Shhhh! It’s a Secret…Patient! True Story from a Patient’s Perspective.


Chapter I – Mt. Brushmore

I’ve had it since I was 22 years old. I could feel it on the left side of my mouth every day of my life—it was…well, just there.  However, this was different from the right side of my mouth and I had a daily, sometimes painful reminder of that with every bite. Over the years, I noticed that the bump on my gums was slowly getting bigger and bigger, and eventually it grew to be about the size of a gumball; dentists would occasionally poke at it, ask if it bothered me, ask if it had always been there, etc, etc. But there it was. Finally, my new dentist made it crystal clear — it was time for a visit to an oral surgeon for a closer look and evaluation, no excuses. This was rather unsettling. I had grown so accustomed to having this as part of my mouth, I had even developed a nickname for it: Mt. Brushmore. Even my husband swore it was the reason we got such good Internet at our house. All kidding aside, I was a little worried to visit an oral surgeon and find out what needed to be done. Surgery? Pain? Serious Diagnosis? I had all 4 impacted wisdom teeth taken out when I was 18….let’s just say that was not a good experience. A lot of negative things were running through my head. I needed to wrap my head around this and take baby steps.

While my dentist referred me to an oral surgeon in our neighborhood, I had an alternative. I recently started working for a local, San Diego health & beauty branding agency and one of our clients is McGann Facial Design (we’ll just call them MFD). As I worked behind-the-scenes on various digital design and patient testimonial projects for MFD, I was struck by the fact that every patient review of him, his team, and his work was positive. Having worked in a surgical office in years past, and having to respond to patient questions and complaints, I thought to myself, “Is this guy and his team for real?” Well. Here was my chance to find out.

I talked with a colleague who not only recommended McGann Facial Design without hesitation, he proposed that I approach Dr. McGann and his office manager, Rachel, to see if they might be interested in my going “undercover” and writing about my experience with their practice. In other words, since I was already involved in getting the word out about MFD, why not make it a first person experience? Kind of like a Secret Shopper, I could be a Secret Patient and report back to them about the good, and the bad about my patient experience.  While I was a little nervous to pitch the idea, Dr. McGann and Rachel were open to the idea. This was a great sign — two practice leaders not afraid to take steps in an effort to seek improvement…


Chapter II – The Consultation

Getting back up to speed – I am now an official Secret Patient for McGann Facial Design. I am going undercover to remove some kind of growth from my left gum. I am a little apprehensive about oral surgery. But then. Who’s not?

Even though I was already familiar with the website from the context of my work, I still wanted to spend some time reviewing parts of the site to make me feel more comfortable as a patient. The site answered my basic questions about oral surgery, gave me insight into Dr. McGann and his team, had valuable information about scheduling and insurance, directions, and (far more interesting than mine) patient stories. Easy to navigate, no getting booted out, and I really liked the introductory video. So helpful! You can even fill out your registration form online! I have horrible writing, so I love to do anything online. I called to make an appointment and spoke with their receptionist, Lauren. We all know that receptionists can make or break an experience. I was one in a past life. I know. A rude receptionist can make or break a patient’s level of comfort. No chance here. Lauren was polite, informative, and helpful.

The night before my initial consult, I double-checked the website to find directions to the practice and information about parking — easy peasy. I walked in and was immediately greeted (by name!) by Lauren. She took my co-pay while we chatted about living here and there, then she asked me to have a seat and said someone would be with me shortly. The first thing I really noticed sitting there was the wide-open floor plan and colors of the waiting room. No enclosed wall with a prison guard sliding glass window for the receptionist, no bell to summon the staff, no out-of-date magazines you really don’t want to read with the address labels torn off but you do because you’re sitting there anyway, and real furniture that was stylish and comfortable – not those plastic interconnecting, dirty little chairs you find in many offices.  And there was no “dentist” smell. Come on. You know that smell. To be honest, it was like they made it nice because Lauren spends her entire day there.

