Today I had an orthodontist’s appointment. As my orthodontist worked on my teeth, he was asking me questions like, “so what do you major in at school?” and “how is your summer going so far?” Fingers and metal tools were in my mouth. My tongue was stuck in one position. How was I supposed to answer?
Then came along the three-second window where I convinced myself to almost bite off my orthodontist’s finger. Everything just happened so quickly.
Before I go on, let me take a quick detour: In high school, I had an eccentric SAT tutor named Erol. He was a big, mischievous and smelly man from Trinidad — picture a kind of genie who let himself go.
Anyway, Erol once asked me if I knew what the only thing faster than light was. When I couldn’t think of anything, he said “thought.” The speed of thought is faster than the speed of light? With the right metrics and measuring tools, thought is probably faster than light. And today I was convinced of that.
Back to biting off my orthodontist’s finger. So, he’s just asked me a question that I can’t really answer because my mouth is stuck open and my tongue is sticking out. I have about three seconds to figure out how I’m going to respond. My first option is to answer with an “ahh” or an “uhh” — the only sounds that I could make given the situation. My second option is to make no sound — I’d instead raise an eyebrow or wrinkle my forehead to acknowledge the question. My third option is to speak, but this would interrupt my orthodontist’s work. I’d also run the risk of grazing his fingers with my teeth as my mouth began to form words.
During my three-second window, I chose option three. Let me walk you through my decision-making process:
When my orthodontist first asked his question, I was surprised — “of all the moments this guy could have asked me this, is he really trying to chat now?” My surprise quickly turned to suspicion — “is my orthodontist trolling me?” Now I had to make an expedited judgement call. Basically, I resolved that my orthodontist has dealt with enough patients to know fully well that trying to have a conversation with a patient while working on their teeth just doesn’t make sense. Assuming my orthodontist knew this, why would he still try and chit-chat with me while I was unable to speak?
I know Hanlon’s razor advises to “never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” But at this point, I had to listen to my gut. I had about one second left to make a decision. So, I thought — “could this be a form of entertainment for orthodontists?” Could this be a sick prank that orthodontists play on their patients? Are they just curious to see how people will react to the antic? Are all orthodontists members of a big group chat where they crack jokes about patients?
If the group chat is real, my orthodontist will have one hell of a story to share with the boys. Because today is the day that a patient finally resisted his little game. After deciding that my orthodontist’s behavior was premeditated, I weighed the potential consequences of what I was about to do. I swiftly reasoned that if I were to begin speaking, my orthodontist would have just enough time to remove his fingers from my mouth and avoid any major injury.
Three seconds of high-speed decision making later, and I decide to speak. My mouth starts to form words. My orthodontist quickly removes his fingers from the danger-zone. I catch a look of disbelief flash across his face.
I’m finally able to answer the original question with, “I actually haven’t declared my major yet.” Gulp. There’s a pause. Eventually, my orthodontist politely responds. We exchange a few more words. Then, he goes back to working on my teeth. Take that to your next expo, doctor.