Tuesday, November 20, 2018

a day in the life of a dental student: mission trip

Since this week is all about practicing gratitude, I thought that I would share a little more about one of the experiences in my life that I am most thankful for... my Dominican Republic Dental Mission Trip. This mission gave me a chance to combine two of my greatest passions, my desire to serve others through dentistry and my love of travel and experiencing different cultures. 
Each day of our mission trip, we visited a new location. And each day we were greeted by thankful hearts, as evidenced by the fact that the governor gave us his personal bus (featured above) to aid in our transportation. Below, I'm sharing just a glimpse into what a day on this mission trip was like. 

***Please note that I have been given permission by the operators and patients participating on this mission to share any images below. 

6:30AM Each day, I would wake up and take a cold shower because I had inevitably sweat through the night (no AC), pull on scrubs pants, and a tee shirt to work in for the day. Before breakfast, I took my daily dose of Immodium because my tummy never did fully adjust to the food.
After breakfast, we formed an assembly line to load the trucks with our supplies for the day...collapsible dental chairs, restorative materials, dental instruments, and toys for the kids. We even brought our own generators to power our equipment as many of the towns that we visited did not have electricity. 

8AM I always loved this part of the day...on our way to a new location. How cute is our little white supply truck trying to make its way over the river and through the woods so that we can provide free dental care?
Riding in the open air truck with my classmates. We all gave up our summer break to do this mission trip. Worth It.  

9AM Arriving to our location for the day to a crowd full of people waiting for free dental work. We normally set up at the town's schoolhouse, which was often the only large building in town. We split the classrooms, doing extractions (pulling teeth) in one room, restorations (fillings) in a second room, and denture & partial denture fabrication in a third room. We also had areas set up for oral hygiene education. 
As a student on this trip, I had the opportunity to work in all of the different areas of dental services that we were providing. Today, I'm assigned to pull teeth. Here's a peek at our equipment table below, set up with piles of instruments to use for the day. 

1PM Lunch was always taken in shifts so that the work never fully stopped. The towns people made us meals each day. And while I wasn't in the Dominican Republic long enough for my body to fully adjust to the food, at the very least it tasted amazingly. Nothing processed. Just fresh authentic food cooked the old fashioned way. 

1:30PM Back at it. Since we were limited to only a few collapsible dental chairs, we pulled teeth a little differently in the Dominican Republic. The dentists sat on the desk tables in the schoolhouse, while patients sat in a regular chair. Then we had the patents lay their heads directly into our laps. Oh and let's not forget the spit bucket sitting off to the side since we didn't have our fancy suction systems. Totally making it work and getting things done. 
We didn't have equipment to take x-rays, so we extracted teeth by feel. This is how I ended up extracting a tooth like the one below. The actual tooth fractured shortly after I started working and the root itself is so curved, it's like a fishhook that never wanted to come out. It's the kind of case that would have been planned as a surgical extraction in the states. And while I'm confident that I could extract a tooth like this now, at the time of this trip, I would not have been allowed to pull this tooth in my dental school setting. It would have gone to a resident or an oral surgeon, not a dental student like myself. But in this environment, you suddenly have skills that you didn't know about because you have to. So I got this tooth root out in one piece. 

5:45PM Making the long trip back to our mission housing for dinner, cold showers (no hot water), and a clean bed. We didn't pack up for the day until all the patients had been seen. So the ride back was always filled with exhaustion, but you would never know it. We all sat in the open air trucks, having cold drinks, and throwing toys to the children as we passed through the towns. The drive back always gave us the chance to appreciate the beauty of this country and to relive our day of helping others though the stories that we shared with each other. 

While I've attempted to give a brief rundown of what a day on this mission trip was like, there is no way for me to capture the way an experience like this can make you feel. The language barrier may have prevented me from having in-depth conversations with the people of the Dominican Republic, but my interactions with them were always those of gracious smiles, warm embraces, and tears of joy. They had such gratitude for our efforts and I appreciated them even more for giving me the opportunity to serve them. I have never worked so hard in my life as I did on this mission trip and I'm proud to be able to say that. Because over the course of just one week, our little team managed to provide hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free dental care to the people of the Dominican Republic. This is something to truly be grateful for. 

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