In the latest dental mission I went to, I worked independent from my team. I was invited to join a nationwide Medical-Dental event that was participated by various sectors but I came on my own, so I came representing You and Your Teeth Dental Clinic (my dental practice), and Team Jesus (my mission team).
More confident with my own instruments, I have been accustomed to bringing my set, despite how heavy it is, but I was told I didn’t have to bother because they will bring the instruments. It was more convenient that way, of course, because a full surgery set is quite heavy and it’s much fun to travel light. So I was grateful for that. It seemed perfect–but I was wrong because…
- The team I was joining arrived late. Call time was at 8am and I was there at 730am but they arrived at 9 o’clock and when they did, they lagged. They sat there joking with each other, while the patients waited to be attended to. I wanted to do something, really. But as a mere guest, I felt I wasn’t in the position to call them out, so I watched on as they bickered and let precious time pass. If I had my surgery set with me, I would setup my own station and serve patients at my own pace. But I was a guest who was stupid enough to leave her own surgery set and my error clamoured loudly in my heart.
- They only brought one set. There were 3 or 4 dentists working and only one set of instruments to split between everyone. So if I needed a specific forcep and someone has it, I have to wait (and vice versa). Even worse, I had special instruments that were meant to make my life easier in the field and all the time I wished I had it with me. Like when I came across a case that was so difficult because the roots turned out to be too long, and too narrow; and the bone was just too dense, they didn’t have root tip picks for me to use–it was frustrating. If I was smart enough to follow my instincts and checked my surgery set in with me on the flight, I wouldn’t have had that problem. Oh well…
- They packed up early and left. At around 11:30 I was tending to a little boy who came with his grandma who was adamant for the boy to receive treatment. He was too young, I advised against it to avoid trauma, but the grandma really wanted it to happen. Anyway, I struggled with the boy and spent long trying to convince him to open his mouth for me, but in the end we had no choice but to quit. All that time there were 2 other people in line so I decided to move on but just then, I realized that the team had packed up. Despite the presence of 2 other patients (a young boy and an old woman) they packed away and pretended they didn’t know what was going on. There were 2 patients waiting and they were getting ready to leave so I looked at the boy and the old woman and said, “I’m sorry. Hindi ko po kasi gamit yun. Nagligpit na po sila. Pasensya na talaga.” (I’m sorry. These are not my instruments. They’ve packed up. There’s nothing I can do).
When I got back from the mission, I told my team leader about my experience and it brought her to tears. It brought her to tears because she is the type to refuse lunch breaks and asks to stay behind after every section is done because there are still patients waiting in Medical. It brought her to tears because she is the heart of our team and the type who inspires everyone to serve sincerely. It brought her to tears and it stung my heart when she said, “And that’s why we need more servants like you with true passion in the field”.
In the Mission Field
When I was a younger dentist, and I was going to medical missions, I saw myself as a gift to the society. How cocky. How arrogant. But that was true. I go to the mission and I feel like I’m some super hero and believe that the people are lucky that we’re there to give free service. And of course it was a game of numbers… so I would keep count of how many patients I saw and how many teeth I pulled. I even compare my work to the other dentists like it’s some competition. Now I think of those days and I feel so ashamed of it because that’s what I saw when I was working with the other teams.
The officer I’ve been with in several missions said, “Masyado sila mabilis magbunot. Ang totoo narinig kong putol ang ipin” (They work too fast. I swear I heard teeth breaking). And when I encountered the very difficult case and was taking my time chiseling the bone to loosen the tooth, one of the dentists came to me and grabbed the hammer from my assistant and started pounding. I guess he thought we were being too slow, so he hit the chisel hard and the patient jerked violently in pain (and protest) so my assistant grabbed the hammer away from him and said, “Maawa ka naman sa pasyente.” (Have mercy on the patient).
At the end of the day he told me, “Iba sila magtrabaho. Iba kayo. Kung gumawa kayo… may puso” (They work differently. You’re different. When you work… it’s from the heart). And that’s true. Because some of the dentists I’m with will tackle wisdom tooth… even if it meant having to chisel his way through bone, just to help an old man who walked more than 5 hours to get free dental. How can you refuse someone especially if they tell you they’ve tried several times to seek care and have been rejected everytime. Are you going to reject them too? No we are not gifts to society. The work we do does not exactly make us heroes. We are servants of God and so, we serve the people.
Life of Service
When my team leader and I were talking about this it stung me when she said, “And that’s why we need more servants like you with true passion in the field”. You see, last April I booked a flight to CDO to serve in Mindanao but I met some complication along the way and deferred from that mission that happened in August. I made that decision half-heartedly, but I made it just the same. I almost compromised the mission, too, because they couldn’t find a dentist to replace me but of course God was in play.
“And that’s why we need more servants like you with true passion in the field”. These words still resonate in my heart and I’ve felt a void since. Throughout that time I was thinking, “Am I being like Jonah, disobeying the Lord, and if so where is the whale and when will I be swallowed?” It stung me because in my heart of hearts, I really wanted to be in Mindanao. It stung me because I know I should’ve been there–but I wasn’t.
No. I don’t want to be Jonah. I don’t want be thrown into the sea to be swallowed by a whale. I did not enter the mission field on my own, I was brought here by God. Anyway, I just got off the plane for a mission in Albay. It’s not Niniveh… but Oh Lord, I’m here to serve…