When I was approached by my lawyer, Michael Carabash at DMC Law, to go on a mission trip to Jamaica I was absolutely thrilled. I have always wanted to get involved in a charity dental organization but never knew where to start. Now I had the opportunity to give back and travel to a beautiful place at the same time.
Before getting to Jamaica there was quite some planning involved. Our group had to send over supplies and tooth brushes ahead so that we would have that ready for when we arrived. I had a lot of help from our supplier Patterson Dental, who donated anesthetic, needles, masks and gloves, to name a few. Over 200 toothbrushes were also sent down on behalf of White Willow Family & Cosmetic Dentistry.
The week began with travelling to Jamaica and a 2 hour bus ride out to Negril. Negril has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and we were so fortunate to be able to enjoy the beach for a day before the volunteering began. The locals were very friendly and excited that we were there to help out. We also had some local Jerk Chicken, Yummy!
Day 1 – Set-up and Orientation: The first day consisted of team building exercises and getting the clinic ready for the week. As these were temporary clinics we were responsible for getting them in order so that we could provide dental care. Our group consisted of three dentists and support staff. Our clinic was located in the township of Kendal, about 30 min from our resort. Set-up took a lot longer than I expected since there were so many different supplies and equipment that needed to be put in place; but, it was important to our team that we have it organized in order for the week to run smoothly.
Day 2 – Our first day in clinic: What a day! We arrived to the clinic early in the morning to a group of locals (over 50 people) who had been waiting since before sun-rise to have treatment. They were very patient with us since the first hour or so consisted of triaging patients, medical history documentation and checking in. It was clear from the start that the day was not going to be easy as it was already 35 degrees and humid. I was expecting to be working in hot conditions but nothing prepared me for this. Working in a small room, with no ventilation or air conditioning and a small fan was very difficult, especially once masks and gloves where put on. There was no relief from the heat and the hot air from your breath being blown back into your face didn’t help. But our team was motivated to fight through it to help as many people as we could. The dental work consisted of mostly extractions since many of the locals hadn’t had the opportunity to see a dentist before. By the end of the day we were exhausted, soaking wet from the heat and ready to get some rest.
Day 3 – Second day in clinic: Word had spread that we were at the clinic in Kendal and there was an even larger group of people waiting to see us when we arrived. Working conditions were much the same but the locals made us feel welcome. We were lucky enough to have lunch prepared by Mary, who lives down the road from our clinic. She made us Curried Goat and rice a Jamaican specialty. The day was also interrupted several times by passing lightning storms which knocked out power supply to our clinic 3 times. Luckily we were able to keep working because we had our battery powered head lamps.
Day 4 – Third day in clinic: Probably the hottest day of the week, just when you couldn’t think it could get any worse. Most of us were sweating that day before we even saw a patient. All I can say after working the first few hours of that morning was thank goodness for head bands!! Coming to the clinic had become something of a treat for the locals who came to see us wearing their Sunday best. Some of the cases we saw that day didn’t make it easier; a lot of hard extractions, particularly on back wisdom teeth. I can’t even imagine what would happen if some these patients didn’t come in to see us. Due to the heat, a few of the doctors and staff started to get heat exhaustion and eventually had to slow down in the late afternoon. While we got through our list of scheduled patients were weren’t able to see as many of the people who waited around all day waiting to see if there was availability. It was really tough to have to tell some of them that weren’t able to see them that day; my heart sank a little bit.
Day 5 – Fourth day in clinic: We followed up our hardest day with probably our best. While many of us were not 100%, we came together as a group and “rallied”! It became our slogan and team nickname. It also helped that it was 5 degrees cooler that day and 1000 smiles were finally able to procure a few extra fans. It’s amazing even what a small temperature change makes. At this point it also probably helped that we were in a groove, knew exactly what to expect, and had a few clinic days of experience under our belt. Not sure what Mary put in our lunch that day but we motored. We were able to accommodate many of the patients we had to turn away the day before. Even by the time we were supposed to leave at the end of the day, we were able to see a few extra patients. The Thursday was probably the most rewarding day. On top of helping the most people I had a very special connection with 2 of my younger patients who had never seen the dentist before. We talked about proper oral hygiene and were able to extract some badly decayed baby teeth for these amazing kids.
Day 6 – Fifth day and cleanup: The last day in clinic was bitter sweet. While we saw many patients at the end of the day it was time to pack up. I will always remember the township of Kendal and the beautiful experience it’s people gave me.
Day 7 – Day of Rest: After a long week up in the hills of Jamaica, it was nice to finally relax on the beach. Since we didn’t have time during the week to enjoy the resort we soaked up as much as we possibly could on our last day. The water was beautiful, as clear as can be and warm too. Definitely beats Lake Ontario! We also spent time near the pool and in the lazy river, giving the aching feet and back a much needed day off. While this wasn’t exactly a vacation, it was a really nice way to spend the day.
I am so thankful that the staff and patients at White Willow Family & Cosmetic Dentistry helped to make this trip possible. I am looking forward to being able to give back in the future.