There were lots of smiles that were seen as a result of Mid-South Mission of Mercy’s two day dental clinic on February 10 and 11, during which patients received the care they needed at no cost. Some were instantaneous: a mother seeing her child’s cavities filled- finally; a husband watching as his wife received a root canal from one of the area’s top endodontists; a friend sitting nearby as his companion has her tooth extracted, enduring one more round of pain that will eliminate the near-constant suffering she has sustained because of that one tooth. Some smiles were delayed but for the good reason that a life was possibly saved: a man whose blood pressure was so high the volunteer nurse who took his vitals asked- no, insisted- that he immediately be seen by a doctor (she admitted being unsure of how he was even still standing); the woman who very much wished for a more inviting smile but because she was on blood thinners was told, “yes, but not yet.” And while the event is true to its name in that no patient pays for services rendered, there is a price that is paid so that those within our community can receive the dental care they deserve.
When I arrived at Bellevue Baptist Church, the host site for this year’s clinic, patients were being turned away. I asked the security guard why this was and he explained that with a line having begun at 1:00 AM, they had now (at 9:00 AM) reached capacity for those whom could be served. As we continued to talk, he continued to turn people away and we both realized that this was one price to pay: the need is so great for so many in our community that even with two full days and thousands of volunteers, it simply isn’t enough and some must be turned away. I watched as the security guard appeared just as disappointed at having to turn patients away as they were at having to return the next morning in hopes of then being seen and treated. Sometimes the pain in being so close yet still not quite close enough is greater than being nowhere near the finish line.
This year over $1,000,000 in dental treatment and services was given by area professionals, including Dr. Chris Getman who closed his office (Getman Orthodontics) for a day so that he and his staff could be present to help. We walked together through the massive spaces that had been turned into waiting rooms, enclosed areas for checking vitals, and temporary “dentist offices” with all the tools necessary to perform everything from cleanings to the aforementioned extractions and root canals. There was an area where implants were made for patients who must wait on a more permanent solution but, until then, could walk around with at least some of their gaps being filled (perhaps, beyond the literal.) This year a separate area for children was created, complete with televisions playing favorite cartoons and poster-sized characters from those cartoons lining the temporary “walls”. It is here, while we stood and looked over the space dedicated to pediatric dentistry, where Dr. Getman quietly reflected on time spent with his mother, who had recently passed away. It was not until someone briefly stopped him during our walk-through that I learned of this turn in his life. I doubt he would have even mentioned it had I not admitted on unintentionally eavesdropping- and then asked how he was doing, all things considered.
“She taught me that we should do what is right. You do what is right to do.” He shares that her life is a constant reminder for him on living out our words and it plays a part in why he wants to continue giving at events such as this. For him, it doesn’t matter what circumstances brought the patient to his chair; in those moments all that matters is that they receive the best possible care he can give. He has seen patients who have abused drugs such as methamphetamines. He has treated patients who were once able to pay for dental care but now cannot. Whether they are in his chair at his temporary office in Bellevue’s gym or in his chair at his office in Germantown or Arlington, all are treated with the same respect and dignity for which, I believe, all human beings crave, no matter their circumstances. Dr. Getman gets quiet again and (though I know that popular phrase about assuming) I do assume in this instance it is bothering him to see how many people desperately need dental care and two days’ time merely puts a small dent in this dilemma. But it’s a start, and he, along with the nearly 2000 other volunteers, understand that we must start somewhere. Because we do what is right to do.
For more information on this life-impacting event, please visit www.midsouthmissionofmercy.org