Archive for February, 2010

A Fish Out Of Water

A Fish Out Of Water

Today I went to Wentz Medical Clinic for the day to do dentistry in their “clinic”. I use that term loosely because there is one room with a dental chair and very few dental instruments. There is no dental assistant. Thank God, Dr. Ken, one of the part-time dentists there was there to help me. Bonnie ended up going back to the Loving Hearts Baby Home and as the day wore on I became jealous that I wasn’t holding those precious babies all day!

Dr. Ken is a fantastic dentist given the conditions within which he works. Although his accent was thick and culturally, Ugandans are very soft spoken compared to us loud Americans, we got along well. He warned me that they “improvised” a lot due to lack of funding and supplies.

This, of course, was the understatement of the year. This place makes the Free Clinic look like a state-of-the-art facility. There is an x-ray machine but I don’t know why, we didn’t take one x-ray all day. As far as I can tell, no one gets one. They even have a computer (I think the one I used to own in 1990- j/k) but I wouldn’t see a need for it since we didn’t turn it on.

There are few instruments and once they are used, they soaked in water in a plastic basin in the sink until we run out. Then they get sterilized. I wasn’t invited to see the sterilization area (hmmm…) but the instruments came out hot so something was done to them. There is no bagging of instruments, no wiping down between patients, no cold sterile and no patient bibs. In addition, we literally used the same handpiece and bur all day on everyone. He used my Lysol anti-bacterial hand foam to wipe it down between patients, I think mostly to appease me. We also used the same 3 plastic suctions tips all day (remember, there is no cold sterile so they just soak in bloody water in between patients).

There is no articulating paper, just bite and grind. There is no floss. There are no toothbrushes (only the ones I brought). The toothpaste I brought was prescribed as a fluoride treatment. Teeth that would have been surgically removed in the US are “man-handled” until they come out.

I did a root canal – there is no rubber dam and the endo files have caked on debris from previous use. If you feel pain during treatment, that’s too bad. There isn’t enough anesthetic for you to get more than one injection. In fact, you’re lucky that you got one at all. Many patients had work done without being numb (not by their choice).

Did I mention that the suction apparatus barely works. It’s more for looks, I think. The overhead light went out mid-day. Luckily, I brought a camping headlight to illuminate the working field. After lunch, the dental unit stopped delivering water to the handpiece and the air/ water syringe but that didn’t phase Dr. Ken and it didn’t stop us from doing fillings the rest of the afternoon.

Needless to say, it is SO DIFFERENT here. I asked Dr. Ken to alternate procedures with me so I could learn from him. He stated that he’d prefer learning from me but then acquiesced when he started to gather that, as a spoiled American dentist, I was completely out of my element.

In terms of the overall experience, I realized how wasteful we are in the US. They use EVERYTHING here, even when it’s unusable. The money just isn’t here to live or practice any other way. Dr. Ken loved the gauze I brought but used only one 2X2 until it was barely recognizable. I offered him more but he refused. Whenever I mixed IRM for him, which they use as a base under amalgam fillings, he told me I mixed too much. Mind you the mix I made was about ½ of what I would have mixed back home.

I find myself feeling guilty that we have so much and are so wasteful with what we have. Considering the treatment environment and experience, I also find myself awed at how grateful our patients were that we would see them!

Back home, we practice within medico-legal considerations. In Uganda, you get what you get and you wouldn’t even dare question the doctor. In the US, the doctor gives you all your options. In Uganda, the dentist tells you what you’re going to get and expects no crying or carrying on. We cater to our patients much more in the US.

Overall take home message today…thank God each day that you have access to the caliber of care that you do. Thank God that you have choices. Thank God that you live in the land of plenty and consider donating to those who are not as fortunate to have been born on your continent. We have it good!

Tomorrow we will take a 2 ½ hour bus ride to another town where there is a big pediatric AIDS hospital. We will be delivering blankets to the kids and loving on them. If you’re like me your probably wondering why they would need blankets in Africa. Isn’t it hot?!

The weather here has been great. It’s not too hot but very humid. Today it rained on and off all day and tonight was very cool. Bonnie and I both put long sleeves on!

We will be spending tomorrow night in the town by the hospital so, we won’t have internet access. I’ll post again in a couple days.

Thanks for following our journey!


