A favorite quote from Jim Valvano: “To me, there are three things we all should do every day. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy.
But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day.”
I had many full days during my recent trip to Antigua and Peronia, Guatemala.
Before I ever reached the Open Wide clinic the Guatemalan people impressed me as they went about their days. By the end of the trip I enjoyed myself the most, early in the morning getting an espresso at the Parque Central. I fell in love with Antigua by acting as much as I could, like a local.
At the clinic I had expected to treat mostly children but the faces in the reception area were of all generations. I strangely felt empowered when I looked in their eyes knowing I would be able to help many of them in some way. They were looking to me for help in an area where no help is usually available. They were looking for comfort. I knew immediately I had made the right decision to come to Guatemala and this was the right place for me.
I saw many patients over the four days, with my wife Jan ably assisting me. I could not begin to count the number of hugs, thank you’s or big smiles we received. However, no patient had as much impact on us (and the others in the clinic) as one cheerful five-year-old boy. He had nursing bottle caries and some other dental needs. His teeth, we found out, were the least of his problems.
After a brief interaction with my wife, the boy asked her (in Spanish) if she would be his mother and could he come home with us. Again, I felt as if I was in the right place for me. We did as much treatment as we could for him that day and had him come back to remove heavy stain from his teeth later in the week. We all made a friend for life and I will never forget him. All of this, plus experiencing my first earthquake, left me deep in thought.
Without question, nothing I have ever done has made more of an impact on me than helping the people of Peronia. I have tried to live as full a life as possible and I’m usually not one for giving advice.
But, if I’m an advocate for anything, it is to move around and see as much as you can as often as you can. Take the less traveled path or the fork in the road. Try to experience more than you think is possible. If you are comfortable, then you are not evolving. What you can see with your eyes, hear with your ears and feel in your heart will be more fulfilling than anything you have ever bought with a credit card. That is a guarantee.
The bottom line for me is, I need to have more in my life of what they are serving in Peronia. My wife and I will be returning in 2013. I am eternally grateful to the people of Guatemala for this opportunity.
Peter Virga, DDS, Spear Visiting Faculty. [www.watertowndentalhealth.com]