Tales from the Front Office

I have had worse jobs. The food industry, for example, can bite me. But managing a dentist’s office, I find, reminds me of the time during my spangled career when I managed the box office at a small regional theater. There is no ticket more attractive than the ticket you cannot buy, and people get very demanding when they cannot buy it. Much the same in the receptionist trade: as the year’s end approaches, and people must spend their cafeteria dollars, everybody’s got to see the dentist. I try to arrange them as best I can, with what small knowledge of procedures and the time they take I have gleaned. Mistakes are made. I’m still making them. Probably always will, as the laws of the universe dictate that everything shall happen as once, and the floor of my work area is pockmarked with the signs of the balls I have dropped.

Weighing heavily on my mind are the people in pain I cannot accomodate quickly; the best I can do is take their number and call them if a cancellation occurs before the time I was able to give them. I think I manage to get in about 75% of those people. The time spent playing Tetris in my youth has come in handy.

Hardly any wonder that after dragging home after nine hours in the trench I eat, wash dishes and go online to kill things. The catharsis is more than just nice, it has become necessary.

In the spirit of the holidays… and the office radio station has started playing Christmas music, three freakin’ days before Thanksgiving… let me give you some helpful hints for dealing with receptionists, and making the day far more pleasant for both of you.

It is considered bad form to look into the office and exclaim, “A man???!!! How the hell did you get stuck with this???!!!”

Similarly, it is likely not a good idea to tell the new guy what big shoes he has to fill, especially if the old receptionist told him that every five minutes during the day and a half of training he got.

The proper response to “The earliest we can get you in is Tuesday the second at 10AM” is not, “What do you have that’s earlier.”

If you ask, “What have you got this afternoon?” expect the answer to be “A lot of people who made their appointments long ago” or maniacal laughter.

If you call and launch into a long spiel about how much pain your child is in, and no other dentist will see him, and the receptionist moves the afternoon’s appointments and convinces the dentist and the assistant to stay late so they can attend to the wee tot after hours, “That’s no good, what have you got tomorrow” is not a good answer.

No, your insurance does not pay 100%. Either you are one of the lucky few who actually does have uber-insurance, or the dentist has been eating the difference between what he got paid and what was actually owed.

Or, as in my case, the current receptionist’s predecessor just threw away certain peoples’ bills. For years.

Similarly, when you are disagreeing about your bill, it is not a good idea to shout at the current receptionist that his predecessor always took care of it. Doing so will result in your opinion of the predecessor being severely challenged.

Rest assured that all remarks about how you’re glad the old receptionist is gone provide golden shafts of sunlight on a storm-wracked day.

Do not abuse the answering machine that provides you with the dentist’s home phone and cell phone number, particularly not to bully your way into a 7:30AM appointment when you feel the receptionist hasn’t given you a timely enough appointment, possibly by jettisoning some children or a needy senior citizen. Especially do not do this for a strictly cosmetic procedure. Or if you do, don’t be smug about it. The receptionist has a remarkably long memory. There are still people in third grade who are going to pay.

I’m just sayin’.


  1. Ah reminded me of the glory days at the Pharmacy register where the customers correctly gleaned I was responsible for insurance not covering enough and in direct charge of how much drugs cost in the first place. Only way I got through it was to imagine Toshiro Mifune all Yojimbo’d up amble to the counter take one look at the bellowing dried up old lizard and fell them in the next with an expertly thrown garden spade. Worked wonders.

  2. I recommend that whenever you are confronted with a surly and/or unruly customer, you stare them right int he eye, then look toward the sky, thrust ye hands up toward yon heavens, and bellow, “Why have the gods forsaken Hercules!?!”

  3. <>It is considered bad form to look into the office and exclaim, “A man???!!! How the hell did you get stuck with this???!!!”<>Being a guy that has been a receptionist for over ten years, I can agree. It is painfully unfunny, demeaning, obnoxious and rude.<>TEN YEARS?!?!?!?!<> I so thought I would be a Uber-Bestselling-Working-In-My-Home-Office-Writer-Guy by now. Frak me.

  4. Very nice review of The War of the Worlds DVD, by the way.

  5. Go…to…the..window! Go…to…the..window!Go…to…the..window!Go…to…the..window!Go…to…the..window!Go…to…the..window!

  6. Hey, Be-at-le! You will be jolly, no? Gold? Non-denominational nuggets?

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