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What Happens When You’re 55 and Still Getting Sexually Harassed?

By your oral surgeon!!

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Sexually harassed by your dentist at 55
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One morning last October, I had oral surgery. Years of chewing on hard candies had left me with teeth that needed a root canal and crowns. Eventually, the crowns cracked. My dentist sent me to the oral surgeon, who said I would need not only implants but also a sinus lift in the process.

The morning of the sinus lift, I wore a short-sleeved shirt so the IV for the anesthesia could be easily inserted. Afterwards, I remember nothing except that I was cold. I went home and felt weirdly great. I had one cup of coffee and then another. I sat in front of my laptop for hours and worked. I barely checked my email or texts; I did not check social media at all.

We’ve reached the end of the nice part of our story.

The next morning, the surgeon called and asked how I was feeling. “You’re a genius,” I said, “because I feel no pain. I’m just on my way to the gym.”

“Whoa, that’s not a good idea,” he said. “You have to give that hot little body of yours a rest.”

The surgeon had always been flirtatious. Occasionally, when I asked him a question about a procedure, he'd respond, “Well, if you were my wife...” and place his hand too long on my arm. I had warned friends whose daughters saw him that they shouldn't wear anything snug or revealing for their visits. Like the book I had read when we first got our puppy that advised us to ignore bad behavior, I had decided to ignore his bad behavior. But his most recent comment bothered me.

I was going back to see him for a checkup and then an X-ray and implants. I could switch doctors, but we were halfway through the process and I felt, uncomfortably, at his mercy. Plus, he was good at his job. My teeth had presented many problems to him over the years and he had never been confounded by them. But he did say inappropriate things. I remembered that the morning of my surgery, as the nurse inserted the IV, he had said, “You look great! Do you do Pilates? I bet you do kickboxing...”

I know that men of a certain age will pay you a compliment and think they’re being kind. Courtly even. I worked at a business magazine for 10 years and an investment bank before that. An old boss had once called out, “Great dress!” as he looked at me appreciatively. I had become used to men commenting on my appearance even when they shouldn’t. Though do you ever get used to it?

Because there was almost always a nurse in the room while the oral surgeon worked on my teeth, I mostly felt fine with him. I told my husband. He asked, “How would you feel if your trainer said that to you?”

"I don’t have a trainer,” I said, “but in the work place, people should not comment on each other’s appearances.”

Two days after surgery, my cheek was swollen and my mouth was twisted. There was a green-and-blue mark blooming on my cheek. I looked beaten up. The surgeon’s remarks nagged at me. I had been unconscious while he worked on my mouth. I wondered what else he was saying and who he was saying it to.

I was raised to want to be attractive, by a beautiful mother and an exquisitely dressed grandmother. When I was working as a business reporter in my 20s and 30s, I often appeared on TV. I knew that attractiveness translated into a certain power. But as I edged into my 50s, barely anyone noticed what I looked like anymore. In middle age, you stop thinking your appearance is going to provoke people. Though that is probably wishful thinking. People in positions of power can behave badly no matter how old you are.

I told my dentist what happened. He offered to call the surgeon's practice and switch me to the younger doctor.

The morning of the second surgery, a hot summer day, I dressed as if it were fall, in a long sweater and pants. On our way there, my husband said, “Do you want me to say anything if we see the guy?”

“What are you going to say? Don’t look at my wife?”

The whole thing made me angry. Why did I have to think about this when getting oral surgery? Why should anyone have to think about this? I was brought into the operating room. The younger surgeon walked in, his mouth covered by a mask. His eyes were kind. The nurse swabbed my arm to ready it for the IV. The surgeon warned there might be a prick. While he inserted the IV, he asked me how many miles I ran.

A week later, I returned for a check-up. A friend texted: “Yikes, the oral surgeon, hopefully you don't have to wear a tent!” I thought about the other doctors I see — internist, gynecologist, dermatologist, radiologist, therapist — all women. None had ever said anything inappropriate. The younger surgeon said the implants were healing nicely. He was lovely and competent, but as I walked out of his office into the hot sun, I doubted I would ever see him or his partner again.

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