“I must be crazy!”- was the first thing to come to my mind as soon as I dropped the check in the mailbox with my registration form. “What are you doing, stupid? You don’t have any time for this!” The words were pounding in my head. The more I thought about it the more I was sure that this was the biggest mistake of my life. Well, maybe not the biggest, but it was somewhere up there with some of the dumbest things I have done. Where will I find time for this? As it is, I am working seven days a week and at least twelve hours a day!

I just sold my business in New York, bought a new house in Connecticut, moved and also opened a new business, all within a few months of each other. Basically my life was in somewhat of a mess in the fall of 1998, therefore going to school was the last thing I needed at the time. I felt that way for a long time.

I remember the feeling I had when I walked into the classroom for the first time. I was a few minutes late. The classroom was full of students and at the desk in the front of the class was Vincent Alleluia. I never saw Vinny before. I call him Vinny now, but for the longest time I would not dare call him by anything less than Mr. Alleluia. Everyone looked confused and out of place. “See, stupid.” I said to myself. “Now everyone will know how stupid you are.” Right at that moment I heard a sound similar to my name. That made me stand up and say, “That’s me.” Vinny looked at me and asked “How do you pronounce your last name?” I told him, he smiled and tried to say it himself. Well, my name is not so easy to pronounce, so he struggled for a few times giving up at the end. Some students giggled and the ice started to melt.

We were introduced to each other and were asked to say some things about ourselves. With every introduction I felt more and more at ease. They were all like me – uncomfortable, somewhat scared and out of place. Some with more knowledge, others with less and when my time came to introduce myself, I was more relaxed.

Then we were given our study books and printouts. It seemed like there was a ton of things to read and study. “Oh no, how am I supposed to read all this and when?” I felt a heat wave coming over me. “I can’t do this.” I thought. ” Is it too late to stop the check?”

And then our first lecture. Hours of slides of tissues and bones and ligaments and ridges and slopes and planes and muscles and, and, and. “I am not coming in next time!” this was my decision. “This is crazy! I don’t have time for this.” I felt crushed.

The truth was that for the first time I realized how little I knew and how far I needed to go. The reality was not easy to take and painful to admit.

There they were Alleluia, Asad, Cottone, Neurohr, Federico, Marotta, etc. Many of the brightest professionals in our industry and here I am. I don’t measure up. I have taken dozens of classes with some of the biggest names. I have just as many certificates to show for it. Over twenty years of hard work and studies and what do I know? Nothing! Boy, did that hurt.

It was now closer to five in the afternoon. The slides kept coming and the voice kept calling out the names of tissues and bony elevations and some other funny names of things, which had nothing to do with porcelain fused to metal restorations or shades of teeth. Why do I need to know all these things? Who cares about them? How will I learn all these fancy names with funny sounds to them? It took weeks for me to realize that the word “spatial” meant something to do with space. Hey, I am a foreigner, give me a break. I felt lost and then, then the moment of truth! A question was asked and there was total silence.

I looked around the classroom and to my amazement the expressions on most of the faces of everyone there was “What? . . . What’s that?” Some of us lost their appetite after looking at all those bones and tissues for hours. One student was half-asleep. Others were scribbling something in their notepads, trying to look busy. The rest were totally lost and confused and all trying to hide their faces, but in a sophisticated way.

“All right, I am not the only one lost in this!” I don’t know why this made me so happy then but, suddenly, the scare I had about being the only “stupid” one in that classroom, started to evaporate. Vinny must have sensed some of that heavy air in the room. He got up and tried to calm our fears by saying “Do not try to understand all this on the first day. It will come to you in time.” Then Asad picked up on it and said, “Study a few pages a day. This year is long, by the time this will be over it will all make sense to you.” This was all I needed to hear. I decided to stay and, no matter what it would take, I will graduate this course!

This was the best decision of my professional career.

I studied every day. Every moment I could steal between long hours of work and short rests, I would open the book and read. Thank God I have three bathrooms in my house. I would lock myself in one of them and study until my legs would go numb. My wife had started to hate me. Not that she needed much encouragement, but this had given her more reason for it. My kids never saw me. Seven days a week all I did was work, study or school. Pressure was mounting. At times it felt like the walls were crumbling in. There was so much to learn and by the time you learned one thing you started to forget all you had learned before.

Thoughts of giving up started to enter my mind. I needed to do something drastic. It was time to recruit my kids! Yes my kids. They were complaining of not spending enough time with their “daddy”, well this would remedy that. I would study and they would test me. You know – it worked! You see no one wants to look stupid in front of his kids, so I had to study hard. With every week that passed by, it started to get easier. Most of the things I learned started to make sense: all these bones and tissues, and muscles and ligaments, and posterior determents with anterior determents, and lever systems with all of the movements, and all the other stuff started to take shape and have a direction.

I had at least half a dozen questions at every class meeting. With every answer there was another question born that needed explanation. I became somewhat of “Mr. Bigmouth” in the class. At first, I was not sure I liked my new designation, but then I saw the humor in it and it gave me the excuse I needed to ask all the questions I needed to ask, without feeling stupid. I probably annoyed most of my classmates with my constant questions, but I don’t think they hated me for doing it.

We were a great group of students and we all tried our best. You could always find some students together, either at lunch or on break, talking about the class or a project in hand. There was always someone to speak to. Asad, Vinny and the rest of the teachers were always up front and center and eager to talk to you. They never made us feel dumb or out of place. You could ask as many questions as you needed until you finally got it and, god knows, I had tons of them. Not one of the staff gets paid for spending their free time teaching on weekends. Where do they draw their energy? Vincent has been doing this for more years than I have been in business. Wow!

The ice kept melting away. We formed study groups, where we met as often as we could and helped each other through the pages of nerves, muscles, functions and all other struggles we encountered on our way through the course. Everyone was loose, upbeat and with a sense of direction. You could always see a pleasant smile in the class, hear laughter, but when the time came to study, we all were involved in it to a point of no return. That helped a lot. I made many new friends, which made it easier to go through the course.

It was a long year and I learned so much. But learning and applying it to your every day production at the bench are two different things. The teachers had taken care of that too. In every class practical applications were introduced and many of the principles of the program were applied in our wax-ups and practical cases, which some of the students brought in with them for the teachers to see and for the discussion with the rest of the class. We were a great bunch and I enjoyed going through the ASMDT program with them.

I must be crazy! Why did I not do this years ago? Even though my knowledge is still limited to what I have learned in school plus the clinics I have taken and my twenty years of experience, how could I have gone through working at the bench every day without the knowledge I have today? So many things I do today are so much easier to accomplish.