I took a big leap last week and dove head first into a realm I’ve thus far only dreamt of. I re-entered the world of teeth. It’s the reason I’ve been somewhat absent from here; I’m processing. Oh, am I processing…
“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.”
~ Max de Pree
I hung up my scalers a year ago and have since wondered how I might stay in the field but out of the mouth. In 1983 when I was licensed, I hit the ground running and became a hygienist completely in love with my profession. Does that make sense? In spite of what may be perceived as downsides: I LOVED MY JOB (and yeah, I miss it).
Last Friday I was given a chance. I began what I hope to be many months if not years of helping dental hygiene students become
proficient excellent oral health care providers. What have I done? I started as a volunteer “instructor” in a dental hygiene clinic in a school that offers a Bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygiene.
As a volunteer, I primarily coach the students with instrumentation and placement of films in radiology, or wherever they may need assistance. I’ve been assigned to the junior class, and they’ve just learned to use the ultrasonic scaler, how to administer anesthesia, and to use specific scaling instruments. I am not able to give grades; however, I can advise and encourage and share my experiences and stand on my feet all day long and leave the clinic with a huge smile on my face,
hoping knowing I’ve helped in some small way.
“Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.”
~ Charlie Chaplin
Thanks, Charlie, and while I won’t say the day was a failure, I will say that at one slightly hair raising moment I felt a bit foolish.
That’s how I imagine it anyway in the eyes of Sarah*. I advised her on film placement with an angle too severe resulting in a mandatory re-take (oops!). I was familiar with the system in general, but not the film holders they are using. Be patient; I’m learning just like you, I wanted to scream. As the quote says, we need to allow each other space to grow, including me. Sarah summoned two instructors for help while I stood by trying hard not to look stupid (never mind how I felt). Because, aside from the film holders, I didn’t know my specific role. I was unclear whether or not I was allowed in the mouth–I assumed I was not–so I held back.
I must remember that I am the clinic’s first volunteer hygienist, and they don’t know what to do with me. I had completely forgotten this my first day on the “job.” OK. Deep breath. And, again. As I try to imagine my presence in their eyes, it became easier, roles defined or not. Aside from their, “What are we to DO with her,” and my “What the heck am I DOING?” I feel the day was a success.
As she said she would the day before, the clinic lead threw me to the wolves. I was introduced in the morning–and was greeted by the students with a heartwarming round of positive responses–then left to my own devices. New to the learning environment, I felt dazed; indeed, I’ve not set foot in a hygiene school for 36 years. The pace is slug slow (compared to private practice, i.e. the real world), and students are graded on everything. My brain was ready to burst, but I hung in there. I wasn’t going to let
my eight hour hot flash induced by stroke level blood pressure a little nervousness get me down. I wasn’t going anywhere. Not yet. I tried to breathe without passing out. Is it possible to hear someone sweat?
Parts of my day
went pretty well were freaking awesome:
I helped Tereza* with instrumentation after practicing the ultrasonic scaler on a plastic model. I helped with angulation on anterior teeth as well as in imaginary, deeper areas–the “pockets” your hygienist talks about–on posterior teeth. After her afternoon patient had left, I checked in. That’s when she smiled and told me that what we did that morning helped. HALLELUJAH! I helped! I actually helped! WOO HOO!!! HAPPY DANCE!!!
I helped Cori* with a suggestion for making the periodontal evaluation more comfortable. I advised she use topical anesthetic on the tip of the probe, or, better yet, keep an anesthetic soaked Q-Tip handy, in case. The priceless look on her face told me it never dawned on her to use topical outside of giving an injection. Go, Karen! Go, Karen! Go, Karen….
I talked to Cheryl* about what brought me here and why I got my master’s. Aside from talking about me when they thought I wasn’t looking, I know they are curious. Who IS this woman who WANTS to come in and spend time HERE? She’s lost her marbles, I’m guessing they’re saying. I need to show them I am real, I’m human, that we likely have much in common.
I revealed my humor when talking with Ava*. She told me about a difficult patient she was debating whether or not to treat. Thus far, all of her patients had been easy. The difficult patient would definitely be a challenge, so I told her two things: 1) in the real world, she will not have a choice; and, 2) he needs treatment and this is why we are here. She appeared near crestfallen, but I added, “Just between you and me, I won’t get mad at you if you choose not to take on this patient.” She burst out laughing, and proceeded to ask me if I was coming back for the afternoon clinic.
“Nothing you wear is more important than your smile.”
~ Connie Stevens
So, yes, I dove in head first. I fled the comfort of retirement. I’ve taken on the familiar but that which must be revisited (and updated). I’m challenging myself to stay the course. I am pushing myself to go against my default zone of holding back, not talking, staying withdrawn, but pushing myself into conversations and situations where I can share my experiences that may be of help. I will not quit (I just checked my email and I’ve not been told not to come back.)
began stalking engaged the students with conversation and got a little nosy bombarded them with questions of my own, the time started to fly and I stopped looking at the clock. Breathe, Karen, you can do this.
I recalled my lifelong dream to mentor dental hygiene students. I will stay the course, because, aside from the awkward unease we all feel when things change, to the depth of my deepest cell, this feels right; it’s where I belong. I am beyond excited to be there, to be able to walk in and spend time with these eager students. Am I scared? Uh, huh. Am I going to quit? Nope. Why?
❤ I hope to be the mentor I never had. ❤
“One minute of patience, ten years of peace.”
~ Greek proverb
*Not her real name.
Kobi Yamada quote: http://www.quotesgram.com