Sunday, June 10, 2018

Though Your Heart is Aching

When it’s someone close to you, it’s always too soon.

I was in grammar school when I had my first dental appointment with Dr. Ronald Cohen.

I was terrified, convinced that I was going to suffer unspeakable torment as this stranger sadistically yanked all of the teeth out of my head.

When I completed all the various forms, I nervously handed them over to Mabel, Dr. Cohen’s nurse, and briefly thought about running out the door.

This was in early May and when Mable checked my birth date, she gave me a lovely smile.

“You’ve got a birthday coming up,” she said.

I was confused. The torturer’s assistant was being nice to me? Isn’t she supposed to laugh like a lunatic and shove me into the arms of the drill-wielding psycho?

It turns out that I may have overreacted a little bit. Mabel was a wonderful woman and when Dr. Cohen came out to greet me, I found him to be a kind, gentle man who only wanted to keep me healthy.

And he would be my family’s dentist for nearly 50 years.

Mabel died several years ago and then last week my sister told me that we lost Dr. Cohen, too. I turned 61 last month so obviously Dr. Cohen was not a young man, but he always seemed fit and healthy and he certainly wore his age well.

His widow told my sister that Dr. Cohen, who suffered from diabetes, was working up until the day before he died.

I was close to tears when I heard the news and I still can’t believe he’s gone. This is the end of an era as yet another person leaves our lives. I know that I’m at the stage of life where I’m constantly saying goodbye to family and friends, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.

You Must Keep on Trying

I went through high school, college, and adulthood and for nearly every one of those years I made my annual visit to Dr. Cohen.

He was more than just a rinse-and-spit guy. He was committed to educating his patients about the importance of oral hygiene. Often during examinations, he would hand me a mirror and take me on a guided tour of my own chompers.

“He acts like they’re his teeth,” I once jokingly complained, “and you’re just borrowing them.”

He was constantly looking to improve himself, staying up to date on the latest developments and doing research in his spare time.

As I moved into adulthood, Dr. Cohen and I would talk about things beyond brushing after every meal. He once told me about how his grandfather back in Russia had been forced to join the army.

“They just grabbed him off the street and threw him into a car,” Dr. Cohen said. “His family had no idea what happened to him for six months.”

And yet despite that abrupt introduction to army life, the elder Cohen went on to be an exemplary soldier and actually considered making the military his career, but since he was Jewish he knew he would never become an officer, so he mustered out.

After I graduated from college, I considered going to Japan to teach English. When I mentioned this to Dr. Cohen about this, he told me about how he had climbed Mt. Fuji during a leave from his military service in Korea.

I didn’t get the job, but Dr. Cohen had seen to it that all my dental work had been taken care of just in case I had to leave the country.

I know we all have to leave this life eventually, but I guess I thought that Dr. Cohen would always be there for us. And while I’ll have to find a new dentist now, I can’t imagine anybody else putting me at my ease the way Dr. Cohen did.

I’m looking back at that terrified grade schooler I once was, and I have to say that in all those years Dr. Cohen never caused me any pain.

Until now.


Bijoux said...

What a touching remembrance! My childhood dentist was also a very kind man, but he died 10 years or so ago. My current dentist just sent out a letter last week announcing his retirement. Sigh.......He has always treated me like a daughter. It was funny when I first started seeing him and he looked at my chart. Turns out, he had lived in our last house in the 70's, so he and I would talk a lot about 'our' house!

Rob K said...

Wow, Bijoux, now that's a memory! Your dentist once lived in your house!?

It feels so strange-and upsetting--to lose these people who were so important in our lives. I haven't started looking for a new dentist yet, but I know I will have to soon.

Take care!

Ron said...

Rob, what a beautifully expressed memoir. You are SUCH a talented writer!

Dr. Cohen sounded like a gem of a human being. Isn't something how certain people touch our lives with such a power that we remember them forever? Looking back on my life, I can definitely see those people who have.

And speaking of dentists, my favorite dentist was Dr. Fallon. He was my dentist in Orlando, Fl. OMG, I hated to leave him as a patient because she was such a nice, gentle, and sweet man. I trusted him to do anything with my teeth because was so dedicated to his profession.

"This is the end of an era as yet another person leaves our lives. I know that I’m at the stage of life where I’m constantly saying goodbye to family and friends, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less."

I so know what you mean because I've been feeling the same way. And I can remember my mother saying that to me when I was a kid and not really understanding what she meant. That is, until now.

Fabulous post, buddy! Have a terrific week!

Bijoux said...

Yes! He was the second owner. We were the 6th!

Rob K said...


Rob K said...


Hey, buddy, how's it going?

Thank you so much for all those nice comments. Dr. Fallon sounds like a real gem. And it's amazing how our parents will tell us things that only make sense after we've lived, loved, and lost.

Take care!!

A Cuban In London said...

Beautiful and touching story. We all have a Dr Cohen in our lives somehow. :-)

Greetings from London.

Rob K said...

Thanks so much, Mario.

We certainly do have a Dr. Cohen in our lives--just not enough of them!

Take care!