Scott and I have been together for nearly 14 years. During that time we have overcome numerous obstacles including my cancer diagnosis and amputation. Although both were difficult tests, there was a common denominator which I have overlooked. The health crises were mine; Scott's role was that of companion and cheerleader. He has never been the patient. It turns out that he is a great cheerleader but an abysmal patient.
Scott suffers from what I can only describe as a medical phobia. Avoidance has worked for him until this past weekend when he cracked a tooth. Shaking, sweating and pale, he could barely vocalize his need to go to the dentist without breaking down. The remainder of the weekend was spent trying to calm down a scared patient whose fears were real yet irrational.
Looking at him, I knew that his emotions were legitimate. There was no doubt that he was petrified, almost paralyzed by his fears of visiting the dentist. To no avail I tried to rationalize with him, pointing out that in the scheme of life visiting the dentist ranked low on the trauma scale. I think he heard what I was saying, but he was not accepting the truth. In his mind, visiting the dentist was akin to walking the Green Mile before execution.
My emotions vacillated between compassion, frustration, anger, irritability and confusion as I watched him become increasingly anxious and terrified before his appointment. Robby, recognizing the fears, tried to console his Daddy by reminding him that he was scared before his ear surgery but that he had to "man up" and just do it. Despite our efforts, we made no headway. He simply dissolved as the appointment approached.
Scott was clammy, pale, shaking and sweating when he walked into the dentist office (which he consistently referred to as his torture chamber.) The dentist and her receptionist could not have been kinder, but I think that they were even taken aback by his extreme reaction. Despite his fears, he finally assumed his position in the examination chair. The look on his face when I walked out of the room reminded me of Robby's demeanor on his first day of Kindergarten. Both personified fear and confusion.
Two hours later Scott finally emerged from the little room and, although his shaking had calmed down, he remained visibly upset. I'm hoping that exposure will help to minimize his very real phobia because he will be returning to the office numerous times in the coming months. I'm fairly confident I can't help or handle his phobia.