The past week has been one strange week. Many didn’t see this coming the way it did, and I doubt anyone expected state heads to take such measures to ensure public safety.
I’m talking about COVID-19, and the toll it has taken on dentistry, but you probably guessed that already.
It was late afternoon on March 19, when I read our (Washington state) governor’s notice to discontinue all dental and nonessential medical procedures in order to conserve personal protective equipment (PPE) and slow the spread of the virus. As soon I read this, I reposted the notice on one of my dentist groups on WhatsApp, and then proceeded to feel full-on panic.
As I waited for a response from the group, I shared the news with my husband. He understood exactly what I was feeling because we have been in this position before. Last summer, as I was transitioning between visas, I experienced nearly 1.5 months of unemployment. When my sister delivered my niece on my first day of unemployment, I rushed to California to welcome an adorable little distraction! However, after spending a month helping out the new parents, I started to feel antsy again. How long could I go without work?
Turns out, I missed dentistry. I missed my patients, my team and those daily team huddles! I even missed the dental assistant who seemed to miss a lot of Mondays.
In the beginning of my second month of unemployment, I knew I needed to act. I was back in Seattle now, and had my dental office draft a nice letter to our city council, talking about how much revenue they have lost out on due to my absence, and the fact that my team of four was essentially out of work too. The letter also mentioned how I was the only dentist within a three-mile radius in a military heavy town and urged the reader to help speed my work authorization.
Before sending the letter out, I called U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services and told them exactly what was in it. The response I received was “OK, thank you.” Two days later, my husband checked the website and came running out to me, “BABE, YOUR WORK AUTHORIZATION GOT APPROVED!”
I was overjoyed! We did a funny dance around our living room for a good half hour.
I feel the same anxiety now that I did then. Only, our current situation has no clear end in sight. Will we go back to work in May? Will we have enough PPE? We, as dentists, are among the highest risk of infection due of the sheer nature of our work; high aerosol transmission and close contact with team members and patients. Mostly, will it be safe out there?
Just when I was starting to feel another wave of anxiety come over me, I noticed the funniest joke on that WhatsApp group, “Who else is stress eating with me? #fatteningthecurves.” One of my favorite Instagram doctors started this group as a means for Washington state dentists to remain in touch with one another. Most of the dentists on this group own practices and have more things to worry about than a young associate like myself; paying practice loans, coordinating with accountants, and laying off precious employees. All that didn’t stop them from finding humor and positivity in this situation. They spent most of that night posting silly gifs, sharing reasons to be thankful, and looking for ways to donate their stocks of PPE to local hospitals.
It made me realize that yes, we are looking at a challenging time ahead, both financially and emotionally, but there’s still a lot for us to learn, experience and be thankful for.
I’m thankful for my friends in the medical community who are working around the clock to take care of our patients. I’m thankful for our researchers who are spending long nights working on potential vaccines, and government officials who are helping distribute testing kits throughout the country. I’m comforted by the realization that I’m in a city where everyone has been so supportive of one another, and while we also see toilet paper off of the shelves for the foreseeable future, we hear of volunteers coming together to sew masks, donate supplies to hospitals, and support local businesses with reviews, gift cards and take-out orders, despite of having small budgets themselves.
We are all in this together, hang in there. We are going to be okay.
Dr. Sampada Deshpande is a general dentist practicing in Seattle. A foreign trained dentist from India, she completed her DDS equivalency from the University of Washington in 2018. Sampada is a founding member of the New Dentist Business Study Club and a contributing member of her local Spear Study Club. Originally from Dubai, she looks forward to her weekly Bollywood dance class, hiking the beautiful PNW with her husband, and reading books on Finance & Management. You can reach her directly @dr.deshpande on Instagram.