This is the second blog about our second dental outreach trip to Jamaica. Here’s the first blog, wherein I mainly talked about preparing to go down and how much better we were at it (compared to 2015!). Now, in this blog, I’m going to be telling some stories about what happened in the clinics. The good, the bad, and the really ugly stuff… And how we had to adapt to keep going. In the next blog, I’ll talk about some of the funny things that happened in and outside of the clinics. In the fourth blog, I’ll discuss some shock and awe that we experienced. And in the final blog, I’ll talk about reverse culture shock.
By way of background, our Canadian contingent was pretty much divided into 3 groups: a small resort clinic (which had 1 dentist + 1 hygienist + 1 assistant and who worked on resort staff); a clinic at the Town of Little London and another clinic at the settlement of Grange Hill. The latter 2 clinics had about 12 or so volunteers.
Team Little London!
Team Grange Hill (with community volunteers!)
Clinic Set Up
Each clinic had 7 chairs. 2 of those chairs were used for hygiene. 1 chair for a dental student. And the remaining 4 chairs for dentists. We had a sterilization room with 2 autoclaves, ultrasonic bath, etc. In terms of sundries, we would initially set up the clinic with what we thought we needed and then make a supplies list every day for things we needed. Then we’d just go to the supplies room back at the resort and pack up what we needed for the next day. That’s how we got through the week. Our supplies were pretty well organized at the clinic.
Over the course of the 5 days that we volunteers, harsh working conditions coupled with equipment failures made it difficult (but not impossible) to work. Over at Little London, here’s how dental hygienist Jazz Chohan described it:
“Where do I start? Ergonomically, this was the worst week of my life. I’ve worked the hardest I’ve ever worked. My arm was killing me by day 3. My chair stopped going back. I couldn’t use suction. I didn’t have water. So no cavitron. The next day, they sent me a cavitron that didn’t work. I was doing hand scale the entire week. I do hand scaling at home; but I’ve never done anything this. Our compressors kept failing; we only had 1 sterilizer for most of the week until we got a second one. The second one came was taking too long (old autoclave); took a long time to get things cleaned vs. the 30 minutes for the other one. There were set backs with the availability of the equipment and also the use; assistant wasn’t trained so he wasn’t putting things into the autoclave strategically.”
Typical work station over at Little London
Dental Hygienist Jazz Chohan
Over at Grange Hill, we had cavitrons stop working, compressors fail (due to fuses being tripped), equipment not being available (we were waiting a few times for syringes to get sterilized). On our first day there, our saliva ejectors weren’t fitting properly into our adec units! Oh no!
Here’s the key thing to remember: be prepared for things to stop working. When they do, try your best to fix them and when you can’t, call in the experts. There were a few guys like Oshane and Roshane and Richard who worked with Great Shape! Inc. and who were sometimes available to help us with our equipment problems. But when they weren’t around and it didn’t look like we were going to get a working cavitron, we had to IMPROVISE. In our case, when we didn’t have syringes ready, I put all of our hygienists to work doing cleanings. This gave the dentists a break. Only 2 cavitrons were working and we typically had 5 hygienists, so I would send the little boys and girls to 3 hygienists to do hand-scaling and the older folks would go to the hygienists who were using the cavitrons. Then, once we got the syringes working again, the hygienists went back to assisting the dentists on extractions and fillings. Like I said: ADAPT! And when we noticed that the saliva ejectors weren’t fitting, we made some ‘adapters’ by cutting other surgical saliva ejectors to make it all work. And it did!
Another way in which we had to adapt involved registration. At first, it was just me doing registrations alongside DJ of Great Shape! Inc. Then we decided to get Dr. Christina Bodea to do triage. And her husband Stefan Atalick started helping out with the ticketing system. Things were going slow, but people were getting registered. But because we had a huge lineup outside our door on the first day, we needed to speed things up. So we decided to set up another table and have more people help with registration. This helped ease the tension and it definitely sped things up. I would register people on Mondays through Wednesday and DJ would register on Thursdays and Fridays. I only wish we would have done this from the beginning!
