Beyond the Field
Updated: Feb 13
Sweat trickled down my back and a flies landed on me. I tried to wriggle in such a way as to get them to leave. Swatting them wasn't an option considering my present circumstances and I tired to not think about the bloody instruments they clearly were hanging out on before settling on my forehead. The doctor asked me for instruments in a rapid fire succession of names I barely recognized. I fumbled with the tools and passed them over. The patient sat in a cheap plastic chair, mouth agape. We were told there would be 10 patients that day. Maybe 12 max.
One by one patients kept trickling in. Word got out that there was a dentist in the refugee camp and more and more people came. There was blood, flies, needles, plastic chairs, and no electricity. It was hot, humid, and perfectly miserable... and yet, they came.
I tried to keep up with the doctor. He had done this before. He worked quickly and compassionately, asking me to queue up another vial of anesthetic if the patient was uncomfortable.
There in that dank room, with blue walls, and no ventilation we saw 30 patients.
It's just a band-aid, you know. We aren't actually solving the problem. The doctor said to me when we were done. I nodded. It was true. While I felt we had done some good for the world in providing dental care to refugees in a camp, in the 3rd world... I couldn't help but feel silly. What about regular cleanings, x-rays, fillings... or even more basic- education on oral hygiene and clean water? This little clinic felt like a delay of the inevitable, a band-aid.
I stepped over the river of raw sewage and left the camp not sure how I felt. I didn't feel good, I didn't feel bad either. It comforted me to know that perhaps we had gotten a few people out of pain. Perhaps those 30 humans would sleep better and the risk of abscess was lower because of our service.
I felt small in the face of such a repulsive behemoth of systemic problems. My day of dodging flies, passing instruments, and holding patients hands didn't feel like much at all. I didn't feel like the world was a better place because of me and yet... and yet... I couldn't not do it. If you would ask me "Would you do that again?" The answer would be a resounding "Yes."
Make of that what you will.
We have a tendency to alchemize hard situations into immediate gold. Find the beautiful parts of the story, blow them up, make it the main character. I think we do ourselves a disservice by doing that. Life is often messy and complicated. It's going to a country ravaged by political instability and earthquakes and not having a tidy bow to wrap up that experience. It's wondering if your dollars would have been better served "sending the money directly to BlahBlahNoble Organization" who could do a much better job and quickly realizing there is no such thing in that part of the world, and the job just might fall to you in that exact, bizarre, turn of events.
Not unlike helping someone with a flat tire, calling 911, giving up your seat on the airplane so a family can sit together, holding the door open for the mom with a stroller, or handing the old lady the $5 bill she dropped. Sure, there are better people who probably could do the job, yet it fell to you. So you do it. You are neither a hero nor a villain: you're just a person, doing your best to help another person. Band-aid or not, the call to show up and do what you can to make the world less dark ends with you.
"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there." -Rumi