agency I had signed up to over a decade ago when I was looking for a job after my practice sale appeared to be going through.
The thing was, I was automatically prepared for ‘trouble,’ and realised I still haven’t quite switched off from expecting the worst, over two years after retiring from dentistry.
As I progressed through my dental career, I freely admit I developed into an exceptionally grumpy misanthrope.
I was constantly on edge, awaiting problems – and one thing I did realise, was that problems usually emanated from patients – members of the human race, all of them.
I noticed things like that.
In my practising days, if I ever saw a patient heading towards me on the High Street, I’d duck into the nearest shop doorway, even if that shop was Ann Summers or Dorothy Perkins. The magistrates were very understanding and lenient.
In my defence, I have to say it wasn’t EVERY patient that I avoided, it was just about 99.5% of them.
My dread of meeting patients in the street lingered into my retirement. My wife was embarrassed by my furtive behaviour in supermarkets in particular, where the aisles were perfect for my cat-and-mouse games. She worked as a dental nurse in my little town practice for a good few years and so recognised old patients. As soon as she spotted one, she’d know that in an instant, I’d go missing in the biscuit and confectionary aisle, to be found a few minutes later, sniffing the Cadbury’s Fingers.
When Bozza announced that masks were to be made compulsory in shops I thought “RESULT!” It would mean I could go about my food shopping without having to worry about being recognised and being asked “You know that filling/crown/root-filling/extraction/denture you did for me? Well…”
The only snag with that was that most patients recognised me more with a mask on, than without. What were you thinking, Boris?
Now I don’t want to give the impression that it’s just patients I didn’t like – there were quite a few dentists too.
BDA meetings were Hell on Earth not long after I qualified, and I was so grateful when a couple of 14-year-olds ripped apart the BDA’s scientific officers on the BBC’s Watchdog in the early-90’s over their argument for erroneously endorsing Ribena ToothKind.
It was so embarrassing to see the BDA ‘scientific’ spokesmen flounder, it gave me a perfect excuse for cancelling my membership and never having to attend a meeting again.
I should point out that Dental Care Professionals though, were a different ballgame altogether. I find most of them well-balanced individuals and funny with it. A lot of dentists, however…
I must point out that my general misanthropy wasn’t aimed purely at the dentally-related human being – it was also directed at members of the Homo sapiens species in general.
I don’t really know when my misanthropy started…that’s a lie. I do. I know EXACTLY where and when it started - it was dental school in the mid-80’s.
If you want a sound grounding in misanthropy, that’s the place to go. Dental lecturers are a study in the art of the ‘dislike of humankind’- at least they were in the ‘80’s. Not all of them, I hasten to add. About 0.4% were tolerable, 0.1% I’d go as far as to say, were nice.
For my three and a half clinical years at dental school, I watched lecturers with a fascinated loathing – like watching a rattlesnake playing card tricks. But I realised a few months into practice that I had inadvertently imbibed some of the hostile pheromones the lecturers oozed and had woven them into a resentful barrier of acidity designed to keep humankind at arm’s length.
In the early days, as soon as I finished a day’s work at whatever practice I was temporarily attached to, I’d had enough of people and retreated into home life where I didn’t have to go out of my way to be civil with the rude and downright unreasonable that I seemed to be encountering every day at work.
Looking back, it’s difficult to know whether my general grumpiness towards people was purely down to work-stress, an aversion to humans in general, or a mixture of both.
A mistrust of dental professional wasn’t helped by unpleasant experiences I had with a few of them during my career.
One incident involved a professor of restorative dentistry I didn’t get on with, lying about my cavity at finals, which resulted in me having to retake. I so mistrusted this individual, I took LDS just to ensure I was qualified when I retook BDS. I also spread it around the dental school what he’d done – once I was on the dental register, of course.
The secure feeling of already being a registered dentist when taking finals, is glorious.
Another involved a dentist a few years back threatening to report me to the GDC if I continued pursuing him for money he owed me for two month’s work.
But the one that hurt most, was being robbed of £1,600 in cash and £500 with a forged cheque, by a dental therapist I employed and really liked.
So, you would have thought after all that, my radar for sniffing out a patient who might be trouble, would have been highly tuned.
But no, it wasn’t.
My late wife always said my motto should have been “Once bitten, twice bitten.”
For example, I wouldn’t have thought the friendly ‘oil-pulling’ patient I got on really well with would have ‘turned’ over a root I agreed to leave in situ when he said he was squeamish about having a surgical, despite my warnings a radiograph showed it was potentially an abscess risk.
Or the teacher I took on for a colleague and went out of my way to treat her at 8.00am in the morning, who ‘turned’ when a tooth became non-vital a couple of years after being crowned.
I could go on, but I won’t. It’s too depressing and I fear it will trigger my flashbacks.
Fortunately, I’m not the only recently-retired dentist who feels like this. ‘Dentist Bob – What Next’ – a very funny Canadian said on Twitter this morning:
“Sometimes, when I’m a little down, I go sit in my Corvette and think about those dark times at work.....when I had to fill teeth in tiny little mouths and listen to people complain and tell me how much they hate me.
Then, and after a few shots of tequila, I feel better.”
Now if the above all sounds a bit tired and jaded – yup – it is.
I wrote on Twitter myself, this week:
I was in a lecture once, a few weeks before finals, and a lecturer told us that “If a patient comes in, lies down and opens his mouth, you can pretty much assume you’ve got consent.”
That was the eighties. It was brilliant.
Unfortunately, that lecturer, nice that he was (he was one of the 0.1%), was very wrong, as we all know nowadays.
Even if you think you’ve got consent and have given the patient all the information you think they need to make an informed decision, they can still wriggle free and make a claim that will stick.
Again, this is going to sound all a bit world-weary and jaded, but I will give a bit of advice that I didn’t listen to myself, but should have.
Basically, if ANY patient walks into your practice, ASSUME there is going to be trouble at some point in the future.
That way, you will do everything in your power to ensure your treatment and records are beyond criticism.
If the patient smiles a lot, then double-check everything again.
Now you’re thinking, that’s fine, but how did you rid yourself of such ingrained misanthropy?
In short, lockdowns cured me.
As we emerge from a dreadful 14 months or so, I realised I missed people, even the infuriating ones. Communicating with dental people on Twitter helped. Social media platforms are often criticised for being ‘toxic,’ but I find the friendly Twitter people I follow are far from it, and present their points politely and concisely. They are often very funny as well.
I’m just not sure if they met ME in person, they’d be that impressed.
But I’d probably just put that down to grumpy misanthropy.