Sometimes when you retire you return to your place of previous employment.
Well this is the way it went for me.
In 1994 I started a dental surgery in the middle of Hobart. I worked there for about twenty years. It was my practice. The practice I created. I put my life into it. It resonated with my personality. When I was awake I spent more time there than anywhere else.
Today I am taking one of my grandchildren to the dentist. To see a dentist working were I used to work. In the same room with the same chair.
The waiting room has changed. A new screen for the computer. That’s new and better. They had to change that. Gertrude, my grandchild starts arranging the toys on the floor. I aim for the pile of magazines.
There is another man waiting. I greet him. Things used to be different. I used to work here and he would occasionally visit me. Now we sit side by side. We have to find something to talk about. We can’t talk about his teeth. That topic has gone. It’s now forbidden.
Another patient arrives. She greets me cheerfully and says, “When are you going to come back?”
I say, “I am never coming back. I enjoyed my time here. But now it’s time for someone else to work here and time for me to do something else.”
Gertrude is called into the surgery. I follow. The much wiped chair is central to the room. The ceiling is just the way I arranged it. Replete with pictures that I placed there. Wow I remember that picture of Dexter. That dog is dead now.
What’s that machine over there? That’s new. What have they done with this room? They have altered it. They did that without asking me. They are treating it like they own the place.
When working as a dentist you often see and inherit the work of another dentist. Broken fillings. Failed crowns or rampant decay. I wonder what they are seeing. They are seeing all my old work. What are they thinking of it. How is my work coping?
After selling the practice there was the first time I returned. I spent the whole visit thinking about what they should do. They must look out for that autoclave. It can be unpredictable. You can tell by the noise it makes. I must tell them about the air-conditioner. How to control the apparently uncontrollable air-conditioner. And that drawer is a perfect spot for the bibs.
I felt like a retired cricketer commentating on the cricket. He should be standing slightly more upright. That would help him counter the bounce.
Today I no longer have the urge to tell them what to do. I have gone past being an expert commentator. I no longer feel I should tell them anything. I sit back and think, “Do whatever you want. It’s your practice - do it your way. You will make mistakes and you will learn from them.”
The dentist seeing Gertrude has the nightmare of working with me watching her. Gertrude sits on the chair and the chair changes shape. She wears sunglasses and a bib. She is very happy as she gets her teeth polished and cleaned and then she receives some stickers.
I am not sure how much the dentist working here knows about me. Does she realise her job and this place depends on me. Does she know that without me that chair would not be there? She would be working elsewhere.
Well I know this practice would be nothing without her. The current owners and staff have taken the tree I planted, watered it, fed it and nurtured it. Without them it would be dead. They have given the practice life. New enthusiastic ways of doing things.
This practice needs us both. And one day it may need someone else.
Walking down the stairs I am very happy to see the practice functioning so well. I am happy to see so many patients who have moved on. They are now seeing somebody else and are happy with their new dentist. I am happy not to be missed.
Writing this my thoughts turn to my grandfather, Clarrie Carlton. His life was the newspaper he started. In 1965 he sold the newspaper to a man called Rupert Murdoch. Somehow he had to find a way of living after his precious baby went in new directions. The paper he gave birth to is still going strong more than 50 years after he sold it. He would be happy with that.