My dentist is dead. I received a letter from his office in the mail a couple of months ago informing me of the news. While I had only been his patient once for a routine cleaning, I was shocked to read that he had died. From that one visit I had developed a strong affinity for him, an affinity that I felt was reciprocated. I hate going to the dentist but I liked Dr. Herrington. I trusted that he wouldn't hurt me.
The December following my single appointment I got a Christmas card from Dr. Herrington wishing me a "Happy Holidays". On the front of the card was a picture of him surrounded by his all female staff. It was a considerate gesture.
Now, a year later, my wisdom teeth are coming in. The bottom one, number "32" in particular is causing me pain. I feel the ache of it pushing through the gum sideways. It causes me to bite down on my cheek, exasperating the situation. Not sure if the office would be open, with it being Dr. Herrington's private practice and Dr. Herrington being dead, I called. My call was answered,
"Dr. Herrington's office, how may I help you?"
I introduced myself to the receptionist and told her that I had been a patient there before. I told her that I was having problems with my wisdom teeth and wanted to have them checked out. She said they had an opening at 10:45 the following morning. She said nothing about Dr. Herrington's passing, which struck me as odd. Maybe I had imagined the letter.
The next day I showed up early for my appointment. I half expected to see Dr. Herrington walking around behind the reception desk, moving from patient to patient, but he was not there. I was seen instead by a new dentist, Dr. Goslinga. He was young, in his early 30's. A short, portly, red haired man, who was only going to become more portly with age; the kind of character who would sweat a lot and flush bright red if outside even briefly on a hot summer day. He spoke with a thick southern accent. X-rays were taken and the prognosis was given. My wisdom teeth needed to come out. I was referred to an oral surgeon.
There was no memorial plaque hanging on the wall to commemorate Dr. Herrington, no mention of his passing at all. I did not ask how he died. There is an air of sorrow, of loss, permeating the practice that still bears his name. His girls are still deep in mourning and have yet to accept the permanence of his absence.