When I was told one of my jobs in India would be helping at dental clinics, I was under the impression that I would be taking down people’s names and sitting them in chairs. We did a bit more than that. I have to confess that it was more than a bit stretching for my germ-phobic personality and gave all new meaning to Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
But Dr Rick, Chris and I made a great team and it was the most memorable part of the trip (second only to driving). We met so many people from different places and different ages. It provided a sense of accomplishment, making a difference in peoples’ lives, and of truly sharing God’s love in a country that doesn’t allow foreign missionaries.
Every clinic was held in a different location but each was advertised for weeks prior. Some were in homes, churches or in community buildings. Some were spacious and bright, some were tiny and crowded. Every clinic started with a program: worship songs, prayer, a welcome of our team and other special guests, and testimonies from “the famous American dentist” Dr Rick and sometimes, Chris. Some patients came from very near (houses right in the neighborhood) and some came long distances to see the dentist (we saw some that came from over 100km!). Some patients were church members, some were Hindu or Muslim. All had the electricity go out for some portion of the time. All had some easy cases and some not-so-easy cases. But there was always food served, although we didn’t always have much of an appetite afterwards. Eventually they learned that we never took a break to eat and would feed us before and after the work was done.
All of the clinics were set up the same. A waiting area, a sterilizing station for boiling the tools, a recovery area and the clinic area. The clinic was set up around a central work table with 4-6 stations set up on the table and 4-6 chairs set up around the table. Rick would start at one patient, assess, numb, move to the next. Then repeat this until we got back to the first patient. Then he would go around the circle again and again. Sometimes a more difficult extraction or more Novocain would mess with the flow but it pretty much worked just like that over and over again.
Our first clinic was the day after our arrival at a church/pastor’s home close to the IEM campus. While we had no idea what to expect, it was nothing like I expected. The waiting room, sterilizing station, and opening program was under the covered porch in front of the house. It was a good thing because it POURED most of the day, which was a shock after the beautiful sunshine our first day in India!
The room for patients was made in the living room by hanging sheets from the ceiling. It was made even more tiny by the constant coming and going of the audience to watch and the pavarazzi constantly taking pictures. We were on FB before we even got back to IEM! The power went out more than once and finally the generator had to be fired up out back. It turned out it was our most challenging clinic and made for a great initiation into missionary dentistry!
getting all set up
My favorite patient of all the people we saw (and I loved so many of them) was from our very first clinic. A beautiful and very scared 17-year-old girl with a very stubborn tooth! It took over an hour to get the thing out and she never let go of my hand once the entire time!
When the clinic was over, they cleared off the table, took down the curtain and served up lunch. I started feeling nauseous about 30 minutes into the clinic and couldn’t eat a bite of the lovely lunch they made. :o(
The second clinic was COMPLETELY different! This one was held in the auditorium at the IEM campus. The room was roomy and bright and no spectators! They brought in a band for the opening program and to play during the clinic. How many dentists have their own band??? “famous American” dentists do! While the music was nice it made it very hard to hear! One of our patients was a young nurse named Binti, who asked us to pray for her passport/visa paperwork so she could go work in Saudi Arabia. Many Indians go to work in professional jobs in Saudi because the pay is so much higher!
waiting area on the balcony
reception, recovery and sterilizing station
Binti is in blue on the left
Our third clinic was at Babu Paul’s, another pastor’s home/church near the campus. It was such a pretty little house with a nice yard right across the street from the railroad tracks.
the street in front of the house, the wires are running along the railroad tracks
Rick and I in the “clinic” and Babu Paul’s wife is in the doorway
Babu Paul and some of the church members
Although we had a slow start with few patients, it picked up and had some very tough cases at the end. Because of the slow start, Rick even agreed to pull out an 80-year-old man’s remaining 14 teeth so he could get dentures!
This was also the clinic where Chris trained our driver, Vipin, to sterilize instruments for us. He was happy to have a job and we were happy for the help!
As we were preparing to leave, Rick’s now-toothless patient came to hug him and thank him for “plucking” his teeth!