After four (that’s 4!) minutes, the glass door opened and one of the staff casually walked toward me, hand extended, with a smile in welcome. I mention the glass door because it took away the mystery – from the waiting area, I could already see back “there.” No mystery there, just transparency. Beata introduced herself and informed me that she would be taking a more complete dental history. All of this was electronic, on a huge TV up on the wall. I could see what she was typing – no secretive medical notes here! Loved the fact that this office is paperless and high-tech. While sitting there reviewing my history, I even emailed her the x-rays I had just had of Mt. Brushmore from my phone so that Dr. McGann could review them. All said and done, this took less than 15 minutes, she was thorough and didn’t make me feel awkward or weird. She said she would get Dr. McGann and was back immediately. Almost like he was waiting outside. Don’t you just hate being at the doctor, the nurse says, “The doctor will be right in”, and then you sit and wait? So far. this office was a well-oiled machine. With all the parts working together.

I had already met Dr. McGann, and for the sake of the Secret Patient experience, he greeted me warmly as if this was the first time we had met. He asked what I was there to see him for, examined me in the antique barber chair, and then we all reviewed the images on the big screen. He then explained what it was. Mt. Brushmore had a more official, medical name – exostosis or tori, a benign (yay!) bony growth located on my gums. He drew some pictures and explained that they usually grow when there is an excessive amount of stress and tension placed on the teeth’s underlying structures. It’s widely seen in patients who clench or grind their teeth, like me. We then went through how tori are treated. One option was leaving it there. Another was surgery – awake or asleep. My choice. Side note – there was not a chance in the world I would be awake!  He very clearly laid out a treatment plan and printed it out for me right there. Let’s just say that Dr. McGann made me feel comfortable with the surgical option and we scheduled a date for the following week right there. I met with Natalia on my way out, who said she would call my insurance company to determine what the payment plan would look like. I took my treatment plan and a prescription for pain meds that I might need following surgery, and was on my merry way. Natalia called an hour later to let me know that my insurance would be paying for my surgery in it’s entirety because it was an in-office procedure!  Wow. Even better! I left that day thinking that Dr. McGann was professional, which exactly met my expectation. In fact, it felt like the entire staff took his lead—efficient, kind, informative, and so much more.


Chapter III – Surgery Day! 

So. Here we are on surgery day. A little nervous. A little tired (no sleep). Okay. A lot nervous. My husband served as my designated driver. We were both greeted (by name again!), by Lauren the minute we walked in the door. Only a few minutes later, Nick walked me back and Dr. McGann briefly reviewed again the plan for the day. I was a little surprised that the room didn’t look very “surgical” or intimidating. After walking me through the anesthesia process, Dr. McGann himself put in my IV. I’ve had a lot of IV’s in my life. And this was an easy one. Sometimes my veins play hide and seek, and it was clear that this was not the first time he had done this. To be honest, I don’t remember much after that. It was lights out for me within a few seconds. I understand that this is the hallmark of good anesthesia care. The next thing I remember, I was being helped along the hallway to the recovery chair with a tasty piece of gauze in my cheek. After being sure that I could walk on my own without falling flat on my face, I was released to go home.

My post-procedure pain was not as bad as I thought it would be! Sure, I had the strong pain meds that Dr. McGann prescribed, but I got through it on ibuprofen. The left side of my face was swollen, as expected; but it wasn’t as bad as I expected either. Flashback to prior experience. Later that day, Dr. McGann called to see how I was doing. Not his assistant. Dr. McGann. How nice was that? And he gave me his direct number in case I had questions or concerns. I even received a “Thank You” card from the staff with a gift card for frozen yogurt while I was recuperating! Cold and soft. Just what a post-operative oral surgery patient needs…so thoughtful, no? The next day was better. And the next.  By my follow-up appointment the following week, not only was I looking less like a chipmunk, I could chew on the left side of my mouth! That’s novel. I hadn’t done that without discomfort or pain in years. Buh-bye, Mt. Brushmore! Hello gum symmetry!

I can’t say I miss my gumball, but I can say without any hesitation that McGann Facial Design’s stellar reputation is well earned. Every touch-point I have had with this practice has been positive and professional.

Thanks for reading along, and if you see a lady chewing a California burrito on her left side without pain, it’s probably me!


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