Jun

16

 I have recently had a lot of pain related to a problematic tooth. It is a tooth that has been giving me trouble on and off for years and I have no idea why. Dentists have suggested it suffered some type of trauma when I was younger, but if that was It I don't remember the event.

Went to the emergency room last January (weekend, regular doctor closed) because I was in massive pain over the holiday weekend.

It turns out that it had become infected and was putting pressure on the nerve in the Jaw. Since that time I have had a root canal on the tooth, but that did not solve the problem. I have had two other procedures, the last one this morning because the prior one did not heal properly and got infected again. Really aggravating experience, no need to go in to details. Today I am holed up recovering, jaw aching on a beautiful day.

The thing is, back in January, I had a gut reaction that the best thing to do would be to just forget all the treatments and have the problematic tooth yanked out. Based on the trouble it had caused me to that point, it just seemed to be the solution that made sense — likely to be final and just "end" the problem.

Yet, I was told that was too extreme and "the tooth could be saved" etc. No professional I spoke with thought it was a good idea, in fact they seemed astonished that I suggested it. And today, after treatments and quite a bit of discomfort, things not going right, etc, I am inclined to think my initial hunch was correct. Forget treatment. Just get rid of the problem.

I wonder how often this happens.

A clear cut solution to a problem exists, but a bunch of complex alternatives are presented and the resolve to do what is likely required to the end the problem with certainty is dampened. Not to push the analogy to far, but does this not also happen in trades, businesses, and relationships that are going wrong. Rather than end a problem trade, it is easy to tinker with it, look for hedges, "scalp" around the position, etc. but instead of a resolution only more pain is created. Or a relationship that has stopped working — "keep fixing it" but only more delays for the inevitable split which is more painful than a clean break.

It is hard to tell what is hindsight quarterbacking, and what is a life lesson. In this case I am still not sure which it is. I wonder if there are any general rules or ideas that can be applied to these situations to give better outcomes.

anonymous writes:

Absolutely, the best case is to always treat (your tooth or a losing trade), like it was bad meat and spit it out. Deal with it immediately, no messing around, just take the hit and get over it. Bad trades, like bad relationships, have a way of metastasizing into something worse, and the old cliche comes to mind, "Your first loss is the least."

Personally I remember once having a relationship with a nice gal that went south (but as a guy I was totally oblivious to the whole thing and didn't see the obvious signs). I was out with the lady in question in public at a restaurant and she gave me "the blow-off speech." I was so confused that I didn't even see it coming (One could make a case that infatuation is insanity). In retrospect, I should have gotten up, picked up the check, paid her carfare, bid her adieu, and walked out, never to see or communicate with her again…..like one exits a bad trade. Instead I lingered for months in an emotional limbo, like a sick puppy, suffering great humiliation and many bad feelings. In retrospect, like a bad trade, that relationship wasn't worth it and there was no bargaining, hedging, covering it with options that was going to save it. It had to be pitched immediately, and I broke my cardinal rule by not pitching it (emotions again).

Bad trades, like bad relationships can teach one many lessons in life and trading if one listens to what the situation (market) is telling you. If only, when dealing with that person, I had used my trading persona instead of my emotional side, I would have not lingered in emotional limbo for months.

This supports a great case for dispassion, and a big part of the Masonic obligation is to "learn to subdue your passions." But like the ying and yang, good things happened out of that debacle and I ended up seeing a very cultured, erudite, successful, powerful, and beautiful woman that I married a few months ago. I'm happy for the first time in five years, and that's what's important. Bad teeth, bad trades, bad relationships…..get rid of them, they are just nuisances that get in the way of life.

A commenter adds: 

But that thinking of could have, would have, should have is very deadly in the markets. Although hindsight is always 20/20, my eyesight of 20/100 does not allow such indulgences and my defensive game does not allow for such risk. I'm trying to make money, not keep my finger in the dike like the little Dutch boy. The Dutch boy was wasting his time. 

