I had an exciting day today with the medical delegation in Corozal! I got to spend the day in the dentist area translating for several of the dentists. Yesterday I spoke with Kathy because I wanted to learn about what the dentists did at the clinics. I talked to Tom, who had translated before for the dentists, about what words and phrases I needed to know. I also talked to one of the dentists, Brad, about what I needed to know. I wrote down what they told me and when I got home I looked up all the words and worked on the phrases. I had my little cheat sheet if I needed it and I had Kathy look at it to give me some tips as well.
Some of the words I needed to remember were: tooth, toothache, gums, swelling, inflammation, numb, mouth, sleeping, injection, pressure, tongue, bleeding, medication, pharmacy. Some of the phrases I needed to remember were: open your mouth, close your mouth, does this hurt, raise your hand if you have pain, your mouth will go to sleep, do you feeling anything in your tongue, the dentist needs to fill your tooth, the dentist needs to pull your tooth, the dentist will give you an anesthetic, hold this gauze, only eat soft food, etc. I knew a lot of the words and phrases already but I had to look up the rest. It was a good way for me to learn several new words. I even learned a new verb today: to spit (escupir).
To start, I was working with one of the dentists on an older woman. She had numbed the woman and given her an injection and then the generator which powered the drilling machine broke. I’m not sure exactly what happened but we didn’t have power for about a half hour. She seemed a little nervous so I talked to her about her family, their crops, the war, the new church in Corozal, and the Bible. I usually don’t talk too much about the war or religion unless I’m sure the person is comfortable but she actually started telling me about the war. She talked about poverty before and after the war, the poor quality of the crops this year, and all the things that were prophesized in the Bible coming true. This seemed to relax her so I just listened.
They finally got the generator started and we were back to work. The woman told me that the first time she had a filling she didn’t have any anesthetic. Yikes!! I told her the shot would help a lot and she shouldn’t feel pain but might feel some pressure. She did well and the dentist was able to fill her two cavities without any problems. I felt better after translating for my first patient. I was worried that I’d botch something huge but it turned out fine.
The next person I translated for was a 3-year old boy. He was probably the bravest person I saw all day. He had to have several injections and didn’t cry at all. He didn’t even cry when he got one into the roof of his mouth which is especially painful. He had to have four teeth pulled. Ow! This was the first time I’d even seen a tooth being pulled. It was gross and interesting at the same time. My stomach felt a little weird at first but that soon passed. Afterwards he held the gauze in his mouth and got a sticker. What a brave little guy!
The next woman was older and seemed concerned about having her teeth pulled. I talked to her and held her hand. The dentist would say something and I translated for her so she’d know what was going on. She almost got weepy at the end but she did well overall. It’s definitely understandable that someone would be afraid of having their teeth pulled out. I have a reoccurring nightmare where my teeth are falling out. I’m not sure exactly what that means. But I do know that I’m always terrified in the dream.
Then I translated for the little 3-year olds dad. We told him that his son did well so he’d probably do well too. And he was a trooper. He had two teeth pulled and ended up needing a few stitches because of all the bleeding. That was interesting to watch. One thing I noticed was the smell of the blood. I’m not sure exactly what it smelled like but there was a distinct odor when I was close to people who had some teeth pulled. Maybe iron or halitosis? Of course, I didn’t say anything. That’d be extremely rude. Plus, my mouth would also smell funny if I had teeth extracted.
The next case was harder. The little girl was 9 years old and needed to have a couple teeth looked at. The dentist explained to me that she didn’t know the extent of the damage of the two problem teeth (no x-ray machines here). She would have to drill and find out how deep the cavity was. If it was too deep to fill then she’d need to have them pulled. I explained this to the mom and she seemed a little hesitant. She didn’t really want to have them pulled. I had to explain to her several times that the tooth really needed either a filling or to be pulled. I then explained that they were baby teeth and would fall out eventually anyway. She was satisfied with this and gave the dentist permission to pull the teeth if need be. It was a good thing I explained many times because the two teeth did need to be pulled. I also learned a new word: baby teeth = dientes de leche (literally translated- milk teeth).
The little 3-year girl I had next was the hardest. She needed to have two teeth pulled. She did well with the numbing gel and with the first injection. However, when it came time to give her the second injection as soon as the dentist put the needle in her mouth she starting squirming and he had to take out the needle. I tried explaining to her that it would only take a little longer and that it would help her not have any pain. But she kept her mouth clamped shut and wouldn’t open it. Eventually, she ended up laying down on the laps of her mother and the dentist so he could give her the last injection and pull the two teeth. She was not happy about that and cried quite a bit. I felt so bad for her and sad that I couldn’t help more. But it was a relief that the dentist was able to pull the teeth and prevent future problems.
