It amazes me at times how fortunate I really am in my life. I mean, look at all of the modern conveniences I have. If I want to call someone, I simply pick up my iPhone, which also acts as a personal computer, and I can easily call that person or any business of my choice. If I want to drive somewhere, I simply put the key in the ignition of my vehicle, make sure there is gas in it and away I go. If I want to take a warm shower after a long day, I simply hop into the shower, turn the knob to “H” and within seconds I can enjoy the warm water that helps take away the dirt, aches and pains of the day. And why would I have this train of thought you ask? Well, I recently had an experience which really got me thinking and I had to ask myself, "What if I wasn’t so lucky?”
Just this past week, I was able to volunteer at a function in Sacramento that was set up by the CDA or the California Dental Association. This two-day event was orchestrated in order to help provide free dental care to those families, or anyone for that matter, in need. There were approximately 100-120 dental chairs set up—as seen in the photo—where we were then able to provide dental care. All you had to do, if you wanted to be seen, is follow the protocol of waiting in line, go through some preliminary screenings and eventually, if you were lucky enough, you would then receive ONE service that was being provided by the dental professionals who volunteered to help. And “yes,” it was generally only one procedure or treatment option provided to each person due to the amount of individuals who showed up for treatment and the limitations we had with time, volunteers present providing the service and the equipment available.
After I went through a quick orientation of procedures and protocol myself, I was then fortunate enough to meet my first patient. She was young woman in her early thirties. As we started talking, she explained to me that she had not been to a dentist in twenty years. While further conversing during her visit, I was able to find out that she was from a broken home where she knew she had siblings, but had not seen them in years since they were all given up for adoption when she was just a young girl. She also told me that, “she “didn’t know who her Dad was” and her Mom, “last she knew, was still doing drugs somewhere over in the Mississippi area.”
I also had a patient, in her seventies, show up with her “camping chair." She told me that she had been waiting in line for almost two days in order to be seen and then explained to me that she had been living off of “pain killers” over the last several weeks and had not been sleeping well due to her dental pain. In continuing our conversation, she told me that she had not been to a dentist in several years because she “couldn’t afford it.”
Another patient showed up who could speak very little English. She was an immigrant worker from Paraguay and was in her early fifties. From what I gathered with the small amount of Spanish I know, she also had not been in to a dentist in over, ‘treinte años”, thirty years. I asked her, "¿Dónde está el dolor (where is the pain) and she responded by waving her hand around her entire mouth.
As I heard story after story from these amazing people, it was funny how my own concerns and problems seemed to disappear. The concrete floor that I had stood on for six hours providing dental care that started to affect my comfort level due to the pain I was experiencing with my feet, knees and ankles faded into distant memory. The lack of all the proper dental equipment, compared to what I was normally used to, became a wonderful asset because it was allowing me to still help others. The worries I had about traffic and getting back home, within a reasonable amount of time, seemed not to matter anymore.
And at the end of the day, when I was indeed mentally and physically tired and worn out, is when I finally had that moment to ponder and reflect on what had just happened in my life. All along I thought I had been able to positively impact my patient's lives for the better because of my service, but to my surprise, it was more of the opposite effect. With each warm embrace I was able to experience in the form of a hug, every tear of joy that was shed simply because someone cared, and each "thank you so much," no matter the language, all became evidence and a true confirmation of the real and positive impact this experience had on me. And as I traveled west, towards my home with a full heart, a warm smile and a clear mind, I couldn't help but to change the previous question I had asked myself from, "What if I wasn't so lucky?" to simply...“Aren’t I lucky?”
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