Expanding our Spheres of Empathy

Last month we had the opportunity to travel to Saint Lucia to perform a humanitarian service mission. This is the first time that I have been a part of something like this. As you may know we are fortunate to have a dental community that actively works with Medical Teams International and the Ashland Food Bank to provide free dental care on the dental van, but I have never traveled to a third world environment to offer dental care. I want to begin my recount of this experience and the insights I gained by first thanking the people that made it possible. I could not have left my practice and traveled half way across the globe without people to cover for me. Doctors Ed Warr and Brian Kitchell covered for me while I was away. My staff was very good at helping patients as they could and the patients were very understanding. Thank you.

I partnered with an organization called Great Shape that has roots in the Ashland area. This organization has been working in Jamaica for years but has recently opened up to Saint Lucia and soon will work in Grenada. Some of you may be aware of the situation that exists in the Caribbean, beautiful tropical environment where you may see the ultra wealthy with multi million dollar homes near to very poor and broken down neighborhoods where people struggle with some basic needs and services. We saw patients that sometimes had 5 or 6 abscessed teeth. Children barely old enough to have the teeth that we were charged with extracting. Dangerously high blood pressure was rampant and poverty was every where.

Our clinic days were often 10+ hours and although many of us were finding our clinical limits trying to work in 95 degrees heat with over 50 people in line every morning it never seemed to overwhelm us. I worked in the fishing village for several days but also entered and served in a prison where we met and treated various men and women who have even less access to healthcare than the general population. Of the patients I saw in the prison 70% of them were suffering from mental health disorders.

I drew some lasting conclusions from this trip. As hard as I worked, we didn’t kid ourselves into believing that we made a real impact on the health care issues facing Saint Lucia, but that truly wasn’t what we were doing there. We were there to serve whatever patient was in front of us, to connect with them, care for them, serve them, and make their struggles just a little easier. This perspective extended to the people in the village just as much as it extended to the people who were in prison. This experience was rejuvenating and inspiring. It reminds me to be a little more grateful and to look for ways to help and serve those arounds us.

When we got back into town we also worked on the dental van last month. I wanted to advertise for the next one which will be in November. To clarify: The dental van is for patients who are in financial need and can not afford dental care, have immediate dental need (tooth ache, broken tooth, and/or decay, and are ready to get care (filling or extraction)  It is not for a consultation, exams, or cleanings. If you meet this criteria, please call the Ashland Food Bank at (541) 488-9544 and make an appointment.