The dental team arrived in Vladimir, Russia at 2 AM, after traveling about 30 hours. After a few hours rest, we went to visit the dental offices. We found three chairs were in one building, but the fourth was in an office about 10 miles away. "We need a volunteer." Dr. Rick raised his hand. He would go to the second office, alone. His assistant, Treva, and translator, Annya, accompanied him. His bravery would pay off.
When we arrived at the main clinic, we were shocked. We learned photos can lie! The equipment was much older than appeared in the photographs. Not all components were working, an amalgamator (the filling shaker-upper) worked when it wanted to, and we had no suction! If you are like us, we had no idea what this meant to the practice of dentistry. Drs. Sam and Gerard took the 2 chair room with all the problems. Misery NEEDS company! Dr. John's office was pretty good, by Russian standards. Dr. Rick made friends with the family of the dentist he was replacing. They fed him the first day...we promised not to let that happen again! Without exception, the team viewed the circumstances and purposed to do the job God had called them to do.
We arrived bright and early the next morning to make a difference in the lives of these forgotten children. Circumstances only got worse. The neighborhood surrounding the main offices was without water. Next to suction, water is one of the most important tools in fixing teeth. Taking it all in stride, the "Team from Texas" was open for business.
Dr. Sergey had triaged for pain and visible problems. The first van load was vying for their turn in the chair. We knew most had never seen a dentist, but the problem was the ones which had been treated. We found, due to the shortage of supplies, only one injection is given to numb the tooth. If it works, great, if not, hold on... work goes forth. Our prayer had always been to make this experience as painless as possible, not to traumatize the children. We have a long standing relationship with these children. We are coming back, we want to be greeted with love not fear. Suppliers had given us enough medication, we should not have to hurt anyone.
Oh, yes, the lack of water... Dentistry without running water is tough enough, but did you know, without water, there are no toilet facilities? Not only the team was without toilets, so were our patients. It led to many comical (if it was not happening to you) and poignant moments, as we had to provide help for sedated children. Praise the Lord for buckets in the office. This is when Dr. Rick received his reward for volunteering to be the Lone Ranger, he had functioning toilets! We cannot stress enough times, we are a blessed nation. As we reminded the doctors, we just knew they would never again complain to their assistant if things were not just right!
In spite of this hurdle, our doctors proceeded as if the situation was normal. At this point, we began to see the depth of commitment God had placed in the hearts of these men and women. And do not forget, these assistants were constantly improvising to meet the needs of their doctors. Theirs is a forgotten job...but not by Treasures. The entire team went forth in joy and love showing compassion to our little charges.
The first day, Gail Showalter was in charge of the hall (aka a bunch of energetic kids). Sounds like a pretty simple job for a teacher. Add to the job, she is the only one speaking English and they are speaking Russian. Gail came with her "Stupid American" note (we always make a note in Russian, with hotel information, in the event a team member is lost) to say, "Next time add 'sit down, stay here, hot, and cold' to the list!" The following days, we had hall translators. Live and learn.
Dr. Sergey's concern was borne out. One child out of the 70+ children had no problems! The decay was so profound, some teeth had rotted below gum level with the skin beginning to grow over the tooth. The doctors said these were 80 year old teeth in 12 year old mouths. Some needs were met with simple fillings, while many others required multiple extractions. Some children had 5 or 6 teeth removed. They knew, on some level, this was the help they had been waiting for. As they readily climbed in the chair, little jaws swollen with abscesses, they were eager for relief. With few exceptions, the children laid there patiently while the doctors did their work.
Our team physician, Dr. Charles Wilson, made "house calls" after the numbness wore off, checking on pain management, to administer antibiotics where needed.
Working at the clinic in Vladimir, Drs. Sam and Gerard had not been able to visit Barskoe. We made a last minute dash to the orphanage. We found ourselves enjoying the fresh snowfall and fall colors, as Vanya came to his new doctor, wanting his sutures removed. Dr. Gerard and Oksana retrieved their instruments and removed them while standing in the wind and cold. These Texas Power Team Dentists continue to surprise us! The biggest surprise of all...they want to return to Barskoe in 2 years! Praise the Lord!
After much discussion, the conclusion was, potatoes (the mainstay of their diet) are the culprit. Starch from the potatoes turns to sugar when eaten. The teeth and roots are strong, not lacking calcium. The director from the dental clinic said the water from the Klyazma and Nerl Rivers, in the Suzdahl region, may also be a contributing factor. We had already planted an apple orchard this trip, only to find apples are a natural cleaner for teeth.
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