What an opportunity we had this week! We got the chance to work with Ethiopia Smile. This is a team of about 60 people who travel to Ethiopia once a year to provide free medical care. Their main emphasis is dental work, but they also have an ophthalmologist and a dermatologist along to help. This ministry started out of one man’s desire to serve the Lord.
Dr. Moody is an orthodontist in Texas. He plans this whole adventure out of his living room and his own back pocket. He coordinates schedules and airfares and medical equipment. And he gives up his vacation time to travel to Ethiopia and serve the poor and the needy.
My job for the day was to be a “patient buddy.” As people filtered through the check-in area and into the waiting room, I got to partner up with someone and walk them through the entire process. We would go to the initial examination area, on to whatever procedure was needed, into the eye and skin center, through the pharmacy, and then with a free toothbrush, I would usher them out the door. Sounded easy enough!
My first patient was Abta. He was a 60-year-old man who was complaining of pain in his molars. The dentist took a look and realized he had cavities in two of his back molars. Here in Ethiopia, that means an extraction. There is no possibility of doing a filling with the limited equipment available. The next best solution is to get rid of the decay by pulling the tooth.
Abta and I settled in to the extraction station. He was given some pain medication and then the doctor went to work. The problem was, Abta’s decay was so bad that his teeth basically disintegrated when the dentist grabbed a hold of them with the pliers. When I heard the first “CRUUUUUNCH” of shattered molar, I wasn’t so sure I was cut out to be a patient buddy anymore.
There were no power drills available so the doctor spent an hour working in Abta’s mouth. He very slowly and painstakingly removed each shattered and decayed piece of Abta’s tooth. Poor Abta sat through the whole thing without even one complaint. I sat through the whole thing praying for Abta to have strength and stamina, for the dentist to be able to do his job quickly, and for myself to not disgrace everyone by getting sick in the middle of the extraction station.
One hour later, when the dentist finished by stitching up the hole in his gums, Abta sat up and with a wide (if somewhat lopsided) smile, thanked us profusely.
We continued on to the eye station and the pharmacy where Abta received enough Ibuprofen to last him two days. Once more, he thanked me, grabbing my hand and bowing his forehead down to touch it.
This is just one story from the 1,000 patients that were treated by Ethiopia Smile this week. Here are a few pictures from the clinic.