The answer was in front of me the entire time - yet I was completely blind to it. What is it that drives me? Why on earth would I pursue a high-stress career like Dentistry? I once believed there were two answers to this question. It wasn’t until I was catapulted into the lower end of the “privilege spectrum” during a medical mission trip to Colombia that I realized my two reasons were nothing short of a self-centered approach at finding meaning in my life. Reason one: The sense of gratification my profession as a dentist gives me. Reason two: The ability to service my patients to the absolute highest degree. Both wrong and totally off-kilter.
Throughout my higher-education I’ve dedicated my time to working with both local and national organizations such as The Epilepsy foundation, Camillus House, and The American Cancer Society. While the work I participated in with these Godsent institutions was effective, nothing impacted me to the degree in which a single mission trip to Colombia would. All it took was ten long, rough days in Colombia for the foundational bedrock of my life mission to become ever more apparent. It was March 30th when I departed the “bubble” that is my life in Miami. I was headed to Jose Maria Cordova Airport in Medellin, along with 10 other groupmates from my university. We had all enlisted on a 10-day medical mission trip to my country’s largest two cities; Bogota and Medellin. Our goal was to visit 4 hospitals in 4 days. We were specifically coming in to assist the present medical staff in any way possible. During my time on this trip it was not hard to grasp the hardship my own people were facing. During the first round of clinicals my team and I visited a pre-school and foundation named Fundación Madrid in Medellin, the majority of our patients were kids aging from 4-8 years old. What came to my surprise was the abundance of broken spirited kids that unfortunately carry the baggage of the cards life has dealt them. The preschool that we visited and ran our clinical operations was not only a hub of education, but it was also a safe haven for the majority of kids. Broke homes, poverty, and mistreatment only to name a few of the of the typical cases we were exposed too. Nothing compared to the privilege I had not only to provide medical care for the loved children of many families, but I was able to interact, play, comfort, and bring joy to my patients. One patient I will never forget is a boy of 5 years of age, so young yet the years of neglect was plenty to show on his face and attitude. Purple under eye bags as if he hasn’t slept in months, bruises and Finally, at the end of our clinicals the most gratifying feeling was the gratitude the patents had for mu medical team and I. Tears were shed and hugs were shared, the lack of basic medical attention these kids needed was quickly appreciated by the parents.
Furthermore, my team and I worked an 11-hour shift in a clinic outside of the city of Bogota, after a two-hour long bus ride through the mountains we finally arrived in a small city named Anapoima. Upon arrival I glanced at my watch and it was 8’oclock in the morning. As I stepped outside of that bus I immediately noticed the lines of patients waiting to be attended, the number of patients waiting was unbelievable the lines could’ve easily circled the clinic three times. Under the intense hot weather combined with patients built up pain or discomfort motivated my team and I to work as efficiently as we can. In that moment, the only thought running through my mind was the worry of running out of time and not being able give, much needed medical attention to all the patients that were there. On the other hand, what left me in awe were the extreme cases I had the privilege of assisting. Unfortunately, a sixty-five-year-old woman who carelessly scratched her foot against the edge of a door resulted in half of her leg being covered in ulcers and under excruciating pain. To my surprise, the woman who was struggling with this explained that she had spent a total of two years in this condition since she didn’t have the resources to seek medical attention. Luckily, due to our clinic one of our doctors was able to prescribe her medication to begin the scaring process as well as the proper hygiene regime. The immediate relief that woman felt is something I will always remember. On the very last day of our clinical rounds we had visited a clinic in a famous town in Bogota named Cuidad Bolivar. An urban area which resides the poorest population in Bogota, known for its rampant levels of violence. Upon arrival at the clinic my team and I only had one hour to set up all our stations and begin seeing patients. During our long 10-hour shift we saw a variety of cases such as scabies, appendicitis, and the most impacting case of our team catching the pre symptoms of a cardiac arrest. The woman who was feeling off came into our clinic with symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea and slight chest pains. After examining the patient we thought the correct thing to do was to transport our patient in ambulance to a hospital 10 miles away that had the adequate equipment in case a cardiac arrest occurs. Surely enough, at only a mile away from the hospital the woman had a cardiac arrest and the ambulance team was able to stabilize her until she was integrated in the new hospital, that day we saved a life. All in all, what I began to realize during my clinicals was that it wasn’t the gratification of simply helping my patients or educating them, but it was the empowerment they felt in order to live a healthier lifestyle or implement the correct health regime. That simple act of empowerment slowly turned into a huge ripple effect, more patients felt empowered to do the same. That movement showed me something I was completely blind too, the real beauty of this profession.