The Pacific Northwest winter rains fell heavier than usual that day. After finding a spot on the top deck of the hospital parking garage, I bundled up and hurried through the pouring rain and sideways winds to get to the Mobile Dental Clinic van parked under the hospital awning. I wondered what elements the patients endured to get to see the dentist that day.

After arriving in the van and settling in, one of the first patients of the day climbed the steps up into the Mobile Dental Clinic. Her name was Jenny. She looked very put together, and she walked with a certain calm and grace.

Jenny, sitting in the patient chair in the Mobile Dental van waiting for her filling procedure
Jenny, sitting in the patient chair in the Mobile Dental van waiting for her filling procedure.

When she sat down to talk with the dentist, it became clear that Jenny was a native Spanish-speaker. The dentist knew only a little Spanish, so I entered the room and offered to interpret. Jenny came in that day because her cavity filling fell out, exposing sensitivities in her tooth that she had been enduring for months. The dentist mentioned the possibility of a root canal, and Jenny retracted in fear, “No, no no. I don’t want that. Just the filling.” As I carried on interpreting between them, I wondered – what was Jenny’s story? Why did she need to come to the Mobile Dental Clinic that day?

After her appointment wrapped, she sat in the waiting area at the center of the van, filling out some paperwork. I asked if I could sit beside her and hear her story.

“¿De dónde eres?” (Where are you from?)
“Venezuela,” she said.

My jaw dropped. Knowing what’s happening in Venezuela right now with an economic crisis and food and medicine shortages, I couldn’t imagine what she had gone through to get here.

“¡Wow – no lo creo! ¿Cuándo llegaste a los EEUU?” (Wow – I can’t believe it! When did you arrive in the U.S.?)
“Hace tres meses.” (Three months ago.)

I asked her what it was like in Venezuela.

In her home country, Jenny was a professor of medicine and a phlebotomist. She left Venezuela for the United States to visit with her brother-in-law, in hopes that her husband would be able to join them in the U.S. soon. I wondered, “What would it take to leave everything you know behind? To have a well-established job as a medical professional in your home country, and to watch as food and medicine prices in your local store skyrocket to entirely unaffordable amounts? What would it be like to decide that it would be better  – and safer – to leave it all behind than to stay?

I wondered, “What would it take to leave everything you know behind?”

“The situation in Venezuela is bad. It’s very, very bad,” Jenny explained. “I work in the health system, so I know what it’s like there. People can’t access anything. It’s very bad.”

I imagine what life must have been like five or ten years ago for Jenny compared to now. Back then, it’s likely that getting a dentist appointment in her hometown wouldn’t have been a big deal. Today? It’s probably unaffordable and with no guarantee the resources are there to fix her pain.

Thankfully, she found out about our Mobile Dental Program through a resource center. And they always have the resources to fix her fillings and ease her pain.

Wondering what it’s like to leave everything behind – your career, your husband, your country – I asked Jenny about her feelings leaving home.

“You have to persevere,” she said. “You have to keep going.”

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