I hesitated before entering the hygiene room to check on a patient. It was “Joe”, who now was 10 years old. Joe and his family had been patients since Joe was about 4, and it was always a pleasure to see this great family. Today was different though - a couple months ago Joe’s father had unexpectedly died, and his mother was now left to raise Joe and his three younger siblings on her own.
I’m always awkward at moments like that in the office, but I walked in calling out my usual “Hey Champ!”, then sat down next to him and quietly asked how he was doing. He didn’t look up with his usual big grin, but said he was doing OK. He then managed just a bit of a smile as he proudly shared that he had just started running a paper route to help out his mom.
The following years were a struggle for the family, but they all seemed to pull together to make ends meet. I continued to walk into the hygiene room for Joe’s six-month recare appointments calling out “Hey Champ” before catching up on how he and his teeth were doing. After one of those appointments, the hygienist came up to me and confided that after I had left the room, Joe had turned to her and whispered “You know, I think the Doc must really like me. Every time he sees me he always calls me Champ!”
In the ensuing years, Joe’s paper route gave way to bagging groceries at the local store, to college, and now to working in management for a large national corporation. He still comes in for his checkups, and I hear he still helps out his mom. But, as he is now in his mid-twenties, I greet him with just “Hey Joe”. I’d like to think, though, that his dad might be looking down saying, “Hey Champ, you’ve made me real proud”.