A couple of months ago, I was sitting in the waiting room at the dentist’s office and saw a mother with young children, one of whom had clearly had some dental work done and was holding a piece of gauze to her mouth as she walked around the office.
She directed her kids to sit at a small table as she approached the counter to settle up with the staff. I was across the room sitting in a chair answering emails on my phone.
I heard the mother raise her voice slightly as she spoke to the staff. She was looking at her phone and said: “I have a dollar in this account and $1.50 in this account … I can’t pay.”
My heart sank, because I have been there. Maybe not in a dentist office, but there have been many times in my life when money was tight and I had unexpected bills due to the needs of my child. Small things that many of us take for granted, like Polysporin drops for pink eye or lice treatment, that I struggled to cover.
The staff told the mother to take a seat and they would see what they could do.
The mother sat down beside me and I had the impulse to ask her about the charge.
“Can I help you? I’d be happy to pay the bill for you,” I said to her.
She looked at me and replied: “It’s $150. It’s too much. You can’t.”
It took me a little bit to persuade her to let me cover the charge. I shared with her that I’ve been a single mom since my daughter was born and I had moments when people helped me out. I told her about times when I needed to search my house for quarters so I could buy milk for my baby. I wanted to let her know that I wanted to help because I could, not out of pity.
She hesitantly agreed to accept my offer. She tried to get my contact info to pay me back, and I told her to pay it forward one day to someone else who needed it.
She told me that she was on disability and usually the government covers the cost of her children’s appointments. The mother told me her child had an accident at school the day before, so this was not a planned expense.
I don’t know what the dental procedure was, or what coverage is provided to people on disability. I understand that the government can’t cover everything and there need to be parameters. I also know that $150 on a limited income could be a significant burden.
In this situation, I looked at it from the lens of being a mom, but also remembering what it’s like to be a kid. I can’t image what the child would have felt, knowing their accident put more financial stress on the family.
The world isn’t perfect, but we can make it a little better when we step outside of our situation and see how we can improve someone else’s.