It's Not as Hard as Pulling Teeth or I'd Rather Have a Root Canal (7 of 8)

The Aloha Medical Mission team is amazing to watch. They set up a basic surgery unit, pediatric and adult checkups, as well as a dental clinic yesterday in the jungle village, and today in a large meeting hall of the provincial Capitol building in the center of town. Since sponsored children in the program receive dental and medical checkups twice a year, this is an opportunity to reach out to their siblings, parents and grandparents who have no access to healthcare.

Today we will serve three to four hundred people from morning till late afternoon. The doctors don’t take a break. The mothers and daughters and grandparents keep filling up the plastic chairs by the dozens. Each of these patients will see a highly trained professional who is there to treat their bodies and to tell them we care because God cares.  

I asked Judy the pediatrician from Honolulu about the woman and child she was treating. “She has nine children, and this one is three years old—blind and she cannot walk.”  She’s three but she is held limp by her mother, her eyes rolling back and forth. Judy grabbed a bag of vitamins, nine toothbrushes and a tube of toothpaste. “There’s nothing I can do for her.”

Amy and I have no skills for this work, but Amy learned how to reload the syringes.  I grabbed a toy to give the children as they exited the dental clinic.  I got up every once and a while to greet the visitors with a smile, hello, your child is beautiful, I’m so glad you came. Thank you, Sir Mike.

I watched a seven day old infant receive her first check up. The mother was beaming over her first daughter and we were marveling at the baby’s dark full head of hair and tiny body. It made me think of my own grandsons the day they were born. Like me they were born in a beautiful, well equipped, safe hospital, with every test available, funded by insurance and surrounded by abundant opportunities. I wondered what the next few years of this baby’s life will be like now that the mother has received good counsel and is surrounded by Compassion’s staff and resources.

Andy is a general surgeon and the leader of the medical team. He’s a member of First Pres Honolulu and began this partnership with Aloha and Compassion here in the Philippines a few years ago. I watched as he treated each person with dignity, assessing their needs and then treating them. One 67 year old man complained of a painful infection below his knee cap that hasn’t healed in a year.  He was able to come because his ten year old grandson is a sponsored child. “You’re proud of your grandson?” I asked. He nodded with a slight smile.

I was dealing with my own fears of being too close to blood, but I wanted to see it up close. Amy encouraged me to put my hand on the man’s shoulder and comfort him. Andy walked me through the procedure—numbing the area with Lidocaine, cutting open the wound and allowing the infection to drain properly. His wife watched on with great interest. “We’ve been married seven years; I’m his second wife.” I motioned with my finger as if to say, “But you’re his best wife.” She smiled.

Andy removed the culprit of the infection: a half inch piece of bamboo that looked like a slivered almond. How did it get there? He can’t remember. Andy gave the man and his wife instructions: Clean this twice a day with water, not river water, but clean water. Change the bandage and it should heal up in ten to twelve days.  The way God created the human body is amazing.

Lynn quitting her job as a dental hygienist six months ago gave her the opportunity to come on her first mission trip. “This is the most life-changing experience of my life,” she shared with me. I watched as she injected the Lidocaine in the mouths of adults and children, and then confidently extracted teeth. She and the other doctors used camping headlamps for light, tables for examinations, and donated meds as prescriptions.

Like Lynn, not all the dentists were actually dentists. An anesthesiologist learned to pull teeth his first day--how to numb the nerve and use instruments to test and extract teeth.

Children fall to sleep with candy in their mouths. Soda and brushing once or twice a week and bad nutrition lead to rotten teeth. It’s a shame to see these beautiful young children lose their permanent teeth because they don’t know how basic hygiene.  I know my hygienist wants to know if I floss, but I would never expect not flossing resulting in pulling a tooth.

A beautiful eight year old girl comes into the make-shift clinic to see a dentist for maybe the first time in her life.  She lays on a table, her grandmother by her side, a nurse gently caressing her head, a volunteer holding down her legs. The grandmother looks back at me and smiles. This will be okay.

The dentist injects her gums and then begins to pull out her permanent molar. Tears well up in her eyes, and then she begins to scream a loud plaintiff cry of pain and fear. The dentist is having a hard time pulling out the root. She continues to cry. I don’t want to watch too closely.

She’s a brave little girl. This amazing dentist from Honolulu and this nurse from Palawan are professionals caring for her, reminding her she is loved, affirming her dignity, and getting her through this painful experience.

As she gets off the table all I can do is give her a toy, remind her God loves her, and pray a short blessing. 

It’s not as hard as I thought it would be to get close to the action. I’m reminded how most of the world lives, we are blessed in so many ways and that God is at work in places of poverty through these generous and tangible acts of kindness.

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