Reflections of the Dominican Republic trip

Now that I’ve been back at home and working in my regular environment, I have thought about my trip and shared my thoughts with some of my patients. So, here are some “Thoughts from the Chair” on my humanitarian effort:

The Experience:

Definitely this was one the best experiences of my life. Now, I have done many things and have travelled the world quite a bit and this one ranks right up there on the life scale. This was so rewarding on many levels. One of my patients said today, what I thought as I left  the ship and waited for my plane back to the states. It was this: To be able to have a profession that I can take anywhere with me and give that to others, really is an amazing sense of satisfaction. And to be able to help others that are in need that otherwise would have never been helped was a realization that is difficult to describe. I never dreamed of anything like this back in the schooling days. I really felt blessed to do what I do. I learned so much about the connection that we all have as humans on a planet. We really have no borders,  no language barriers, no class lines when we give and receive care that positively affects the lives and quality of life for others. The patients that I treated and interacted with were all so appreciative and happy to have us take care of them. 

In addition to that, I saw that all of us civilians and military people were connected by our desire to help these people.It was a ship of over 1,500 people that worked tirelessly and with conviction to make a difference in the world.  Our days started at 4:30 am and went as long as 9 pm. People were tired but never crabby or irascible. The interaction of the branches of military was impressive. Air Force, Navy, Army , Marines all came together, did their jobs -overlapping with each other- and did it well. They were impressive. The logistics of moving people on and off the ship everyday was a feat in itself. One day, the seas were too rough to bring people back on the tender boats. The commodore gave the order to Helo (helicopter) everyone back from the island. So, in two and a half hours, the Navy flew some two hundred people back aboard. It was an efficient and ordered process that was something most civilians never witness from our military. Working with them side by side for those ten days has made me very proud and respectful of our military.

The People:

The Dominican people live on an island that they share with an even more poor nation- Haiti. The stories and photos that my colleagues showed me of the Haiti mission was stirring. The disparity of classes in the Dominican itself was also stirring. One day,I was treating the poorest Dominicans who lived in a world that I have never witnessed and the next I was lecturing Dominican professionals such as myself separated only by our language. Seeing that degree of difference in classes from such a small area made me wonder. How and why?And the answer is, that there is no answer. It is merely the existence of mankind, as it has been since we’ve written our history and before.

The patients whom I treated were all very happy with being able to be treated by an American dentist. Many people in their 30’s and 40’s had never seen a dentist. So many people of all ages walk around with multiple abscesses in their mouth. The constant dull pain is an everyday endurance that is tolerated as some degree of normalcy. There were fathers and mothers bringing their children with hope and gratitude in their eyes. The kind that only a parent can know when they finally have found help for their children, knowing that their child will be relieved of their pain. Perhaps in treating the child, I have also relieved the pain and worry of their parents. 

In America, people walk in to the office with anxiety and some carry a loathing for my profession. They carry the double edged sword of needing treatment while not liking it. In my Dominican experience, people walked into the treatment area with a sense of relief that they were going to leave in better shape. And a gratitude knowing that their doctors made a journey from far away to help people they had never seen and may never see again. They know that the American doctors are the best in the world and feel fortunate to have their care. It was a very different experience for me. Not that all my patients dislike me- everyone likes me but not everyone likes what I do.

In the pictures below, this is a young man of 16 years. He chipped his two front teeth in an acccident soon after they came in at about 7 years old. So he’s had no choice but to live with his two front teeth in that condition. The teasing and ridicule he had endured over the years has affected his confidence and sense of self. When I look at his eyes in the before picture, I see a worried, shy, introverted look. After I showed him his new smile in the mirror, he had an instant transformation. He had a sense of calm and confidence. He knew he could smile without worry. Being able to help this young man change his outlook on life and see some confidence return was more rewarding than anything.  I may never see him again, but in know that I made a difference in a life.

chipped front teeth
chipped front teeth

89 smile after

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