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The Dentist Story

GLYNN WASHINGTON, HOST:

Welcome back to SNAP JUDGMENT from PRX and NPR, the "Eye of the Beholder" episode. My name is Glynn Washington and today we're looking at the same situation from very different vantage points. Now, you already know that everyone hates going to the dentist - everyone. And our next storyteller, Alana Massey, she hated it so much that she put it off for years and years and years.

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ALANA MASSEY: It had been, I believe, eight years since I had been to the dentist and so I had cavities that I needed to be filled. And I had gone in on a Monday and was asked to come back on a Thursday. I came up to the receptionist, who was a different woman than had been there in my initial consultation. She said that my name wasn't in the calendar. Then she said, there's not a record of you in the calendar. I was really confused because I had been there days prior. Something's weird. I was waiting in the waiting room and my dentist came out and she's this very lovely, unassuming person who had been kind but not overly friendly, necessarily. And she looked like a kid that woke up from a nightmare. She was completely white. She was stunned, looked like, you know, she had seen something terrifying - jaw dropped. I was really confused. She had started crying and she said, can I give you a hug? I had no idea why. She said, Alana, you're alive - they told me you had passed away. She told me she called me the evening before and whoever answered said that I had died. And she pulled out her phone and had switched a nine in for a six in my number. That's how she ended up thinking I was dead. After we had had this long embrace, that she had stayed up all night, that she had told her husband about me, that she couldn't sleep because she was thinking about how young I was and how promising I was - I was not expecting the candidness of what she said, which was I was sad that you were gone. It was a very sort of like, intimate expression of care and of mourning. And we were still in the middle of the waiting room. I think it would be a story in anyone's life. I think my dentist probably has no idea how profoundly it affected me. It was the late winter and in the spring I checked into Bellevue Hospital with suicidal ideation and like, suicidal intentions. Before that, I had sort of made the attempts to call suicide hotlines. One of the things they say is like, sort of have a survival kit. It's like, pictures of your mom and dad and pictures of yourself as a baby and like, notes that you have. Mine is just a digital album on my iPhone that's just called Stuff. I loaded it up with pictures of my family and screenshots of really kind messages from friends. And the dentist has a website with her photo on it, and I clicked on the image of my dentist's head shot, saved it into my phone and put it in the folder that's called Stuff. I can still feel what that feels like when I think about her. If she loved me that much in a day, then how many people love me in the course of my life? And I'm putting the word love in her mouth. I eventually, you know, got a diagnosis of bipolar II. As many as 25 to 50 percent of people with the diagnosis attempt suicide. A year and a half later, in the summer of 2014, I had a complete mental breakdown. And during those hours, I really needed something small to hold onto. And a phone is small and a picture is small. While this was happening, you know, the photo of my dentist was still there in the folder that's called Stuff.

WASHINGTON: Big thanks to Alana Massey for sharing her story with the SNAP. It was produced by Anna Sussman with sound design by Leon Morimoto.

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WASHINGTON: Now, the end of a show is not the end of a show. No, the storytelling adventure is just getting started. Subscribe to the SNAP JUDGMENT podcast and get storytelling delivered each and every week - snapjudgment.org. Get into the SNAP nation conversation on Facebook, on Twitter. Hit me, friend me, like me - iTunes, Stitcher, SoundCloud. And SNAP was produced by myself and the team that always wears rose-colored glasses. Please behold, the uber-producer, Mr. Mark Ristich.

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WASHINGTON: The beat that time forgot - Pat Mesiti-Miller, Anna the snake eye Sussman, evil-eye Julia DeWitt, Joe by-the-by Rosenberg, Nancy why-ask-why Lopez, Davey do-or-die Kim, Renzo Marty McFly Gorio. Our SNAP crack give up the dap crew, Eliza Smith, Ana Adlerstein and Leon Morimoto. Matt Ducat do can't and Jazmin Aguilera locks the door.

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WASHINGTON: If you or someone you know has ever enjoyed a nice piece of fried chicken, please know the whole idea of chicken frying was invented by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Look it up on Wikipedia. Many thanks in the CPB. PRX, the Public Radio Exchange, invented the popular side dish some call the French fry. I saw them do it. Prx.org. And now, as you may have already ascertained, this is not the news. Now way is this the news. In fact, you could dig for 30 years in Egypt's Valley of the Kings, open up a feral sarcophagus, only to discover French fries in a PRX tote bag and you would still not be as far away from the news as this is. But this is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.