Wednesday, November 16, 2011


A few weeks ago I found myself in a situation that elicited a gut reaction so intense that I actually got up and ran. Everything about the situation made me feel like a cornered animal, and everything in me said: Get out! Get out now! And without hesitation, I did. It was a triumphant moment for me—a triumph of trusting my gut—of giving my intuition seniority in my life.

I went to see a dental specialist to have some old root canals checked out. I first sensed that something was off when I called to make my appointment, but I decided to go anyway. Maybe the woman who answered the phone was just having an bad day. But it didn't get any better.

When I opened the door to the office, a wave of claustrophobia washed over me. I stepped onto the mustard yellow industrial carpet and past the black chairs and particle-board tables to reach the office staff who were huddled behind a glass sliding window. No one looked up to acknowledge me for a long while. When someone finally did look up, the face was filled with the same heaviness I felt the day I called to make the appointment. They were supposed to have my x-rays, but they didn't. They had to call to have them emailed over.
Photo by Kathleen Keagy

I filled out the requisite paperwork and waited, almost laughing under my breath because I knew what was coming. I could feel the energy revving around me. The door next to the sliding glass window opened, and I was led back to an even smaller (was that possible?) treatment room flooded with cold florescent light. It was set up for x-rays. No wonder they weren't concerned that they didn't have my x-rays. They had no intention of using them. When I questioned it, the dental assistant said, "Oh, yes, I've worked with Dr. X for fifteen years and he always wants his own x-rays." I told her that I wasn't having any new x-rays taken that day since the ones that were emailed over were only a week old. She seemed flabbergasted. Had no one ever questioned this?

The air was tense and just getting more so. I was sitting in the grey leather dental chair with my back to the door when the specialist entered the room. He didn't even step around the chair to look me in the face, but sat half-obscured talking to my back. I sat up and turned myself sideways to face him. He had silver-grey hair with the tanned skin typical of a generation of doctors who spend their free time playing golf or tennis at the club. Then he started asking questions in a patronizing tone. I tried to hear him, but I couldn't stop looking in disbelief. There was nothing in his eyes. He couldn't see me. When I mentioned something another dentist had told me a year before, this specialist disregarded it saying, "I've never heard of that in my whole life."

There it was. That voice of authority telling me that I couldn't possibly know anything. The same voice of authority I have heard my entire life and thought knew more about me than I did. The voice I heard at twenty-years-old who told me that the bleeding I was experiencing five days after minor surgery was normal, when in reality a suture had broken a blood vessel causing me to hemorrhage. I knew something was wrong, but I let a doctor's authority call my own authority into question. I still remember my older sister grabbing the phone and yelling at the surgeon when hours after being told it was nothing I sat bleeding on the bathroom floor. In fact, the situation was so serious that I was brought to the hospital and put under general anesthesia so they could surgically stop the bleeding. I still remember that surgeon's face the morning after--so full of apology that he hadn't listened. But the damage was done.

How many times have I not trusted my intuition?

Not this time. I got up and left mid-consultation. Went out through the claustrophobic waiting room and into the freedom of the air. In the past I might have made excuses for that specialist--stifled my feelings, questioned my reading of the events and convinced myself that there was something wrong with me. But I didn't. I even went back into the office a few minutes later to get all my paperwork. "You won't need it. I won't be back," I told the receptionist.

A week later I was sitting in a different specialist's office: no glass partition, richly-stained wood chairs, natural light, lush landscape paintings on the walls and a smiling face that greeted me by name. Someone had put thought into the experience patients would have while waiting. This specialist had my x-rays up on his computer before I sat down in the chair. He met my eyes immediately and listened when I spoke. The overall experience was so far from the one I had the previous week that it felt like I was being rewarded. I heard the voice in my head saying, You see. You can trust yourself.

Yes, I really can.


  1. Kathleen, this is awesome. You told me about this briefly in class one night, and I'm so happy to read this piece myself. It is beautiful that you've kicked that 'authority' control to the curb.

    When I was 19, my mother took me to a specialist I immediately disliked intensely, for similar reasons to yours. She took me there because I'd had a strange pap smear that needed checking up on. I never went back to that doctor again, ever, though my mother was completely flabbergasted as to why I wouldn't take his authority seriously. Nothing bad ever came of the weird pap smear - I just chalk it up to me getting to have seniority with male authority. Teehee.

  2. I have had the same experience too. However they also had my daughter in the other room working on her. Never asked me to come in and consult me on what they where doing I complaint to the dentist,to my insurance company and to anyone who was going to go to that your intuition!