Hope and Hard Yakka

A visit to the orphanage is always fun!
A visit to the orphanage is always fun!

All members of the TLDP’s last team for 2015 have returned home after a super-productive, whirlwind trip. The chameleon-like team had several changes to its component members during the two weeks; Dr David Digges and his wife, Carolyn, were first on the job, and were joined by newbie, Dr Charmaine White, two days later.

Charmaine had missed the flight to Timor as her plane to Sydney from the NSW far South Coast had fallen victim to one of Eastern Australia’s infamously bad spring storms, and although she made the herculean effort of then driving to Sydney, she still missed the flight to Darwin. She also hit a roo on her way up the coast…..yet she got to Timor in the end! Well done Charmaine!

The team made another shift in Week two, with the departure of an overworked Carolyn Digges, and the arrival of David’s sister, Elizabeth Erberl, a registered nurse, to take her place as dental assistant, along with dental guru, Dr Geoff Knight. Whew! Sr Filomena had her work cut out for her to keep that straight in her head!

Charmaine and Liz
Charmaine and Liz

As usual, the first week was spent working from our base in Maubara. In our fixed clinic, the team treated members of the local community and also checked and treated the children from the local orphanage, another vital service run by the Carmellite Sisters. These kids have the best dental care in all of Timor, thanks to David’s annual checks! Hanging out with the kids at the orphanage is always a highlight for the lucky people on David’s team!

The team also spent a day in Maubara Primary School and two days treating Grade 4 and 5 in Kaikasa Primary School, which is up the hill and west from Maubara. They were pleased to see that the children’s teeth at Kaikasa were quite good. Sr Filomena attributes this to the lack to access to the shops (far, far away) as well as a lack of money with which to buy lollies. The team also spent two days at Vatuboro Primary School, in Loes subdistrict, treating the children, as well as the general community at the end of the day.

DD in a classroom
David in a classroom clinic

Setting up a mobile dental clinic in a classroom requires ingenuity. With few exceptions, the classrooms in TL are generally hot and dusty; there is a multitude of wooden chairs and tables in varying states of disrepair – the best we use as our instrument and sterilisation tables, and patient rest areas, the remainder are piled up against the walls to make as much space as possible. As the classrooms are open to the outside, we have problems with pests, such as flies (and mozzies!!), especially when there is a lot of blood and saliva around. The Timorese, even the children, like to spit, and we are hard-pressed to keep it all in one place and off the floor – infection control is always a challenge when there is no running water! Often there is no electricity or a single electricity socket, precariously dangling by its wires from the wall. Hence, the filling mixer, compressor, suction unit and curing light are all plugged into one power board, which then plugs into a portable generator outside, or is gaffer-taped to the dodgy socket; with the addition of two compressed air lines running from the dental carts to the compressor, this results in a mass of trip hazards all across the floor!

The team saw 446 patients in the first 5 days – the only thing that kept them going was their daily swim in the ocean, a treat that most of us who head to TL cannot function without. No wonder Carolyn was exhausted when she left on Day 6!

David, Domingos the driver, Sr Fatinha, Charmaine, Liz and Geoff
David, Domingos the driver, Sr Fatinha, Charmaine, Liz and Geoff

The second week, with Geoff, Liz, Charmaine and David, was spent in Bobonaro, hanging out with Srs Mendez and Fatinha. Enroute, the team was able to visit the infamous village of Balibo, (for some interesting info, check out  http://balibohouse.com, http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/fact-sheets/fs238.aspx, http://aph.org.au/balibo-time-to-move-on, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/inquirer/balibos-grisly-truth/story-e6frg6z6-1225757583994) where another NGO is organising a fixed dental clinic. They have already set up a 4-star hotel in the old Fort– reliable sources tell of culinary delights served there! The team spent three exceedingly busy days treating patients in Bobonaro, with the help of the clinic’s lab technician, Guerlermino.

Geoff triaging in Bobonaro
Geoff triaging in Bobonaro

Unfortunately, Aida had been placed on annual leave during the entire duration of the team’s visit and thus missed out on the valuable training and experience that working with the team offers. She would have been very disappointed, in particular, to have missed the opportunity for a refresher with Geoff, who she thinks is an excellent teacher. Unhappily, Aida relies on the dictates of her hospital director – unlike us, she does not get to choose when she has her holidays. The team, too, was really disappointed to have missed her sunny presence.

If the team was disappointed by Aida’s absence, the presence of the new Troopie boosted their spirits considerably. In 2013, David Digges’ team experienced the catastrophic failure of the rear axle in our original Troopie and he has been leery of driving in Timor ever since. In contrast, he describes driving T2 as “blissful”. We are all immensely grateful to everyone who contributed to buying a vehicle that we can count on when negotiating the not-so-fantastic roads of TL. Unfortunately, not all the team got to ride in the ‘dreamliner’ to Bobonaro; Charmaine and Liz had a little wilder ride with Domingos, Sr Filomena’s driver who, like most Timorese, regards hairpin bends and double yellow lines with equal abandonment.

As usual, there were a number of equipment failures. One of the dental carts started playing up again, as well as one of the ultrasonic scaler units. Both had to be brought back to Australia. With much fiddling, David managed to get the other ultrasonic scalers working – well done David!

Overall, the team saw a grand total of 810 patients, filled 321 teeth, extracted 200 teeth and carried out 546 preventative treatments. What a fantastic effort!

Well done Team 5!

Thank you to Henry Schein Halas and SDI for their continued support with essential materials and equipment and to Keith Mentiplay, of Forrest Dental, for continually rejuvenating all our recalcitrant equipment so they can return to the fray.

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