“The real issue for me has been coming to terms with the assumption that I was invincible. Events over the past few years have shown me otherwise.”
Roger recounts his plan for a staged transition out of his dentistry practice, which was interrupted by an unplanned situation. “My retirement plan involved me selling my practice and over a period of five years working one day less per week until I phased out completely. I was once told that it is better to fade out rather than cut off all at once.”
Four years into this plan, Roger and Margaret, his wife, moved from the Blue Mountains to Sydney. “It was also at this time my eyesight began playing up.”
Roger explained that his mother had bequeathed to him the hereditary condition of glaucoma and after consultation with a series of specialists it was decided that he undergo eye surgery.
“Having the surgery raised questions about what my vision would be like after I recovered so the dentist who bought my business and I amicably agreed the best thing to do was for me to finish, even though I had a year to go with our agreement.”
Challenge to invincibility
For Roger this was the biggest challenge to his feeling of invincibility. “I’ve lived a life where I’ve always been fit. I’ve thought that I’m in pretty good shape for a guy my age. In fact, the only hospital admission I had previously experienced was having my tonsils out at age 10.
But here I was, a person who thought he was healthy, with the future looking good and now I was negotiating a pathway into the unknown. I suddenly felt vulnerable. In fact, when I had the biopsy, I had to come to terms with my condition potentially being life-threatening.”
Thankfully, the surgery was successful. But since that time Roger has spent more time undergoing medical procedures.
“This last six months I have faced a hernia operation, two more eye surgeries and some bouts with the dermatologist who spent time cutting, stitching and burning all sorts of things on my body.”
One of the things that Roger admits has helped him during this period is his personality. “I think that one of my skills is adaptability. I don’t seek closure. I usually seek more information about most things and can readily sit in uncomfortable spaces, especially with the problems that life throws up.”
“For instance, in dentistry people would come to me with a problem and there was usually more than one way to solve it. For those who didn’t have a lot of money I’d make sure we could come up with a cheaper solution that served them well.”
What Roger has missed about his dentistry practice is the human side of his work.
“I don’t miss the technical aspects as much as the almost intimate relationship I had with people because I enjoyed helping them cross that emotional terrain that they experienced when visiting a dentist. I enjoyed escaping into all the little avenues of how I could help people.”
To navigate this terrain, Roger spent a lot of his time exploring, identifying, and studying human behaviour. “I was into personality development, neuro linguistic programming, hypnosis and ended up doing a Masters of Counselling. The behavioural aspect of dentistry is what I miss most.”
But, as difficult as this ending is for Roger, his adaptability and his inquisitiveness help him deal with the present. “My identity was never caught up with being a dentist. I was a person who did what a dentist did. So now, I see myself entering a new phase of life. Retirement hasn’t been abrupt.”
Emotions and the Unknown
What place do fear, anger or other strong emotions play in Roger’s life now?
“I can honestly say that I’m neither angry nor fearful at this time. I did feel fear when I was waiting for the initial diagnosis regarding my prostate, but I came to accepting that whatever was going to happen, was going to happen.”
I’ve also come to learn that fear can be reversible. Growing up I had a full-blown needle phobia. But when I became a dentist, I had to learn to give needles and as soon as I did, I lost all fear of them. It was also a fearful thing for me, as an inexperienced dentist to start treating people until I soon realised that my patients were more afraid of me than I was of them. That realisation changed my whole attitude.”
Now, Roger sees himself as an observer, negotiating his new pathway in life and trying to make sense of it all. “My big goal is trying to figure out who I really am and how I fit into this whole plan of life.
Being a Christian, I have faith that God cares for me, but that doesn’t always work out as a free ticket.”
“Sometimes you still need to take a ride through extreme trauma. But I am comfortable with this. In a sense, the unknown has a mild tinge of excitement for me, even if there are more negative experiences. But, I know that painful things can often yield genuine benefits. For now, I just like to stay in the moment.”