I have begun with a photo. The eight people you see are current (and one recent) staffers for Virginia Democratic US Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb. They were here in Wise as volunteers, as was Madison Warner, daughter of the Senator. Senator Warner also was here, with lots of people wanting to get their pictures taken with him.
I saw no one from the offices of any of Virginia’s three state-wide elected Republicans. But no matter.
I have just returned from a leisurely dinner, where I sat with two former Presidents of the Virginia Dental Association, one of whom is the child of Greek immigrants.
Tonight’s diary will be somewhat different than those of the past two nights. I request that you keep reading, and perhaps consider either passing this on, or recommending, or both. I will be happy if you merely read, although I admit to being a bit greedy.
Today had a different feel. It was not as beastly hot as Friday, and at times there was a cooling breeze. In triage we are under a tent. If we put the flaps down to protect us from the sun, we cut the air circulation. Fortunately the sun was not so fierce, so we were able to benefit from the breezes.
We began again in triage at about 5:45 this morning, and people started getting dental services by 6 AM. We did not run quite so long, cutting off triage shortly after 5 PM and most services by 5:30, and just about all by 6.
We had many people we had triaged on Friday afternoon and early evening, so we quickly began to develop a backlog on restorations and extractions. We cut off extractions officially shortly after 2, and restorations by about 3:15, with all others we saw being set for services tomorrow morning.
Of course, there are always exceptions. I was working with Wally Huff from Blacksburg, the dentist who had been absent on Friday because he was, at her request, serving as a pall-bearer for a recently deceased patient.
We had set a hard limit of 30 additional patients today for extractions. We were past it. Wally had two cases that moved him, one a young man in real pain who had a long distance to travel back to Kentucky with small children. He cajoled, wheedled, was able to get a chair set up and did the extractions himself. And as long as he was doing that, he did a second woman, for whom returning tomorrow was nigh impossible and who really needed several teeth out.
Wally was not alone in bending the limits. Tom Cooke, running triage, was the one establishing hard limits, but when people got put directly in the cleaning line by people from medical who did not realize they needed to go through triage, Tom, recognizing that they had already been waiting for several hours for an expected service arranged for cleaning.
We cannot provide service for all who want and are in need. There will be people who have not yet been through triage who will be unable to get dental services – we are pushing against very real limitations, because beginning at noon we must begin tearing down the set ups and leaving the site.
Those we have screened and provided wristbands for service tomorrow? They will receive treatment before anyone we have not set seen, in the order they are in line. It is 10 PM as I write this. There are some already in line, to ensure they get their services and still have time to travel home. There are people sleeping in their cars for a third night, or more – they have gotten vision help or physical therapy, and will now wait one more night for dental services.
Something over $1 million – that is the value of the dental services that will have been provided this weekend. Services that otherwise these people would not have been able to receive. Extraction of rotting or rotted teeth. Restoration of teeth to save them. Cleaning to save teeth, and gums.
Go back and look at those young Senate staffers. I knew several, from the Webb Campaign, from working with Webb’s office on education issues, from my cohort in my political leadership program. Only one had previously been here. They stayed in dormitories at the nearby College at Wise of the University of Virginia. They saw the scope of this. They helped escort patients, maintained lines, distributed lunches and water to the patients.
The patients. So many unemployed, and/or disabled. So many taking medicines for depression, anxiety, diabetes, and so many other conditions.
There were free clothes, and I remember one couple lugging two heavy bags of clothing for themselves and their children.
I took a break to take the staffers around, starting with Jessica Smith, who handles communications for Webb and whom I knew from the 2006 campaign, then later the entire group. They got to meet Stan Brock, who founded RAM. When I asked Stan to come over, he was reading a letter he had gotten from a person who has come to wise three times. He asked me to read it to the staffers. I did, but had trouble getting through it without my voice cracking, it was so moving. It made clear the importance of this event in the lives of the people it serves. They also met some of the key dentists, like Tom Cooke and Wally Huff, like those who head the dental foundation and manage the site. I also made sure they met key people who are not dentists – Robby, who works for a dental supply company and is 2nd in command behind Terry, the trail boss; Pat who manages the triage lines, then goes to his room each night and sorts the paperwork of those who will be returning into alphabetical order . . . and so many others. The point is this: yes it matters a great deal that doctors and dentists and nurses and dental assistants volunteer. It also matters that students, and bank clerks, and people who work for dental supply companies, and housewives, and secretaries, and even the occasional school teacher, that they volunteer. Because what
they we do enables the dentists and doctors to use their time more efficiently, and thus to serve that many more people.
This is service. This is truly compassion – com=with, passio=suffering – we begin to grasp the depths of their suffering, and with them lift them up and ourselves because we are willing to help.
Several of the dentists I know have been reading my pieces about Wise, and have thanked me, as they did last year. Some seeing me for the first time since last year at Wise commented on things I wrote a year ago. That is not because I wrote it, but because they wanted me to know that it connected with their own experience.
You may not think this kind of service is ‘your thing” but you might be surprised how moved you are simply by escorting someone who has just had a full-mouth extraction to a place where they can sit in the shade and recover.
There are so many needs in this nation for service to others. Sometimes we can help by contributing. When we offer ourselves it means that much more, for them and for us. I do not think I am speaking only for myself in saying that I come back from a day like this feeling more alive and more fully human.
I have come to love the people here, those with whom I work, those whom we serve. My back may be tight from almost 12 hours of standing on uneven asphalt, but my soul is uplifted, my heart expanded. . .
Find a way that you can serve others. You may do so already in your daily work – certainly that is true of me as a teacher. There I offer my professional expertise.
Here I bring no expertise – a certain amount of skill in organizing, a quick ability to learn and apply new procedures, an ability to absorb and apply information – I can now recognize things on dental xrays, and I have learned a huge amount of dental terminology, and more.
Some we saw in triage were people I remembered from last year, or the dentists remembered. Or from Grundy, last October, perhaps an hour’s drive away over very windy mountain roads. Some will come again to Grundy – today they got extractions, then they will get fillings. I will see them at Grundy. I will see them next year here in Wise. I will again work with people, dentists and others, whom I have come not only to respect but to love and admire.
I will continue to write about these experiences. Consider it a form of teaching, or even of preaching or witnessing. I feel that it would be wrong not to share, to invite. . .
I sit in my hotel room, a glass of beer next to my computer. I write these words, and shortly I will post them.
But first I must do something else of importance
I offer thanks to those in my Sorensen Institute Political leaders Program cohort who suggested we come here last year, Aryana Khalid and Dom Gabiello.
I thank my wife, Leaves on the Current, who adjusts her schedule so that I can volunteer, and also for telling me not to worry about my cholesterol tonight but to treat myself to a good steak, which I did.
I thank those leaders in the schools in which I work, both in the summer and during the school year, who understand why I feel I must take some time off from my teaching to do this volunteering, why it is for me a moral imperative.
I offer thanks to the people of the Wise area for how welcoming they are when hundreds of us descend onto this small corner of Southwest Virginia, along with several thousand not all of whom are local who come seeking our assistance
I thank those with whom I work, who have accepted me as part of what they do, who honor me with their trust and their friendship
And I thank most of all those who come to us in hope and trust, and thereby remind us of the possible good we can offer to others in need, and thereby to the world at large.
If you are still reading, I thank you for being willing to share in my experience by reading what I write.
To all, my hope is as it always is.