Giving is one of the greatest lessons I was taught as a child, and one I continue to practice as an adult. Giving is a wonderful blessing that allows us to live a more fulfilling and complete life. Giving is part of my world.
WRITTEN BY Glenda Payas, DMD, FAGD
Giving is an important part of life if we truly wish to experience fulfillment, peace, comfort, and completeness. Giving is a natural part of caring, and I choose to participate in giving projects. My experiences may go beyond the norm because the world is my focus. My travels have taken me to various parts of the world to share with others and give of my talents to those in need.
Some of my giving efforts have been on behalf of needy people in Africa. Many individuals choose Africa for a safari or other sightseeing venture, but my focus is on the African people - people who hurt, yet don’t have the ability to care for their dental needs because they lack the resources to help themselves.
When Africa is mentioned, people may think of beautiful and interesting places, much like scenes from the movie Out of Africa. But the Africa I know is far different from these places, and is filled with so much poverty one can scarcely take it in. Though I have eaten with presidents at State Dinners in several African countries, I have also eaten with the poorest of souls in the poorest of neighborhoods where life is very harsh.
What is a typical day in Africa like for this dentist from Tulsa, Okla., who enjoys a standard of living that many Africans can only dream about? It starts early because I want to arrive at the clinic before the temperature and humidity reach highs that would wilt most Americans.
A minivan with open windows picks me up and drives on a city street, where most people walk because they lack transportation. We continue on to a smaller street in a poor neighborhood, with multiple potholes in the asphalt and garbage piled high on the side of the road. Next we arrive on a dirt road that winds through endless neighborhoods. We come to a point where there is no street at all, and only then am I near the place where I will work for the day. Curious people watch the van and wonder why this white woman and her helpers are coming to their area.The crowds have already arrived at the clinic, and I have to walk through a sea of people to get into a building that is perhaps still under construction or with only minimal facilities, such as running water.
This is the Africa I know - the Africa where beautiful children live and parents wonder how they will cover the medical and dental needs of their children. This is my Africa, where giving is able to take its rightful place for me. It’s a place where I have the ability to give the gifts of life and love through my hands.
On one particular trip I was part of a team from Oral Roberts University, which consisted of a team of physicians, nurses, student nurses, and support staff. I was the dental component. We provided free services to people too poor to have other options.
One day the physicians identified a woman in her 40s whose needs were beyond anything we could handle at the clinic. She had a huge granuloma over her left eye, which had started five years earlier when a sliver of bamboo had punctured her eyelid. The tumor, the size of a cantaloupe, was oozing fluid. The woman had watched the granuloma grow and had become so embarrassed by it that she covered her face and only left her home at night.
The whole team decided there was only one thing to do - help this lady get the necessary surgery to remove the granuloma. We all dug into our wallets and raised the money to pay for her surgery at a local, private hospital.
We were there when the physician removed the bandages, and we watched as she looked at her face for the first time in years without a horrible deformity. We all cried as we watched her disbelief and joy at this surgical gift.
As far as dentistry is concerned, the patients come from morning until night with many great needs. During one trip, we received a visit from a three-year-old girl named Grace with asymmetry of the right side of her mandible. The diagnosis was osteomyelitis. If we didn’t treat it, the girl would die because the case was so severe. An ear, nose, and throat doctor who was part of our team agreed with my diagnosis. The only option was to remove as much of the bone and infection as possible, which I did. Then I placed her on antibiotics and carefully explained the situation to her mother.
My fellow team members and I worked until we were physically exhausted. We ate sandwiches at lunch that we often couldn’t identify, and we consumed bottled drinks to prevent disease. The heat was so intense we felt like we might pass out, and standing in front of the community fan did little to cool us off. This is the Africa I know.
These experiences may not sound pleasant, but it is the spirit of compassion that causes me to shut down my practice for two weeks and travel a world away to donate my love, time, and skill to a hurting people.
Giving is part of my world. That is why I established a dental clinic in Benin City, Nigeria, and why I travel to other African nations to provide free clinics. I hope giving will become part of your world too. You don’t have to go to Africa or South America to find needs; there are needs in every community.
Giving is one of the greatest lessons I was taught as a child, and one I continue to practice as an adult. Giving is a wonderful blessing that allows us to live a more fulfilling and complete life. ■
Glenda Payas, DMD, FAGD
Dr. Payas is a practicing dentist in Tulsa, Okla., with a focus on lasers and cosmetic dentistry. She is a clinical instructor for Dr. John Kois’ Creating Restorative Excellence program and has presented dental technology seminars at the University of Oklahoma. You may contact Dr. Payas at [email protected].