Sheri's Solutions: When Chicago becomes Siberia, patients still show up

2013 08 14 15 37 19 36 Doniger Sheri 2013 200

"How did you deal with the 36 hours of below zero temperatures in Chicago?"

When the windchill is at -30° F, Chicagoans are up to the challenge. I woke up on Monday to an air temperature of -2° F. It was kind of funny. The weather people described the weather as "unbearably cold," and we received the moniker of "Chiberia." Yes, it was cold.

Sheri B. Doniger, DDS.Sheri B. Doniger, DDS.
Sheri B. Doniger, DDS.

Tuesday was supposed to be colder. The Illinois Department of Transportation urged people to stay off the roads. Chicago Public and mostly all the northern tier school districts closed for an unprecedented two days twice this winter, including Monday. Public trains had issues with rails freezing and delays; flights were canceled. But, we were open for business.

With temperatures like that, you don't know who is going to show up to see you. My assistant and I both were at work early in preparation for the day. There were no phone messages, emails, or texts announcing appointment cancellations. Everyone showed up for their scheduled appointment time.

Granted, we had a full day of healthy adult patients. Had my 93-year-old patient been scheduled, she would have been wise enough to cancel. The "chair chat" did not focus on the crazy weather, but we did mention it. Definitely gives us something to talk about with and next to the patient -- a historic winter. We also laugh. Nothing we can do about it. We talked about how salt-covered our cars were and how we were waiting for the first break in the weather to get the cars washed and see the original paint color again, rather than shades of white.

I thanked each patient for coming in that day, told them I appreciated their commitment to their dental care. Each patient said they would not have considered canceling, unless their car didn't start. From my other colleagues in the area, their days were about the same. Offices canceled senior patients and those who were medically compromised, but everyone else showed up.

Why did they come, you ask? The weather here has created a definite "cabin fever," a claustrophobia as it were, because of the crazy cycle of arctic cold and snow every other day. People were happy to get out of their winter confinement -- even happy to visit their dentist for a restorative! Any excuse to get out of the house. It was very rewarding.

After all, we are from Chicago. What is a little cold? To put things in perspective, a little cold, although not pleasant to walk around in for any protracted amount of time without proper clothes, isn't that bad. I ran several errands after I left work and barbecued dinner that night. After all, it was only -5°!

So, I ask, if patients are willing to come to see you during the worst of weather, is that a sign that they are willing to come in the best? Statistically speaking, patients are more likely to come during the winter than on extreme heat summer days. They have other things to do. Therefore, I appreciate both being in Chicago and the occasional cold snap. It gets patients out of their houses and into our chair. Good for their mental health and dental health. What a win-win situation!

The funny thing is: I just returned from the wonderful Yankee Dental Congress meeting in Boston. The great Northeast usually is filled with snow during that meeting. When I got off the plane, the 20° felt balmy and there was no snow. The water wasn't frozen and the boats were still in the harbor -- a welcome sight. Back in Chicago, we are expecting another two surges of the arctic blasts. We will be open for business, and patients will brave the cold to come. It's all good. Spring will be here soon.

Sheri B. Doniger, DDS, practices clinical dentistry in Lincolnwood, IL. She is currently vice president and president-elect of the American Association of Women Dentists and editor of the American Association of Women Dentists "Chronicle" newsletter. She has served as an educator in several dental and dental hygiene programs, has been a consultant for a major dental benefits company, and has written for several dental publications. You can reach her at [email protected].

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