This Is the Way We Brush Our Teeth

This Is the Way We Brush Our Teeth

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

This Is the Way We Brush Our Teeth

She had an unequalled gift . . . of squeezing big mistakes into small opportunities.

Henry James

Long, long ago, as first-year students, we were on the floor for a short time each day. Our duties were limited to refilling water pitchers, changing flower water, dusting the room, and taking vital signs.

On one of my early mornings on the ward I was asked to clean the dentures of all the patients before breakfast. Delighted with the important assignment, I went to each room with a tray, gathered the denture cups on the nightstands of the sleeping residents, and proceeded to the workroom to fulfill my duty. I diligently cleaned the teeth under clean running water with a special brush and denture cleaner, then placed them all on the counter in a neat row. As I started to put the dentures back into each cup I suddenly froze. Although I had done a superb job of cleaning them, I now saw a dilemma, which held me suddenly suspended. I didn’t know to whom the dentures belonged!

Nervously, I went to the charge nurse and confessed my problem. After she wiped tears from her eyes from her laughter, she helped me sort some that she recognized, then we set about the arduous task of fitting the remaining dentures to the appropriate residents.

Room by room, we fit and refit teeth until, hours later, each resident was smiling a gleaming smile and anticipating chomping down on breakfast.

The next day when I returned to the floor, the charge nurse began laughing again as soon as she saw me.

“Mrs. Smith’s son came in last night wondering who was responsible for his mother’s new teeth!”

My heart stopped. Expulsion from nursing school whirled in my mind.

“He said, ‘They fit for the first time in fifteen years! We cannot thank you enough!’”

Beverly Houseman

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