What I have been thinking a lot about in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is that I don’t think any of us ever dreamed about being called on to help out during a global health crisis or having to close our offices as part of trying to stop the rampant spread of this virus. As updates and advisory notices started pouring in, this went from being something that you heard about on the news that was going on overseas, to being THE topic of conversation everywhere: in person, on social media, on texts and emails.
I work in a Federally Qualified Health Center, and we remain open to be available for emergency patients so that these patients don’t go to hospital emergency rooms and take resources needed for patients with other types of urgent health issues.
After the COVID-19 outbreak hit the United States and the first recommendations for dental offices were released, our director sent out a schedule for the staff at both of our clinics. Hygienists were being sent home until April, and at each office, only one assistant would be working.
At the smaller of our two clinics, the assistant would be doing front office work and also assisting chairside. We are also rotating the schedule, and none of our staff is working full time at this time.
Naturally, panic ensued. Then word came in that we should only be seeing emergency patients. Text chains and emails filled our inboxes and smart devices with recommendations from our local, state and nationwide dental organizations. Patients were called to reschedule their visits, and some called in themselves and wanted to defer being seen.
I must admit that being at work during this time has been very stressful for me as we are inundated with stories from our own cities and around the globe with cases that have had negative outcomes. No one seems immune from this as we’ve seen people who we think would be the pinnacle of health, from professional athletes and actors to our nation’s lawmakers, test positive for the COVID-19.
We can never gauge someone’s pain, we can only hope that they are honest in disclosing their level of pain and the severity of their need to be seen, and above all at this time, that they are forthcoming in their possible symptoms of COVID-19. The balance between being compassionate to someone’s declared oral pain and need for emergency treatment, and my own need to stay healthy and not potentially spread the virus if I somehow contract it but show no symptoms, can be exhausting.
I think for the most part, there are just a couple of reasons that people become dentists, and I think there are also only a couple of things that we picture our lives will be like once we become one.
We want to help people, we like healthy smiles, and for many of us, we picture having our own dental practice. We picture what the operatories will look like, we dream about how big the office will be, the area of town it will be in, and the patients whose lives we will change. The dream may even extend to what it will be like to be a business owner. I stared dental school in 2005 and have been practicing almost 8 years, and I have rarely heard a unique story of how someone decided to become a dentist. But I don’t think there is anything wrong with that at all.
There is so much more to being a dentist than we can dream for ourselves, building up to the day we are licensed and go to work. I certainly never dreamed that I would be sitting in my office, after having had my temperature taken to make sure I don’t have a fever, waiting to see if a patient calls in with a dental emergency so that I can do my small part to divert a patient from the ER. I never dreamed I would be worried that someone would come in to see me, and I would be leery of them having a highly contagious respiratory virus but showing no symptoms of it. I never would have dreamed that I would work somewhere where the building manager would come through with a sheet for us to sign after we used a mask so that we could keep track of how many we have on hand.
Who can measure the grandness of our dreams when we picture what our life will be like starting our career? And while the grandness of our dreams is generally matched by our day-to-day lives working and seeing our patients, it’s the reality of unexpected occurrences in our day-to-day lives that gives depth and breadth to our dreams.
Visit ADA.org/virus for the latest ADA information on COVID-19.
Dr. Elizabeth Simpson is a New Dentist Now guest blogger. She grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in 2010. Liz is a general dentist working full time for two Federally Qualified Health Centers in Anderson and Elwood, Indiana. She is a member of the American Dental Association Institute for Diversity in Leadership program and has started a toothbrushing program at an elementary school in Indianapolis. When she’s not working she enjoys reading, going to the movies, traveling and spending time with her family and friends.