CHARLOTTE COUNTY — Dr. Roger Lee likes to refer to himself as a “frontier dentist.” The Port Charlotte oral surgeon had been to Guatemala several years ago and performed dental surgery under “very primitive circumstances.” Because he felt he could perform extractions under sparse conditions, he volunteered to travel to Jamaica recently to treat residents there.
The three-day dental mission, from May 29 to June 2, was sponsored by the Rotary Clubs of Peace River, Murdock and Kingston, Jamaica. It was organized by team leader Leroy Jackson, a Punta Gorda resident who originally hails from the Caribbean island, to treat both children and adults at the DuPont Primary School located in the capital city of Kingston. The school is situated in a 5-acre compound that has 1,400 students from grades one through six.
The seven members of the team included Lee; Dr. Carol Stevens, a Port Charlotte periodontist; Dr. Winston McIntosh, DDS; hygienist Mary Dolloway; and dental assistants Gabrielle Arnau, Holianda Van Rossum and Kelly Taylor.
“Between me, Dr. