Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of April 3, 2006
Dentists' talents restore health
Innisfail couple journeyed all the way to Guatemala to clean and pull teeth
A Missionary's Musings
By FR. JACQUES JOHNSON
An Innisfail couple brought a great deal of good and much joy when they recently visited Chicamán, Guatemala.
Dentists Gregory and Virginia Ritson-Bennett connected with me about a dream of theirs to come to Guatemala to offer free dental services to the people that Father Sergio and I are serving in northern Guatemala.
Such an offer cannot be refused. "Please come!" I told them and they came. When they arrived at the Guatemala International airport they carried four huge and very heavy suitcases.
Some contained their instruments and medications necessary to treat dental problems. But there were also gifts including toys for children, pens and pencils as well as clothing for young people and adults.
When the people of our far-flung parish of Chicamán found out about this project, they came from far and wide to be treated.
One man left home at 4 a.m. and walked four hours after which he was able to hitch a ride for the last few kilometres. He made it to the parish centre and was one of the first to be treated by the dental physicians.
People kept coming from various communities and for four days, the Ritson-Bennett team was kept very busy - three days in Chicamán and one day in Beleju. A total of 100 people, from children to the elderly, were treated. Initially the team would clean teeth as requested, as well as extract bad teeth.
On the second day it was decided that they'd be more than busy doing extractions alone so the service of cleaning teeth was dropped.
I quickly realized that there was a language problem as the team did not know Spanish and the local people knew no English. So I hung around the couple and acted as translator for the first couple of days. By then the physicians had picked up enough basic Spanish to communicate with their patients.
At that point I made myself scarce but was never very far from the action.
Sister Delfina, a sister of Saint Joseph and a nurse by profession, was a great help in coordinating the proceedings. Among other things she kept tab of the traffic in the clinic, making sure that the rule of first-come, first-served was respected.
After finding out the tremendous opportunity, the people responded with enthusiasm as there was a long lineup of people hoping to gain access to the dentist before the day was done.
Many expected the ordeal of having several rotten teeth pulled out to be immensely painful. The use of anesthetics to dull the pain was like a miracle for the people who marvelled that the extraction of hopelessly rotten teeth turned out to be painless.
Go to them
The word spread far and wide, so we decided to make it easy for people far away in the Beleju area especially, by going to that populated area for the last day. People, being very poor, could not dream of seeing a dentist to better their lives. Through the skills, love and generosity of this medical team, the people experienced healing, better health and a remission of much pain.
Doctor Greg, a towering man about seven feet tall, was the epitome of gentleness. He talked to me while extracting teeth and pointed out how many people had infections in the mouth because of rotten teeth.
He indicated that infections such as those have negative effects on the overall health of the person.
So removing the source of infections by removing bad teeth increased the health of that person. Several people had worn out their teeth somehow and only black roots were left. I saw him remove these.
A surprising number of people asked to have all their teeth removed. I noticed the relief of people at the end of the operation as they realized that a turn in the quality of their life had just taken place.
A painful burden was gone and great smiles on their faces indicated that life would never be the same.
In four days, 100 people underwent the operation and got rid of a burden they had carried for a long time. To see the smiles on their faces and the light in their eyes testified to how relieved they were.
After each operation, Virginia pulled a gift from her suitcases and shared it with the person treated. She was especially generous to the little children who were hanging around.
I was greatly moved to witness the love and care the team had in sharing their professional gifts and resources with the poorest of the poor.
In them I saw Jesus blessing and curing people of many afflictions.
May they be greatly blessed.
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