Grange Hill Set Up
Team Grange Hill getting instructions from Oshane about equipment
Over at Little London, they also had to adapt to their environment. They had a hygienist named Carla (their team leader who had done this mission trip before) who was able to freeze patients so the doctors would simply come over and start their treatment. She was trained in the U.S. on how to do this; apparently, Canadian hygienists aren’t allowed. This helped speed things up at their clinic. Another way in which team Little London got ahead of the 8 ball was by dividing the roles of patient intake (Jonathan Borrelli, DMC LLP) and patient flow (Anthony Archer, Henry Schein) after the first day. This helped speed things up tremendously.
FYI, here’s a cool time lapse video I took of us working a FULL day at Grange Hill.
And we’re back! This was our second annual dental outreach program in Jamaica. And it was a HUGE SUCCESS! A large group of us went down from September 3-12, 2016. Our volunteer group included Ontario dentists, hygienists, dental students, Henry Schein representatives, dental lawyers (myself and Jonathan Borrelli) and support staff.
The 2016 Dental Outreach Program Volunteers
Now, in this blog, and the next 4, I’m going to get into some of the things that happened when we went down and also when we came back (what Papa Joe calls ‘reverse culture shock’). In blog #2, I’ll talk about the clinic set up, equipment failures and how we adapted to keep going. In blog #3, I’ll talk about working hard and playing hard. In blog #4, I’ll talk about some shock and awe. And in blog #5, I’ll talk about reverse culture shock (when we got home) and some parting thoughts.
Now that we’re all back, I can say without a doubt, it was the best 10 days of the year for me (and likely many other volunteers). Everyone misses each other; the patients; the patties! But before I get started, I’m very happy to report that Oral Health Office magazine will be publishing an article I wrote exclusively for them in the October / November edition of their magazine. I’ll be touching on some of the stories that I couldn’t really get to in that article in these next few blogs… so shall we begin?
1 Year in the Making
When I returned home on September 6, 2015 from our first Jamaica dental outreach program, we got to work on promoting the success of that year’s program, as well as recruiting for our 2016 program. We were featured in the Toronto Star on December 26, 2015 (HERE). An article I wrote (HERE) about the experience was published in Oral Health Office. Ontario Dentist magazine acknowledged some of our volunteers who were featured in the media, as well as Dr. Tim Milligan (whose speech at the U of T Gala motivated me to start the whole program) (which you can read about HERE). And then we went on the road… talking to dentists and dental students about the program. I figured the hardest year was behind us and we could do a much better job recruiting and preparing volunteers the second time around. I was right…
Sending Down Supplies
The first year, we hit a couple of snags when it came to sending down supplies. Some dentists sent supplies down. Some brought them down with them. We also got a sizeable donation from Henry Schein, Patterson Dental, and K-Dental which we shipped down. We didn’t really know how to deal with all the logistics of getting our supplies down to Florida and then to Jamaica. There were delays. We had to spend weeks figuring out all the paperwork. It cost us a lot of money too. But at the end of the day, we got our supplies down there.
This time around, we got even more supplies. 20 large rubbermaid containers full. Plus, Dr. Monica Dinca – Toronto; Dr. Calvin Pike – Endo; Kitchener-Waterloo; and Dr. Joseph Da Costa – Toronto all donated sundries and equipment… and they weren’t even able to volunteer! I was shocked by their generosity.
Thankfully, we managed to use a different shipping company to get everything down and it arrived punctually right before we did!
Dr. Monica Dinca (General Dentist – Toronto) poses alongside her donation of equipment and sundries.
Notice the chair here in Jamaica? It came from Dr. Monica Dinca’s office!
Dr. Calvin Pike (Endo – Kitchener Waterloo) and his wonderful team pose next to their donation of sundries. Who’s car is that?
This was MOST BUT NOT ALL of the stuff that we packed up at DMC LLP to ship down to Jamaica. It took a few days to get it done.
