And we’re back! This was our second annual dental outreach program in Jamaica. And it was a HUGE SUCCESS! A large group of us went down from September 3-12, 2016. Our volunteer group included Ontario dentists, hygienists, dental students, Henry Schein representatives, dental lawyers and support staff.
Now, in this blog, and the next 4, I’m going to get into some of the things that happened when we went down and also when we came back (what Papa Joe calls ‘reverse culture shock’). In blog 2, I’ll talk about the clinic set up, equipment failures and how we adapted to keep going. In blog 3, I’ll talk about working hard and playing hard. In blog 4, I’ll talk about some shock and awe. And in blog 5, I’ll talk about reverse culture shock (when we got home) and some parting thoughts.
Now that we’re all back, I can say without a doubt, it was the best 10 days of the year for me (and likely many other volunteers). Everyone misses each other; the patients; the patties! But before I get started, I’m very happy to report that Oral Health Office magazine will be publishing an article I wrote exclusively for them in the October edition of their magazine. I’ll be touching on some of the stories that I couldn’t really get to in that article in these next few blogs… so shall we begin?
1 Year in the Making
When I returned home on September 6, 2015 from our first Jamaica dental outreach program, we got to work on promoting the success of that year’s program, as well as recruiting for our 2016 program. We were featured in the Toronto Star on December 26, 2015. An article I wrote about the experience was published in Oral Health Office. Ontario Dentist magazine acknowledged some of our volunteers who were featured in the media, as well as Dr. Tim Milligan (whose speech at the U of T Gala motivated me to start the whole program). And then we went on the road… talking to dentists and dental students about the program. I figured the hardest year was behind us and we could do a much better job recruiting and preparing volunteers the second time around. I was right…
Sending Down Supplies
The first year, we hit a couple of snags when it came to sending down supplies. Some dentists sent supplies down. Some brought them down with them. We also got a sizeable donation from Henry Schein, Patterson Dental, and K-Dental which we shipped down. We didn’t really know how to deal with all the logistics of getting our supplies down to Florida and then to Jamaica. There were delays. We had to spend weeks figuring out all the paperwork. It cost us a lot of money too. But at the end of the day, we got our supplies down there.
This time around, we got even more supplies. 20 large Rubbermaid containers full. Plus, Dr. Monica Dinca – Toronto; Dr. Calvin Pike – Endo; Kitchener-Waterloo; and Dr. Joseph Da Costa – Toronto all donated sundries and equipment… and they weren’t even able to volunteer! I was shocked by their generosity.
Thankfully, we managed to use a different shipping company to get everything down and it arrived punctually right before we did!
In terms of preparing to go down, we were better this year than last. Thanks to Dr. Christina Bodea and her husband Stefan Atalick, we were able to put together a preparation guide about what to expect when going down. It was reviewed/edited by myself and Papa Joe and Salli Jo and the end result was this: everyone had a better understanding of what to expect for the week. Having done the program twice, I think there’s definitely room for adding more. I also sent out a series of e-mails throughout the months leading up to our departure to discuss things like airplane tickets, paperwork, meeting up for a photo-op at our ASM after-party, and how to avoid getting bitten by mosquitos and sand fleas.
I know you’re very interested in the whole ‘how to avoid getting bitten’ part, so here is the email I sent out (for the record, everyone commented about how little they were bitten throughout the trip because of my tips ;-):
Sand Fleas – also known as “No See Ums”
In terms of the next steps, I will likely send out one (1) more email before our trip so you can be best prepared for our 10-day trip. But I did want to mention something important – preventing bites from Sand Fleas, also called “No See Ums”. The Caribbean beaches are plagued by sand fleas. You can’t see them. You won’t know when you’re bit. Typically, you’ll wake up the next morning with a rash somewhere and think there are bed bugs. That’s them! And they likely bit you the day before. They bite your feet and ankles and legs while you’re sitting on the beach working on your tan. And their bites are rash-like, itch and swell and don’t go away. Last year, some volunteers didn’t follow my advice and ended up getting bitten pretty bad (needing to see the nurse and getting some injections). Those volunteers would say something like: “Oh, I never get bitten”. My suggestion to have an enjoyable trip: put your egos away and follow my advice (I tend not to get bitten by mosquitos or sand fleas when I’m travelling through the Caribbean):
- In the last two (2) weeks of August, start taking vitamin B (B1 or B12) pills twice a day. And keep taking the pills during our 10-day trip. For some reason, Sand Fleas and Mosquitos are repelled by this.
- When you’re about to head out on the beach, make sure to put sunscreen on your legs and ankles, as well as some bug spray. Be liberal in your application. I recommend getting one or more of the following bug sprays (and bring at least 3 bottles down for the 10 days):
- Avon Skin SO Soft Bug Guard
- No No-See-Um Natural Insect Repellent
- REPEL Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
- Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent
- Bring a stack of Bounce dryer sheets and wipe your feet and ankles with this. Again, there’s something about that smell that they hate.
- When you come out of the water, make sure to apply insect repellant and the Bounce dryer sheets immediately.
- Unless you’ve applied insect repellant and wiped with Bounce dryer sheets, avoid getting buried in the sand.
- Try to avoid the beach during dusk and dawn (when Sand Fleas are most active) unless you have done all of the above!
- Bring down hydrocortisone cream and ibuprofen gel; you can use these for relief if you do get bitten. If not, Aloe Vera, Calamine Lotion and Toothpaste (not mixed) are alternatives.
Following my suggestions should result in a comfortable trip where you can enjoy the beach. You won’t be trying to scratch your legs while you’re trying to pull out a tooth at one of the clinics 😉
Think about it like this: I have to take a team of 10-15 strangers per clinic and get them to make a temporary dental office work for 5 full days. Things will break down. That’s guaranteed. The working conditions are harsh (hot; humid; fans blow hot air at you; low light; mosquitos; etc.). And there’s a huge demand for dental treatments and cleanings (hundreds of people lined up outside). So you’ll definitely need a positive attitude. And then you need to make sure that the team members get along throughout it all. Make sure you have dominant/leadership personalities paired up with detail-oriented worker bees, social butterflies, and highly structured steadies to keep everyone together. You can’t have too much of one personality (particularly dominant personalities) or else there will be drama. And that’s the worst thing ever when you’re down there: when you’re not having fun anymore because of internal bickering. Thankfully, we didn’t have any this year at our 2 clinics. I was so happy it worked out.
In the next blog, I’ll talk about what happened when we actually got to Jamaica…