Mother Theresa and Dental Patients

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Many years ago I was a hospital dental assistant who worked in the department of dentistry, in the oral medicine section of a large internationally known hospital. This was a department within dentistry that few dental assistants wanted to work in since the patients were severely and medically compromised with a large volume of the patients suffering from AIDS.

It was here that I began to learn the power of spiritual presence and healing that came from people and places that we were never taught to expect it from. The Mother Theresa’s of my world were the patients I dental assisted at the Department of Dentistry at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Most Important Patient
I worked at Cleveland Clinic from 1993 until 1998 with the Vice Chair of the Department of Dentistry, and Head of Oral Medicine, Dr. Geza Terezhalmy. It was from Dr. Terezhalmy that I learned the true importance of patient care which was to accept each person for who they were without judgment. We treated kings and queens to poverty stricken patients who were all severely and often terminally ill. For us the most important patient was the patient in our chair at that moment of time.

PTA President to Dental Assistant
Back then I was a new graduate out of dental assisting school who had spent the last 13 years of her life raising four children. Hospital dentistry was an unknown field to me then, and Oral Medicine an emerging, yet small dental specialty back in the 90’s. Our job was to eliminate dental infection that would compromise a patient’s present medical condition or impending surgery, which included heart and organ transplants.

I went from being a PTA president to a late in life dental assisting student to hospital dentistry right out of school pushing wheelchairs cautiously as I maneuvered weak IV punctured patients into dental chairs.

Aching Backs and Knees = Job Satisfaction
Aching backs and sore knees from 9 to sometimes 12 hour days reminded Dr.Terezhalmy and I daily of our high patient volume, as well as the difficulty in physically treating these patients on a daily basis. Many had to be treated in their wheelchairs or bedside in their hospital rooms or ICU where we had to adapt our bodies to the patient instead of the luxury of positioning a patient in a dental chair.

Yet, despite the fact we had the most difficult and at times unpleasant jobs in the department of dentistry, we loved what we did, we had job satisfaction that was meaningful. And that was because of our patients. Dr.Terezhalmy and I agreed we were committed to being there for our patients in their hour of need as they struggled with diseases that robbed them of their lives, careers and sadly, sometimes families.

Healings Big and Small
I write on the many forms of healing in our lives, no matter who we are or what we do. And I have learned that the biggest healings come in what may seem small insignificant ways, or from the last place or person you would expect a healing from. Healings are not limited to a few saints or gifted well known modern day healers, but from your average person and even yourself. Spirit does the healing and chooses the vessels that will best convey the message that a healing has taken place within them.

A healing is not always physical and is often not seen by the naked eye. Healings can be for emotional pain, life transitions, a shift in how one thinks or views the world. Healings are anything that causes someone to experience a positive impact on their life that may change it forever.

It’s All in the Eyes
This is what happened to me as I worked as a dental assistant in the Department of Dentistry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Dr. Terezhalmy and my schedule were packed with people who were in the throes of just finding out they needed surgery or had oral cancer. Skeletal Aids patients whose gingival tissues were so friable they would deteriorate and easily tear as a tooth was extracted or sutured. Children with leukemia or heart problems, hooked up to IV’s with little bald heads with such sad weary eyes.

It was the eyes I learned to look deeply into, for they are the window into the soul. And in those eyes I experienced the healings that changed my life forever. It seemed that every day after I would leave work, a part of me died, as a new life began within me of self awareness and spiritual transformation.

Yes there were days I cried for my patients and the torment so many were going through, the mental and emotional anguish they were in. Some days it was too much to take in. So where was my healing, my growing spiritual transformation?

Seeing Our Patients for WHO They Are
It came in seeing and accepting my patients for WHO they are not just another difficult or emergency patient. It came from minutes to hours of peering deeply into patient’s eyes as we performed minutes to hours of oral surgery, seeing their pain, assuring them that we were there for them as a team. That they were the most important person in a world that they no longer felt they belonged in.

My healing came from patients who cried in my arms and softened what was then a jaded heart and mind from personal struggles. My healing came from patients who thanked us and held our hands in gratitude for relieving them of pain, or sometimes, for just paying attention to them and talking to them.

The Power of Presence
My healing came from many of our patients who carried a “Presence” about them. I define a “Presence” as a person who unconsciously, within a moment of time, creates a spiritual healing and feeling that is never forgotten which can have a positive impact on your life. And ironically these people are unaware that they have this amazing presence about them.

Compassion

Our patients taught us compassion. Even when I moved on to general dentistry in later years where the patients were not so visibly sick, I remembered the “eyes” and always made sure I looked deeply into them. Even well people can carry a broken heart or wounded soul. We all look for compassion at times and can find it in the strangest places, like a dental office.

Presence as a Blessing and a Healing
In future articles I will discuss further the power and art of being a “presence” to our patients. Remember, it is not what a person said or did when you met them; it is how they made you feel. That is what Mother Theresa did; it was how she made you feel after you met her. And that is how I feel about the patients from the dentistry department of Cleveland Clinic. It was not how sick they were, how they looked, or how difficult the dental treatment, it was how they made me feel. Which was blessed and healed by their very Presence.

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