So Much to be Thankful For: Attitude of Gratitude

I stepped into my early 40s recently and I feel grateful to have reached my 40s. Growing up, I had a comfortable, upper middle-class upbringing. I didn’t personally experience tragedies but have seen heard of/seen some gruesome things happen to people around me. I probably never really stopped to appreciate the life within me or around me enough, but I was always aware of it.

My personal reason for starting a practice is not to be dentist robot but to be a dentist with heart. I like people. I enjoy talking to them. It’s important for me to make them feel comfortable. This often irks my assistants who believe that sometimes I spend way too much time trying to calm a patient and put to rest their fears or perception of dentistry.

I always considered myself an empathetic and observant person, but I am sure there have been moments when I have not been much of either.

My life-changing, aha moment happened three months after I established my dental practice.

It was the day before Thanksgiving, 2016.

My patient was a young mother of three with kids of ages 3,5 and 7. She had lost her husband to an illness a couple of years ago. We were talking about the challenge of finding child care that week as she had to work. I said, “Really? That’s terrible that you have to work when everyone else gets some time off.” She didn’t miss a beat before saying, “Well, I am glad that I at least have a job to go to.”

BOOM! It hit me what being grateful really and truly meant.

A couple of days ago, something happened that brought this two-year-old memory rushing back to me.

I was talking to a lady that I have been working with regarding my practice and we were talking about our families. She told me about her nephew who had a rare genetic condition. It was heartbreaking to hear the story to say the least and I was at a loss of words when I saw his beautiful, smiling picture. Without getting into personal details, let me be brief. It is an extremely painful skin condition that can exacerbate even by touching. This baby boy is in constant pain and knows nothing else since birth a few months ago and will likely know nothing different for the rest of his life. It is an incurable condition, at least as of now.

I went back to thinking how I was complaining that morning about back and shoulder pain that comes with the territory of being a dentist who spends hours daily hunched over patients. These are minor pains in the grand scheme of things. Just like most of our problems that are either self-created in our brains or lives. Sure, there are REAL problems, real issues and I am not in any way minimizing those. But let’s face it, most of our problems don’t fall under that category. There are people around us with stories like these or worse, but a majority of us do not face anything as serious.

H, a hygienist I worked with years ago said that when she was on a mission trip, she had seen people lining the street with swollen faces and pus draining abscess, just to see a dentist and have a tooth pulled. Yet she sees people seated in her dental chair complaining about the temperature in the air-conditioned room or the grit size of the polishing paste used in their mouth.

It all comes down to a small shift in perspective.

We all have the choice of being grateful most of the time. Let’s try to celebrate that and remember that it could always be worse. Let’s be grateful and helpful to fellow human beings every chance we get. #vsmilefamily #teamvsmile

Happy Thanksgiving.

Dr Vijaya Kallam