February 26, 2010 at 12:36 PM 1 comment

An Overwhelming Day

Wow, I don’t even know if I’d know how to put today into words. Let me start off by saying that after a team meeting and briefing, we were taken on a tour of a few of ARM’s projects in the city of Kampala.
Our first stop was the “baby house”. This ministry called Loving Hearts Babies House takes in abandoned babies. The home currently has 5 babies under 12 months and one little girl 18 months old. When mother’s give birth to a child that they either can’t afford or don’t want, they abandon them. Often leaving them in the streets. The police and local clinics work with the home by notifying them so that they can take the child in and nurse them back to health. Karo, the 18 month old girl, weighs under 8 lbs. She is the cutest girl ever but is so malnourished and failing to thrive. She has been at the house for 2 weeks and has shown tremendous improvement thanks to this wonderful place.
What a way to start the morning! Talk about getting serious! The children are beautiful and behave typically for their age. They want to be held and played with and rocked while drinking their bottles. In fact, many of the toys they have are very similar to what my boys played with at that age. The sponsorship for this home was donated by a Southern California family. But they continue to need donations to keep this valuable service going.
The caretakers are phenomenal and genuinely love these children. It was quite humbling so see such pure love.
We ate a delicious lunch there. It was basically some beef stew; rice, beans, some kind of green cabbage and a tomato and avocado salad. It was very good!
After that we visited the Wentz Medical Center where we saw a boy suffering from malaria and learned about the medical challenges in the community. They do have one dental chair with equipment and I will spend some time there tomorrow.
After that we visited the Gaba Bible Institute where a friend of ours is the principle and then went to do a heart wrenching project….pass out food (thanks to Children’s Hunger Fund – an amazing organization) to the needy in one of the slums of Kampala.
Everywhere we go, we are attract kids as if we were rock stars. Kids call out “Muzungu!! Muzungu!!” and wave at us. Muzungu means “white”. Many of these kids have never seen a white person before so we draw quite a crowd of followers. Most of the kids grab our hands and walk with us and want to touch our skin and grab the men’s arm hair (Ugandan men don’t grow hair on their arms). They also wonder if our skin color is real or if we’ve painted ourselves.
Everyone is very friendly and the kids love having their picture taken because they want to see it immediately on our cameras. The kids who can afford to go to school learn English so communicating with them is not too difficult.
To many of these kids, meeting a Muzungu is a privilege because they think all white people are rich. Some of them have even bowed at our feet as a sign of respect.
The slums are indescribable. Pictures and explanation do not do it justice. People live in rented homes the size of my boy’s bathroom with many, many family members. During the day, the kids run around outside and play in the street where goats, chickens and cows roam freely. The streets are littered with trash and when it accumulates, they burn it. There is always an odd odor in the air, although, I was expecting it to be worse, so I don’t find it offensive at all.
Streams run through the slum but they are loaded with trash and animal excrement. But that doesn’t stop the kids from exploring them. We even saw children playing “king of the mountain” on a sand hill that must have been left over from a construction project.
Illnesses in this area are rampant due to the conditions and poverty. One lady I met, Anna, who we delivered food asked us to pray for her leg. She broke it 5 years ago and couldn’t afford to go to the doctor to get it fixed so she has been lame for 5 years. She sits in her doorway and watches life go by. Her leg is deformed where the break is and remains significantly swollen when compared to her other leg.
She also asked us to pray for her daughter, Sara, a beautiful 17 year old who has been having pain in her left breast for some time.
We also visited Patricia who is likely younger than me and has been experiencing noticeable tremors for 7 years. She can’t do anything because it makes her dizzy. She also can’t afford to see a doctor (Wentz Medical Clinic charges $1.25 for a visit; the other hospitals charge $15). So, she lives with it and continues to give a contagious smile. But she believes in the power of prayer and asked us to pray for her.
As we were leaving the slums, kids followed us to our bus. I’m struck by how amazingly beautiful they are. In Hollywood, they would immediately have agents. But they will likely continue to live in these slums their whole lives.
That is why Africa Renewal Ministries (ARM) is so wonderful. Through donations (92% of their sponsorship comes from the US), they currently house, feed, nurse and educate 5200 kids in Uganda. Their goal is to have 7000 kids under sponsorship by the end of the year.
For what we ladies pay for a pedicure each month, you could be saving a child’s life, literally. About $40 a month feeds, clothes, educates and covers the medical expenses of a child who should have every opportunity in life as our own children do.
Please consider them when making charitable contributions. I’m seeing it with my own eyes. These are organizations that work.
I have so many pictures to show you but the internet here is dial up and pictures don’t load well.  So, when I have better luck, I will post some.

February 25, 2010 at 12:24 PM 4 comments

First Impressions

Everything has gone smoothly so far. It was very cold in London but we managed knowing that we would soon be on the equator!