In terms of preparing to go down, we were better this year than last. Thanks to Dr. Christina Bodea and her husband Stefan Atalick, we were able to put together a preparation guide (which you can see HERE) about what to expect when going down. It was reviewed / edited by myself and Papa Joe and Salli Jo and the end result was this: everyone had a better understanding of what to expect for the week. Having done the program twice, I think there’s definitely room for adding more. I also sent out a series of e-mails throughout the months leading up to our departure to discuss things like: airplane tickets, paperwork, meeting up for a photo-op at our ASM after-party, and how to avoid getting bitten by mosquitos and sand fleas.
Some of our volunteers met up at our ODA ASM After-Party to get this shot. Oh Stefan!
I know you’re very interested in the whole ‘how to avoid getting bitten’ part, so here is the email I sent out (for the record, everyone commented about how little they were bitten throughout the trip because of my tips ;-):
Sand Fleas – also known as “No See Ums”
In terms of next steps, I will likely send out one (1) more email before our trip so you can can be best prepared for our 10 day trip. But I did want to mention something important – preventing bites from Sand Fleas, also called “No See Ums”. The Caribbean beaches are plagued by sand fleas. You can’t see them. You won’t know when you’re bit. Typically, you’ll wake up the next morning with a rash somewhere and think there are bed bugs. That’s them! And they likely bit you the day before. They bite your feet and ankles and legs while you’re sitting on the beach working on your tan. And their bites are rash-like, itch and swell and don’t go away. Last year, some volunteers didn’t follow my advice and ended up getting bitten pretty bad (needing to see the nurse and getting some injections). Those volunteers would say something like: “Oh, I never get bitten”. My suggestion to have a an enjoyable trip: put your egos away and follow my advice (I tend not to get bitten by mosquitos or sand fleas when I’m travelling through the Caribbean):
Following my suggestions should result in a comfortable trip where you can enjoy the beach. You won’t be trying to scratch your legs while you’re trying to pull out a tooth at one of the clinics 😉
Think about it like this: I have to take a team of 10-15 strangers per clinic and get them to make a temporary dental office work for 5 full days. Things will break down. That’s guaranteed. The working conditions are harsh (hot; humid; fans blow hot air at you; low light; mosquitos; etc.). And there’s a huge demand for dental treatments and cleanings (hundreds of people lined up outside). So you’ll definitely need a positive attitude. And then you need to make sure that the team members get along throughout it all. Make sure you have dominant / leadership personalities paired up with detail-oriented worker bees, social butterflies, and highly-structured steadies to keep everyone together. You can’t have too much of one personality (particularly dominant personalities) or else there will be drama. And that’s the worst thing ever when you’re down there: when you’re not having fun anymore because of internal bickering. Thankfully, we didn’t have any this year at our 2 clinics. I was so happy it worked out.
In the next blog, I’ll talk about what happened when we actually got to Jamaica…
I’m so very pleased to announce that Oral Health Office magazine will be publishing my article entitled “Mission Accomplished! 2015 Jamaica Dental Outreach Project” in the October edition, which is going to be mailed out to thousands of dentists across Ontario. I’m particularly proud of this program and our participants. Kudos to you! Modern day heroes! Here is the article (FYI, you can click HERE to read all of our articles):
I’m excited to announce that I was recently interviewed by the Toronto Star about our 2015 Jamaica Dental Outreach Program. It is a great blessing to receive that kind of recognition for our worthy program. Hopefully, it will convince more dentists, hygienists, dental students and support staff to attend in future years.
I will keep you posted when that article comes out…
I’ve said it before: serendipity. That’s how I described discovering a an initiative that allowed us to bring Ontario dentists down to Jamaica to do volunteer dental outreach. That was on my birthday in September 2014. And when we went down for our inaugural year, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew it would be hard, challenging work. But oh so rewarding too! And I hoped that, if all went well, we would continue to build the program year and after year so that dentists, hygienists, students and support staff could benefit from this amazing program. But was that enough?
