A year to the day 02 September 2020, a reflection on a radical year. September 2019 – August 2020.
March the 23rd, is a day I will never forget. I thought, initially, it would be the last day I practised dental hygiene and strangely, it felt strangely easy on me. After nearly 32 years I was prepared and almost willing to lay down my scalers and hang up my latex free gloves for good. I had been destined to travel to Melbourne, the following week, to do a four day introductory course in myofacial function therapy. This was in jeopardy due to a rapidly unfolding global drama and the spread of COVID 19. This culminated on that Monday, the aforementioned 23rd, when the whole of dentistry, less emergency care, was stood down by the Ministry of Health. That afternoon a final meeting was held at the practice, distances between and masks provided, for each and every one of us, all uncertain of the future and more besides. That very day too, I witnessed something I’d never have considering seeing since my days in East Berlin and Moscow in the heady days of the late 80’s and early 90’s. The beginning of the queue outside food stores had begun. A fit elderly lady on a bike, horrified at the very sight of it, perhaps with memories of her past experiences in leaner times, stopped and hurled abuse at those in the queue. Her ardour was embarrassingly silenced when she fell off her bike, at which point I, observing from a distance, decided enough was enough and cycled home, supplies in hand.
A mere six months before I had returned to New Zealand from a long learning break and started a new adventure in dental health. I have worked in virtually every conceivable dental health scenario except orthodontics. This was about to change with my introduction to orthotropics and orthodontics with Quin Dental in Nelson. My ignorance was blinding, I had hoped to spend a few days observing the practice but the immense jetlag and seasonal adjustment had the better of me as I slowly embarked on the journey of getting to know the intricacies of a new professional landscape, a new uniform, matching clinical footwear and a peculiar personal learning environment to navigate.
The previous weeks had deeply affected me and had shed light upon my less than ideal sustainable approach, and carbon footprint from the previous 9 weeks travel. We decided to stay with one vehicle as we lived near to our places, purchased Ebikes to make future journeys less reliant on the remaining car and began to dig the garden for our vegetable futures. Loaf making, with sourdough yeast from a friend, and continually nurtured by us, became a weekly event. The experiences and experimentation with CBD in the States drew my partner to its legal prescription and use to help her chronic pain. I had also decided that at some point I would reduce my working week to 4 days, so as to be able to focus on completing this project.
My annoyance and regular triggering by the inconsistent and arrogant responses and attitudes of my governing council to the needs of the profession grew stronger as the COVID days went by. This was enhanced by their unwillingness to recognise the fear and uncertainty that registered professionals felt at that telling moment, the significant reduction in income and the demand to pay registration or be deregistered. This was further inflamed by what I suspected would happen with the professional association being inept and unsupportive to their members. Me not being one (thankfully) but I was witness to the enraged voices and rants of those who were via social media. A pathetically drafted and grammatically piss poor effort of a letter to the regulatory establishment was the last straw and I decided that was it, and my time was officially now “up’ so to speak.
To be honest I can imagine this being the case for many people in a similar state of mind to me. My headspace was somewhat fragile, a consequence of post-traumatic stress disorder, from past events. I had spent many years trying to suppress and manage it without professional help, regular journeys with numbing effects to dull the emotional pain which is thankfully being properly addressed now as I write. My decision making had been somewhat reactive and primed I immediately went about considering my options beyond dentistry. I found a degree nursing course locally and applied, surprisingly being rapidly accepted. This was a relief and allowed me the time to contemplate where the future would go and where it would take me, or I take it. It was put to the back of my head and when the alert levels allowed I returned to clinical practice, unsure of what the PPE requirements were despite advice that seemed logical, for once. Everyone had a different interpretation of it, some wore masks everywhere in the clinic, others only in the surgeries and so on.
I was also uncertain how many clients would attend, still numbed and fearful of the risk of COVID but for 102 days New Zealand registered no community spread despite returning citizens and residents, and Trumps apoplectic rantings about this diminutive country’s record on controlling COVID. I continue to treat clients in a as near as normal environment as before. This has been reassuring but the threat of the looming recession and further community spread is upmost in my rear view mirror. I continue as before clinically and will continue to do so, with an addition of another clinical day elsewhere in Nelson to make the total to 4 days a week.
I have also made a decision to withdraw my interest in general nursing, a decision based upon not wanting to accumulate addition debt from study as well as incur a lack of income through not working. Being 55 years of age, a decade or so way from retirement refocused my priorities and changed my decision. Feeling better mentally and emotionally contributed to this move too.
Possibly the biggest decisions I’ve made within this year has come from two sources. Experiences with bee keeping and study of the benefits of honey and being asked to observe a mentor an online learning portal of friends have reframed my thought processes. The learning hub has made me realise I’m not alone with tough decisions, as over half the course have decided to change their present employment in dentistry and go in different directions, being affected as was I, by the COVID crisis. It also taught me to be more lateral in my future career thinking within dentistry, something that is still ongoing but has got the grey matter stoked. Watch this space with novel and enterprising ideas and action in the months and years to come. The other has me immediately engaged, and I begin my Certificate in Apiculture tomorrow. It directly links to my other passion, which I’m less engaged with in this country, that of mycology and free food gathering. Apiculture and foraging are great inquiring hobbies which may also lead to income generation, potential teaching and well-being in the future , so I’m very excited.
Finally, professionally where do I go from here? As I have discussed previously I had intended to do a myofacial therapy course abroad. This is impossible now but a virtual learning programme is being constructed soon and at my annual review I will ask to be put on it. Virtual learning is no stranger to me and the thought of using my skills and experience as a dental hygienist align with this perfectly. It also makes me think that perhaps the future of the dental hygienist, long considered redundant with the advent of the multi-disciplined hygiene therapist, isn’t quite an endangered a species as once I thought. The additional knowledge can be used with orthotropics, sleep disorders, mouth breathing issues and perhaps too, myofacial pain. The thought of getting wise counsel and guidance within the workplace from experts is a golden opportunity to be grasped. This may also bear future fruit with consultancy and mentoring too.
The future still appears to be uncertain, once essential international airline pilots, once criss crossing the skies above us are now filling food store shelves. The trick appears to be to make yourself professional self relevant and essential, consider where the opportunities may lie, deal with one’s demons, as in my case, and not consider yourself past it beyond the age of 55. Continue to plan for and be aware and mindful of the opportunities that still may prevail. I wish you all good luck and the best for your clinical and professional futures as I sign off from this year of discovery, thank you all so much for sharing my journey. Stay well and smile.
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