Have you ever had a job that made you feel so awful that you’d do anything to get out of it for just one day? Many of us have had terrible jobs at some point and I’m no exception. My last truly awful job was several years ago but I was reminded of it this morning when I woke up with the worst toothache I’ve ever had. At five this morning I was in serious pain, it was the broken tooth with infected nerve kind of pain. The “I need an emergency dentist” kind of pain. Two things came to mind in the first few moments after waking up: 1) I wished I went to the dentist regularly like normal people who pay for dental insurance and 2) I’m going to have to call that awful place for help.
Some background on those two points. First I’ve got a spotty dental history and second, my worst job ever involved dentistry.
More on terrible jobs and dentistry plus a little about growing pot after the break.
In the Spring of 2001 I was unemployed after Wall Street realized what I already knew: the dot-com startup I worked for had no idea what it was doing. After a few weeks of job searching and collecting unemployment I was bored to death of sitting at home so I decided to take ANY job that would have me… so I ended up taking calls at 1-800 DENTIST. You’ve heard of 1-800 DENTIST right? They advertise on cable and late night TV about how they will help you find an awesome dentist. They are located here in LA, right where Sepulveda and the 405 meet. I worked for them for a while and it was the worst job I’ve ever had.
It seemed like a good idea at the time; I’d make a few easy bucks while I looked for a permanent gig. Plus, it felt good to know that I’d be helping people get something I never had. You see, as a kid I used to dream of seeing the dentist just like I dreamt of having parents who didn’t grow marijuana in the front yard. On the list of responsibilities I had as a kid, dental care came after fetching beers and keeping an eye out for cops when we were driving. Getting my teeth checked out was purely daydream material. Don’t get me wrong, my parents are awesome, they just didn’t know you were supposed to take kids to the dentist. I was going to help make sure that every kid who wanted to go to the dentist could see that dream come true.
I threw myself into the job but I soon realized there was something wrong. Not with the dentists, who were well qualified professionals just trying to increase their business, there was something wrong with my expectations. I expected people calling to say “I would like the name of a dentist please” to which I would reply “Here is the best dentist for you”. This is not what happened because 1-800-DENTIST isn’t here to help patients. Sure they may sometimes help people but this is not their primary concern. Their primary concern is to pre-screen clients for the dentists who pay to be listed in the database.
When I say pre-screen clients I mean “Make sure they were not poor.” Now I’m not saying dentists should work for free, but this whole thing just felt dishonest. On one hand the commercials tell the average Judge Judy viewer that they now have hope in the fight against gum disease and cavities but the fact is they only had hope if they could pay for it. Those without cash or insurance were transferred over to MediCal or to a discount dentist who provided shoddy work on a payment plan. I know it’s sub-standard because I’ve had work done by them which had to be redone soon afterwards. In the long run the so-called discount service cost me much more than a visit to a better provider leaving me poorer than when I started.
It wasn’t just that I was constantly telling people that we couldn’t help them, what really made it bad was that half of the people I spoke to were in terrible pain and sometimes in tears. They were calling 1-800-DENTIST as a last resort because they were in pain and needed help but I couldn’t help, I could only tell them that we didn’t have a provider in their area which is code for “You are too poor to go to the dentist” and refer them to the free clinic. I don’t know if you’ve ever spent five days a week listening to people crying on the phone while you listened in unable to assist them, but it sucks. It sucks so bad it eats at you soul until you start to wish that you could get into a car accident on the drive to work just to get away from it for a day.
After about six weeks I’d had enough so I started referring people to dentists no matter what. I figured, let the dentist tell them they wouldn’t help them. I’m making $8 an hour and that’s not enough to crush people’s spirits. After a few days of this I was called into a conference room by my bosses where they played a tape of me giving unauthorized referrals. They told me to knock it off and I told them that they could take their tape and go fuck themselves. It’s the only time I’ve ever waked out on a job but it’s also the only time I felt I had to. I just couldn’t tell another tearful caller that we were only there to help if they had money.
As for this morning, I actually called 1-800 DENTIST and since I have insurance I got referred in about 2 minutes but I didn’t want to call the office they referred me to. Luckily I didn’t have to, my wife paged her dentist who took me in immediately. One emergency root canal later I’m hopped up on goofballs and pain free, save for the reminder of that shitty job.
So what has been your worst job Los Angeles?