After that we had a break for lunch. We drove a short distance to Wilma and David’s house to eat. I was excited to see them again. They greeted us with big hugs that always make me feel very welcome. We had chicken, vegetables, tortillas, and pasta salad. It was delicious and I quickly ate all my food. We all sat around and chatted for a while. The Wesley group from the University of Iowa was there as well and it was nice to talk to them. But soon we had to head back to work. I hugged Wilma & David goodbye and said I hoped to see them soon.
When I returned I started helping with a 12-year old boy who needed a filling. He did really well and the dentist was able to finish up quickly. Next was a 12-year old girl. She came in alone and was carrying a purse. I instantly knew I liked her because I could tell she was independent and determined. She got a little scared when we were doing the injections but stayed strong. The dentist was trying to hide the needle from her before the injection but she was too smart. I gave her my hand and she squeezed it as tight as she could. She had to have three teeth pulled but they were all baby teeth. One of the teeth was preventing a permanent tooth from growing into the right spot. After the first tooth was pulled I gave her a sticker. She got another one after the second and one more after the third. When we were finished she put them all on her purse, thanked us, and strode out of the room. What an amazing young lady!!
We had another little girl after lunch who needed to have three teeth pulled and was afraid to get injections. For a while I didn’t know if we’d be able to finish because she didn’t want to open her mouth. But we managed to coax her into opening her mouth. I told her and several other little girls today how brave and strong they were. Stronger than the boys, I told them. This usually made them smile. The two girls I worked with after lunch both told me they liked math. I tried to encourage them and tell them how impressed I was and said we needed more women in the field of math. I like to encourage education every chance I get.
I realize it may seem odd that children so young need to have their teeth removed as opposed to just filled or left alone until they fall out. Unfortunately, people in the cantons often lack the awareness and resources for proper dental hygiene. A lot of kids have really rotten teeth that have to be pulled. I love seeing the kids in the communities smile but it breaks my heart when I see how brown and jagged their teeth are. I’m glad they’re only baby teeth and hope that by the time they get their permanent teeth they’ll have the means to be able to take of their teeth. I wish it were easier but people here still face a lot of barriers when it comes to healthy teeth and gums.
Next was a man in his 30s. He had two cavities; one was in a tooth in front and another in the back. Similar to a situation I encountered in the morning, the dentist couldn’t tell the extent of the damage so he’d need to drill into the tooth and fill it if he could. But if he couldn’t, then it would need to be pulled. I explained this to him and he looked really weary. So I had a Salvadoran translator repeat what I’d told him because I wanted to be absolutely certain he understood me and know we’d probably need to pull his tooth.
Earlier one of the dentists told me that younger males, the ones who are typically more “macho,” usually have the hardest time with having teeth pulled. And I found this to be true. This man and another guy had a very hard time today. The person I was helping looked like he was about to throw up at any second. I actually moved to the side at one point so I’d be out of the line of fire if he did get sick. The guy in the chair next to him looked like he was going to faint. They had to stop the procedure so he could rest. I felt really bad for him. He looked like I often look when people are taking my blood: hot, nauseous, and light-headed. That’s just not a pleasant feeling.
By the time I left for the day I’d spent about 6 hours with the dentists. I have to say that the dentists with this delegation are amazing! They have so much patience, practice, and a great ability to problem solve. I felt honored to be able to spend some time with them and learn about what they do. They really do a great service to the people here. Plus it was a wonderful experience for me to practice translating.
Later that night, back at the Pastoral House, the ladies decided we should go out to the festival for dinner. It’s been fun being able to go out at night during the festival. There are rides, street vendors, lots of crafts, and a ton of people. We sat down at a table and ordered some food. I ended up having chicken and rice. It was delicious after a long day. After dinner we went inside a store that had been set up for the festival. They were selling jewelry, clothes, key chains, and other trinkets. I ended up getting a colorful, cloth headband that was made in El Salvador. We didn’t make it back home until 10pm. It didn’t take long to get to sleep.
Squeezed into the backseat
The set up crew plus some supplies
People were waiting for us
Someone's not happy
She was a little shy
All dressed up to see the doctor
This woman came to the dentist later on
Waiting to be seen
Kathy and her kids
The medical delegation sees a lot of people
Bathroom at the school
The school has solar power
Beautiful little girls
The dentist area being set up
There were four stations for filling and pulling
Gloves, gauze, cotton swabs, etc.
The bowls in back are used to clean the tools
The rest of the group arrives
Trying to fix the generator
Our first patient
The three year old boy
1 dentist, 1 assisstant, 1 head holder, 1 translator
She needed 2 teeth pulled
A brave little girl
The machine used for fillings
Lots of activity in the room
She wanted nothing to do with having teeth pulled
Quick break for lunch
No, Pedro, you cannot pull out my teeth
This poor guy had a hard time
She had a lot of teeth pulled
9 bad teeth
I gave her stickers and talked to her,
but she didn't want to talk
Cleaning the instruments so they can be used again today
The dentists in action
He had to have a front tooth pulled
She did her best not to cry
Bravely awaiting the injections
What an adorable little girl!
Saying goodbye to people