All of the African people we met on our 8 ½ hour flight to Entebbe airport were lovely! We met a man named Ceasar who had been on a business trip to Spain and was returning home to Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. He was very congenial and proud to tell us all about his country and all that we would encounter. He even told us about the history of political unrest but reassured us that conditions are stable and that we should have no problems.

Our flight had a lot of young children and a lot of missionaries from various organizations. I noticed a Caucasian husband and wife who were likely in their 50’s, who had adopted 2 African children (a boy and a girl) when they were infants. The seemed to be roughly 5-6 years old and they were returning to Africa for the first time for a visit. They were so sweet!

All of the travelers were very polite and well dressed. I realized how causal and often aloof we are in the US.

As we deplaned, we were struck by the humidity. Since we were all wearing our London gear, we soon began to feel uncomfortable, but at least it wasn’t too hot. And wouldn’t you know Bonnie and I were bit by mosquitoes within the first 30 minutes of landing! Luckily we are both taking the malaria pills. Malaria, a preventable and curable disease kills 320 Ugandans a day! Yes, that’s right A DAY! Mostly, this is due to lack of education on how to reduce the risk of getting malaria and getting treatment.

All of the team and their luggage arrived safely and we were met by Africa Renewal Ministries (ARM) staff with buses to take us to our guest house. Along the 1 ½ hour ride from the airport to our cottage, we saw a lot of nightlife, mostly men, hanging out, listening to music at local pubs and even gambling! I spotted a small “casino”. It looked like our US laundry mats except with slot machines.

The nightlife seems to go well into the night as we we’re driving through town at 1 am and the party seemed to be in full force. We noticed very few women out and even noticed an obvious “lady of the night”.

As we drove along Lake Victoria, the breeze was refreshing and we were thankful for it. While we drove through darkness, I did notice that the silhouette in the distance looked much like Southern California’s hillsides with scattered lights. I can’t wait to see what it looks like tomorrow in daylight.

Our guest house is very nice. Bonnie and I are sharing a room to ourselves. Our beds have mosquito nets and a fan! We feel very blessed to be in such nice accommodations.

February 24, 2010 at 12:32 PM 2 comments

Strangers in a Foreign Loand

So, you wouldn’t imagine England to be so different than the States given that we speak the same language. But clearly…we are tourists here. We are hyper-aware of everything including driving on the “wrong” side of the road, the very cool English accents and the way everyone looks at us. They can SOOO tell we are rookies around here. For example, Bonnie called shotgun in the cab, but sat it the driver’s side by accident!

Everything is seems so charming and fascinating! We walked over the bridge on the River Thames and I believe took pictures of “the castle” in Windsor (we ventured out in the dark of night so, it could’ve really been anything, but it looked cool!)

The money seemed a bit of a challenge (converting pounds to dollars). That’s one thing you take for granted at home. You know how much a dollar is worth when buying an item and can easily tell if you’re getting ripped off or not!

We ate at Brown’s pub and restaurant. We had our hearts set on “Bangers and Mash” but they were sold out! Argggghhh! So we decided on fish and chips and a pint of cider. It was all yummy.

Back at the hotel, I managed to trip the circuit by plugging in my computer with the converter so my team got a nice laugh out of that one. And this morning we couldn’t figure out how to turn off the shower! We literally had to have someone from housekeeping come turn it off! Oy!

And the comedy of errors are happening in a country similar to ours! Can you imagine once we get to Uganda?

February 22, 2010 at 11:55 PM 7 comments

On Our Way to London!

Genesis 12:1

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”

Bonnie and I arrived to LAX’s Tom Bradley International Terminal around 4:00 pm. After a teary curbside good-bye with my boys and our husbands, we made our way into the terminal to weave through the maze of queue lines to get to British Airways bag drop off. Since our husbands had already taken care of checking us in at home and printing our boarding passes, the details of our trip were not on the forefront of our minds.

So when I walked up to the counter and the nice man asked me what flight number I was on, I was clueless! So I said “I don’t know!” and I looked back at Bonnie and she shrugged her shoulders too! So we just laughed and laughed.

As we got settled after checking in, Bonnie and I discovered just how much of a leap of faith this has been for both of us. Both of our lives are so busy and full that we haven’t really had time to read our itineraries or to consider how we would be getting from Heathrow airport in London to our hotel! We also realized that neither one of us knew what our fate would be once we landed in Entebbe, Uganda. Would there be a van there to pick us up? Would our trip leaders be there to greet us? Are we supposed to call someone when we get there? Both of our answers to all of those questions were…”I don’t know!” and then we’d laugh!

