March 29, 2013
Last Monday, my nonprofit clinic caught on fire! I had to triage patients in the parking lot. As soon as I could, I ran over to a nearby clinic of ours where we were diverting patients. While restoring a tooth on a happy five-year-old patient, I caught my breath and thought, “Crisis managed…yea!”
Then she threw up on me.
As I drove home that night, still smelling of someone else’s mac and cheese, I thought about that child. Her father did not have any money for treatment and was clueless about how to help himself, much less her. My little patient was a sweet, tiny child with filthy, rough nails and worn clothes that had more than a just a few days worth of kid dirt. For many reasons, I wished her food had stayed inside her.
I think every dentist worries about their patients and their lives. We have a unique vantage point to see poverty, neglect, the effects of depression and many other problems that I wish did not exist.
I am lucky to share our nonprofit clinic with Dr. Sherwin Shinn. He is a warm cheerful man, and a great dentist. He finds humor in the smallest things and is an engaging conversationalist. He told me a secret a few weeks ago — he was selected as ADA Humanitarian of the Year. That achievement follows on the heels of being awarded the 2003 National Jefferson Award, and WSDA’s Citizen of the year. Dr Shinn has been volunteering, writing and lecturing about how to help underserved people all over the world for over 22 years. He is the founder of For World Wide Smiles and two other dental charities. I asked him why he gives. He said it was “delicious.” Helping others makes a warm feeling inside that is so indescribable and so wonderful that you just want to have that feeling again and again. It never gets old. Seeing Dr. Shinn’s sheer joy while explaining that brings tears to my eyes, and makes me want that experience too.
I am also lucky to have watched the Spokane Dental Foundation partner with the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic to create a non-profit clinic in Spokane. Area dentists volunteer while YVFW provides the space and the management systems. In this clinic setting everybody wins! Both general dentists and specialists get the opportunity to volunteer in a nice setting, with great stability and support. YVFW dental residents get to work right alongside dentists to learn and grow from the their association with them. The uninsured, working poor, and other vulnerable people are provided excellent care on a sliding fee scale. It is a perfect model for dental community giving.
This month’s News is filled with pictures and stories of all your Give Kids a Smile events. We are celebrating you! Most of you do not limit yourselves to volunteering just one month a year. You help your patients and others every day. You volunteer for Rotary, your church and little leagues. You set a standard and serve as an example.
That brings tears to my eyes, too.
The best thing about dentists is that most of us really went into dental school to help people. We all joke that we had to say that during dental school interviews but most of us really meant it. I think giving shots and basically hurting people to help them all day long is a hard thing for any human to do to another human. On many levels, it’s just not right. To do something that difficult takes grit, tempered with kindness and empathy. Those professionally developed traits carry into everyday life. I think the experience fosters a humaneness that only those who have seen the elephant can really understand.
These are tough times to be human. We have psychotic shooters on the loose, and the economy has many people just barely staying afloat. And yet we still work hard and give our talents to others. We remember to be human first. We learn, in spite of all the badness, the “delicious “joy of selfless giving. That is really what makes us special.