Gary Rogan writes: 

Bad women and bad teeth rarely get better by themselves, although some teeth that seem to need a root canal sometimes do. Equities do it a lot more frequently, so to this day I don't know how to reliably tell when a bad equity trade needs to be spit out. "Your first loss is the least" obviously applies to some situations, but for instance I still own a stock that lost me 20% two days after I bought it, 50% three months after I bought it, but now two years later it's up 70%, having been up 120%. Rocky talked a lot about his thoughtful decision to exit HPQ back when it was relentlessly moving south, but it's back. What used to be RIMM is still in the dump, but someone who bought it in September doubled their money. If you could always make a wise decision by just getting out of a (currently) losing trade, everyone would be a lot richer than they are.

Rocky Humbert responds: 

Mr. Rogan,

Indeed HPQ has been inexorably working its way back and may keep climbing. Who knows? What we do know is what  the S&P index has done subsequent to my exiting HPQ. And we also know what  other alternative investments (gold, real estate, etc) have done over the same period of time. Taking the hit and putting the (remaining) capital into the alternatives would have been better than suffering. Hence in these matters, one must consider not only the ongoing pain, but also the opportunity cost. To the extent that one is monogamous, the analogy holds for personal relationships.

Is there an opportunity cost for teeth? Not sure.

Gary Rogan replies: 

Sure, there is always the opportunity cost. The question is, how well do we know it in advance? My point was that if say you bet all your money leveraged 10 to 1 on wheat, and your position is down 10% you may want to exit, but if you own 100 stocks and one is down 10% or 50% or even 90% what to do at that point outside of any tax considerations and without any additional information isn't exactly clear. Given my preference for 52 week lows in the absence of any other information it may make sense to buy more or do nothing. If the sudden move lower really attracted your attention, and upon further study you conclude that this is only the beginning, of course you may want to sell. But then a sudden move up or a long period of flatlining or something you happen to read or hear may attract your attention as well.

A commenter writes: 

The key phrase that piqued my interest was when you said, "you bet all your money leveraged 10 to 1 on wheat." Why would you "bet" all your money? Wouldn't you want to just "bet" a small part of it, and keep the rest of your powder dry? Anyways, betting signifies gambling, and gambling is wrong.

Gibbons Burke writes: 

Anonymous, I am like you—I don't see any value in pissing my money away in a known negative expectation game, so I sympathize with your view. I have never found enjoyment in gambling, personally. But I can't extrapolate from my subjective view and experience onto the world because everyone's utility and entertainment functions are different.

Gambling in the United States has several positive social functions… State lotteries support education of children… Gambling on Native American reservations is a voluntary form of reparations to that people… and, it gets money out of mattresses and back into economic circulation, transferring capital from those who are not prudent in their stewardship of that capital (otherwise they wouldn't be gambling, would they) and putting it into hands where it will be more efficiently employed.

Part of the freedoms cherished in this Constitutional Democratic Republic is the freedom to act the fool, on occasion, as long as you don't infringe upon the rights of others, or forsake the duties to yourself or those in your charge. 

Kim Zussman adds: 

You would not have regretted your decision to accept professional opinion / treatment had everything gone well.

The mistake is assuming you could have made a better decision - to extract the tooth - simply because in hindsight the treatments have not worked.

For any decision there is a range of outcomes. Perhaps your treatment had 80% chance of success (defined as rapid pain reduction, elimination of infection, and saving the tooth). But so far you are in the 20%, and for you the failure feels like 100%. "If only I'd extracted"

Do you expect portfolio managers or sound strategies to never lose, or abandon them only when they do? (Buy high / sell low)

Dentist and physician success rates are mostly unknowable but patients use cues to evaluate them. Cues such as trusted referral, reputation, diplomas, demeanor, looks, office decor, exhibited technology, etc.

Your treating dentists are simultaneously incentivized to obtain good results (reputation, future referrals) as well as make money (perform treatment). Those with consistently poor results have trouble competing with those with good results, and you are less likely to wind up there. 


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