This trip is truly in God’s hands. In fact, I also realized that I had forgotten to put luggage tags on my checked bags! Oh well, I guess if I’m supposed to do dentistry there then I will. If the bags don’t make it, then God had other plans for us.

As I type this, we are sitting at gate 104 waiting. Our flight is delayed almost an hour. Judging by the amount of people seated in this area, we have a full flight tonight.

Prior to settling into our gate, we ate our “last” Mexican meal at Camacho’s in the terminal. It was divine and just as good as the one at Universal Citywalk. A chocolate craving should kick in at any moment so I am thankful for friends and neighbors who loaded me up with chocolate and other snacks for the flight!

At dinner, Bonnie and I discussed how surreal this all feels! We can’t believe we are about to go to Africa! Who would’ve thought?!

We also find the people watching at the airport fascinating! I like to see what people are reading as they wait patiently for their flights. It also seems like most people have smart phones and are either checking their messages or playing games on them. Bonnie loves seeing all the different ethnicities all in one place. The international terminal is quite exotic!

Next stop – London!

February 22, 2010 at 4:22 PM Leave a comment

My Last "American" Day

I woke up this morning acutely aware of all the “lasts” I will have for a while. For example, my last hot American shower and using the 50 products after the shower that I normally use to get ready. (It’s hard being a woman!).  My last “American” church service for a while (the whole church prayed over me and Bonnie as we prepared for our departure). My last “American” sandwich, although, I had prosciutto so technically, it was an Italian sandwich.

I guess my mind was subconsciously preparing me for a complete shift of cultural experiences.  I have been out of the country before (ie. Mexico, Italy, Canada, etc) Yet, somehow, as I prepare for this trip, it feels different.

I’m also keenly aware of the wonderful people God has placed in my life.  I’m blessed to have wonderful neighbors who posted “Bon Voyage” signs on their garages for me to see on my way to church this morning. I’m blessed to have friends and family who dropped off snacks and goodie bags for my flight. And I’m blessed to have wonderful patients who have put aside their own needs so that I can help others overseas.  In fact, these darling girls and their girl scout troop collected over 1000 pencils, erasers and sharpeners for me to bring to the kids there. And my neighbor and their girl scout troop collected pencils and stickers too!

I have plenty of pictures to post and I haven’t even been there yet! However, I have just packed my camera and since I’m leaving for the airport in 45 minutes, there is no way I would be able to post them right now.  Maybe later while I’m waiting for my flight.

Well, here I go!  I’m going to go outside and watch my boys play basketball until we leave for the airport.
Stay tuned!

February 21, 2010 at 3:16 PM 1 comment

Help! I’m lonely! Follow me!

I know many of you are reading this blog, but are not officially “followers” of the blog. If you are so inclined, please sign up to become an official follower. This helps me know who may be reading this and I can write specifically for my audience, if there would be something of interest.

For example, if I know which dental friends of mine are reading, I might post something like “the steriziliation out here in Uganda would send the CDC into a tail spin…” or if my neighborhood friends are following, I might say something like…”thanks for keeping an eye on my boys while Dom works out in the garage.  CAR!!!!”  🙂

Anyway, I think you get the idea.

Well, today is Saturday. It’s 8:19 am and I’m avoiding getting out of bed. I have so much to do!

In 36 hours, I will be boarding my plane to London. I can’t believe it’s here already!  Occasionally throughout the day, I find myself having a flash of reality and saying “I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M GOING TO UGANDA!” and I freak out for a few minutes and then get back to my routine.

I’m virtually all packed, just have a few items left to get and pack.  I need to go to Costco to stock up for my family. I also need to stop by my office and meet a patient whose girls and girl scout troop managed to collect 1000 pencils and erasers and pencil sharpeners for the kids in Uganda!  I’m so impressed by her efforts to support me on this trip.

The kids in Uganda don’t take anything for granted and are not wasteful.  They use there pencils until they are small little nubs.  You see, they don’t have a surplus of anything and they don’t know when they will get a new pencil again. So they use their supplies wisely. 

This is a foreign concept to us Americans who live in the land of waste and plenty!

These girl scouts were so touched by that bit of knowledged that they wanted to send the kids there a supply of pencils.  They set a goal and made it happen through corporate sponsorship.  I’m so excited to give the pencils out and to bring home video and photos of me passing out the pencils to smiling children.

Tonight, I hope to have my “last supper” American style.  I’m craving a steak and baked  potato.  How blessed am I that I can indulge my cravings…

February 20, 2010 at 9:28 AM 1 comment

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