As I sit and reflect about these past several months, a roller coaster of emotions plays through my mind. Like in the movies when someone’s whole life flashes before their eyes, that’s how I feel when I try to comprehend what all has taken place since March on this COVID-19 journey.
Am I dramatic? Heavens yes, but in this case I feel like the drama all occurred without any of my doing. Now, before I go further, I want to clarify that I am writing this to explain a point of view. I fully understand that every individual has been affected by this pandemic in some way. My sole point in sharing my experience is to highlight some of the challenges that outpatient healthcare facilities are facing. Believe what you want about dentists, but at the end of the day many of us are humble, honest, small business owners who have been greatly challenged by this pandemic along with many other small business owners.
And with that, here is my story.
Just like many others, my family and I started hearing the increasing seriousness, controversy, and buzz surrounding COVID-19 beginning the weekend of Friday, March 13. Our Facebook dental chat groups were teeming with discussions on if it was safe to continue working while also wondering when any specific guidance would come. By that Sunday night, March 15, we got word that the California Dental Association would be recommending that all California dentists close their practice with the exception of emergency treatment.
We went into the office that Monday and begun the process of rescheduling our patients for what we thought would be two weeks later. That afternoon, the American Dental Association came out with guidance that advised dentists to remain closed to all except emergencies for 3 weeks. Later on the same week the state of California went into a Stay At Home Order and the CDC sent out interim guidance which stated that dentists should remain closed to all but emergency treatment for an undetermined amount of time.
By the end of that whirlwind of a week our whole family was jobless as myself, husband, and mother-in-law are all dentists in our family office. With no timetable for return to work and regular monthly bills piling up, we went into worry mode.
My COVID-19 journey continues.
As the weeks progressed it became clear that not one organization knew how to handle this unprecedented circumstance, and as such, no one felt comfortable giving guidance as to how to open back up safely. Weeks went by and during that time, my husband and I spent quite possible every waking hour reading discussions on dental groups and taking CE courses aimed at learning more about the virus as well as what can be done to safely reopen.
Meanwhile, we were also at a loss of what we could do with our patients that really wanted to get in and get treatment done, patients that were not having a true emergency but if given time their dental needs would worsen. Worrying about our staff and how they could support their families and themselves without their usual income was also a concern that weighed on our family heavily.
We also spent this time spending thousands of dollars to secure supplies that would enable us to reopen safely. Masks, gowns, gloves, specialized suction devices, air filtration units, the list goes on. All of these expenses that would typically come out of our office revenue instead came out of our own pockets. Pockets that were empty after being closed for 3 months.
When the time came to officially reopen on May 15 we were excited to get “back to normal,” not realizing the new normal we were embarking on.
We have now moved into a whole new host of concerns, ones that make the period of shut down and not working seem easy! Now we have to contend with layers of PPE and masks, leaving us with headaches by the end of the day. We also are finding it harder to connect with our patients behind so many barriers of protection, which leads to more fearful and anxious patients.
And the most concerning thing of all, we have no timetable to how long this will last.
Financially we will eventually recover and maintain and for that I consider us extremely lucky, but at what physical, emotional, and mental cost? Being a business owner comes with a lot of extra weight at the present time. Decisions are needed to be made on a daily basis to keep up with the new guidelines and recommendations, and new policies are often needed. When it comes down to it we are trying to keep our team of employees, our patients, and ourselves and family safe, healthy, and happy.
This is a tremendous mountain to climb on my COVID-19 journey.
So why do I share this snippet of my life, this roller coaster of my last few months? Sometimes ignorance is bliss. But in times like this, I think being aware of the challenges that others are facing allow us to be more sympathetic and understanding. As I mentioned before, this pandemic has effected all of us deeply, and when we are so far into our own troubles we tend to view the challenges of others as trivial.
But what I have realized after speaking with hundreds of parents and patients over the last two months is this: we are ALL going through something hard right now. My hard may certainly be different from your hard, but that does not discount either of our hardships. If we can all accept that no one has it easy right now, no one has been spared by all the recent events of the world (no matter what pictures and social media portray), then I believe that we can all support one another and heal together.
One of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, posted the other day about her “AND ALSO” thoughts. She says,
“Here’s the thing: nearly everyone I know (myself very much included) is currently carrying the weight of a global pandemic AND ALSO, right at the same time, carrying something else too—maybe several something elses, things that are hard and heavy, made extra heavy under the weight of everything else.”
We all have different journeys through this, different perspectives, and different experiences. However different, if we remember to band together in CHOOSING KINDNESS I think we can all come out the other side of this better off.
So remember, be kind to your neighbor, be kind to the grocery store cashier, be kind to local business owner, be kind to your child’s teacher, be kind to yourself. And be kind to your dentist.