The two dentists, Dr Lee Yi-bon and Dr Huang Xiang-xun, conducted the free clinic on July 17, accompanied by 12 volunteers from Miaoli and central Taiwan. For Dr Lee, it was the third free clinic there since 2008. It was a very hot summer day. The two doctors and the volunteers bowed devoutly before a statue of the Buddha and put on facial masks and gloves. Dr Lee showed the volunteers how to prepare the dental cleaning equipment and how it works and assigned jobs to them. "After you have used the gloves, you should dispose of them and put on new ones. This will provide the safest and most comfortable way to clean the teeth."
Dr Lee began with a 60-year-old grandfather, skillfully fitting a red prop in his mouth. "Grandpa, do not be nervous and please open your mouth wider," he said. While he was fitting it, he was talking to him: "Grandpa, we are Tzu Chi volunteers who are helping you to floss your teeth. Please relax and do not be nervous … Does it hurt? I will be gentle in cleaning your teeth." It was a first time for the old man. During the treatment, he kept blinking his eyes and showing his pain through his facial expression. "Please do not turn your head. It is almost done … Excellent, Grandpa." For their part, the volunteers continued to encourage him throughout the process. After the hour that it took, Dr Lee was covered with sweat. He both scrubbed the teeth and cleaned out three huge dental calculi. "We have finished now. Thank you for your co-operation; we appreciate it," the doctor said. He held the hands of the old man to thank him.
Dr Lee and Dr Huang repeated the process with many patients. While his hands were busy cleaning their teeth, Dr Lee continued to reassure them: "don't worry. We are here to help you floss your teeth. Scaling may cause some sensitivity but you will feel more comfortable after it." Dr Lee did not know which language each patient was more comfortable in, so he asked them to help him: "If it is Taiwanese, please blink once. If it is Mandarin, please blink twice and Hakka three times." In response, one patient blinked twice. He responded: "Excellent! You didn't move a bit when I scaled your teeth." Sometimes the volunteers could not understand the response of a patient who burst into tears – was he feeling pain or moved by the intimate service? What they had written on their beds was: "Although I can't talk, I still thank you for your help."
By noon, the volunteers had finished the scaling for 12 patients. During the treatment, they thoughtfully helped patients by holding their pillows; some held the moveable spotlight which lit the mouth cavities and some prepared scaling equipment. While the dentists were cleaning the teeth, the volunteers had to adjust the angle for each patient. Sometimes they had to stand, squat or even kneel down to provide a better angle.
Ceng Mian-mei, the dean of the Miaoli branch, has worked there for 16 years. "Now we have 29 patients and the youngest is only 13 years old," she said. "Most patients here were injured in traffic accidents." She hopes that the dentists and volunteers will hold such free dental clinics there regularly; she will do her best to assist. Dr Lee said: "Each time we do the free clinic, we feel more grateful. The patients are like us, only that they just can't respond to us. They receive the same general medical care and understand our conversation. I see them as my uncles, aunts and grandparents."
Volunteer Wu Zhao-zhen was deeply moved: "It's my first time to join the free dental clinic. I was nervous at first because my father was at one time in the same vegetative state. After I saw how careful the dentists were and heard the jokes they made to comfort the patients, I see the beauty of their humanism. The patients cannot go out but we can come to see them." The TIMA in Central Taiwan is extending its medical care to socially vulnerable groups. Although these patients are disabled and cannot talk, we believe that they can feel the special respect and love from Tzu Chi volunteers!
Translated by Gloria Chou
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