Photo of Dr. Norlin

In the face of novel times

Hard to believe just a few short weeks ago when I had asked another medical provider about this virus in China that was causing the Chinese government to build hospitals overnight to treat the sick, they scoffed at this virus with a childish answer that it was just like the flu and the biggest concern and threat were the racist people in America not going to certain ethnic restaurants.

Photo of Dr. Norlin

Dr. Norlin

COVID-19, a pandemic that is literally changing the world before our eyes without an end in sight.

Today, we are seeing economies collapsing, borders closing, streets emptying and families and friends losing their loved ones while the medical community is working to exhaustion around the world. In the United States, the Pacific Northwest was where the first cases started and in each passing day more and more cases come to light with more changes to everyday life.

As a dentist working for the government in a public health clinic, I could talk about how our operating procedures are changing every day, or how the governor of Oregon is closing all elective dental and veterinarian treatment to conserve resources for the hospitals when the surge happens, how we are having meetings online, or triaging over the phone to avoid physical encounters. But that is too repetitive, impersonal, and sterile in a time like this.

I remember in Oregon Health and Science University School of Dentistry they used to have pictures of the prior graduating classes going back three centuries along the walls of the hallway. Sometimes I would look into the faces of these young professionals and ponder about the lives they lived, the people they loved, and the patients they served. Each face a story and adventure that I would never know and I wondered if in the future a dental student might, after a casual glance across a photo of OHSU Class of 2016, see my face and think the same thing.

How are we supposed to live in a time like today? When we don’t know what our job status is going to be tomorrow? How are we going to get our supplies? Do we lay off staff? What about my loans? So many questions that seem to remain unanswered.

What are we supposed to do for things beyond our control? The same thing all those dentists did generations before. I am sure in those photos on the wall there were dentists that lived through the horrors of WWI with rows of soldiers layered with the the stench of mud and  death in an Aid Tent, or other dentists seeing entire communities decimated by the Spanish Flu. I am sure there were other faces that saw their entire life savings decimated by the Great Depression and had to come home to their families to tell their spouses and children they had nothing left!

There were other faces on the wall that could have been on the beaches of Normandy, islands of the Pacific, deserts of North Africa and every other corner of the world during WWII and after this world changing event once again they had the added fear of the whole world ending with the splitting of atoms.

So it continued, those faces had their daily struggles, the recessions, the world events, wars, disease outbreaks, deaths and lastly, you know every single one of them had a patient say “I hate coming to the dentist.”

Yes they all had their challenges, their fears, and their moments of tragedy but that is only part of the story on each and every one of their faces. There were families they loved, communities and economies they built in small towns and large cities by the sweat of their brow and their bent over back. Just imagine some of  the heroic deeds they did, their service towards others, and the patients they healed.

We are all like those faces on the wall who have our challenges both in our control and outside of it. Many of them had their challenges and overcame them, and as a profession and as a person today we can too. So, in this time of uncertainty and quarantine, do what really matters, call a loved one and talk on the phone. Check up with an old classmate from school, do a project or craft, send a personal email or text instead of a generic Facebook “like.” Read the book you always wanted, stream the movie you enjoy, go for a walk and from a distance a friendly wave, some words of encouragement, and a smile  can only help each and every one of our souls.

Editor’s note: The American Dental Association has created an informational resource center for dentists on COVID-19 at ADA.org/virus.

Dr. Casey Norlin is a New Dentist Now guest blogger and went to Oregon Health and Science University. He comes from a rural background and lives outside Portland, Oregon, with his beautiful wife. Casey works in public health, has been a volunteer firefighter/advanced EMT for Colton Rural Fire District, an assistant professor for OHSU SOD, and is an Army dentist for the ORANG 41st Infantry Brigade. As of now he still hasn’t decided what he wants to do when he “grows up.” 

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