No. There had to be something bigger that we could do. We’d come this far. What’s a little extra? But what was that little extra? I had to experience the week. Observe. Ask questions. And let my environment affect me. And so it did…
In the van, on the way down to the clinic, I asked Salli-Jo about Great Shape! Inc.’s goals. She said that her and Papa Joe were extremely grateful to the Sandals Foundation for accommodating volunteers each year for 3-4 months. And then she talked about establishing a public dental clinic that operated year round to offer free dental services to Jamaicans. The government would (hopefully) donate the land. And they needed money to build the clinic (plus accommodations). It would (hopefully) be on a beach property and have accommodations to host North American and Jamaican dentists, hygienists, dental students and support staff all year round. And it would be strategically positioned: just a bus ride from almost everywhere in Jamaica so that people could come from all over to be treated.
A light bulb suddenly appeared over my head. “That’s my new goal!” I proclaimed. We would help Great Shape! Inc. raise money, get donations and bring dentist volunteers (among others) down to Jamaica to provide free dental care when their regular program was not running. This would allow impoverished Jamaicans to be treated year-round. This also works out well for us in Canada during the winter months (who wouldn’t want to escape to Jamaica in January / February / March?).
So that is our new goal: raise $1-million to establish a free public dental clinic that can accommodate Jamaica and North American dentists, hygienists, and support staff year long.
How do we get there?
I’ll be the first to admit: I’ve never done this before and I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to be doing. I figure setting up a Canadian charity is a good start. So we’ll get started on that. Then comes raising awareness of our initiative and fundraising.
I needed ideas… Then, coincidentally, last week, I was invited to attend the “Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation” annual gala / fundraising event. What I saw was truly inspiring: individuals from all walks of life (including celebrities like Dwight Drummond, comedian Jay Martin, Karl Hale, and Mike “Pinball” Clemens) had come together to raise more than $1-million over a 10 year period to help build schools in Jamaica. There were silent and not-so-silent auctions. And people gave generous amounts of money for this worthy cause. So now I had an idea of what kind of event we could eventually have to raise money.
So what can we do to raise money? Well, I think we will need to lead by example. So we will be ponying up money for our own cause. My hope is, when others see what we’re trying to do, and how we have a great team in place to make sure it happens, coupled with our drive, that they will donate as well.
Now, there’s a big difference between just donating money (e.g. as a gift of cash in a Will, or to get a charitable tax receipt) and what we are going to do: donors can actually EXPERIENCE the goal. Right now, dentists, hygienists, dental students, and support staff can actually come down to Jamaica with us each year and treat locals through the Sandals Foundation and Great Shape! Inc. Then, once our dental practice is established, they can come and stay there too! They can see their donation in action. It’s not like raising money and building a school you may never visit. You will actually be living and working and enjoying the very thing that you contributed to. And I think it will be addictive: to reunite for a few days a year with a group of like-minded individuals to give back to a worthy cause. To build your own little legacy. I’ve heard it described by one dentist who regularly participates as: the best week of the year which I look forward all year round.
My hope is that our free public dental clinic will have all the bells and whistles of a top-notch dental practice here in Canada. So I will be looking for ongoing donations for equipment and supplies from our Canadian and U.S. manufacturers and distributors. And to make our volunteers comfortable and excited about coming down, my hope is that will be able to offer all inclusive amenities in addition to the warmth (which is often missing in Canada). The best of both worlds… And I hope we’re the busiest dental practice in Jamaica year round. I’m also hoping there will be opportunities for cooperation / sharing of knowledge with local Jamaican dental and hygiene students, dentists and hygienists so that they can take what they’ve learned and experienced with them wherever they end up.
Now: we can’t do this on our own. We need your help. We are committed for the long haul. It will be our legacy and (hopefully) yours too. Once we accomplish this formidable and worthy goal, we will have created something from nothing that will give back for the benefit of thousands of people today and tomorrow (hopefully long after we’ve passed). Isn’t that what life’s all about? Make the world a better place…
One love and Triple P 😉
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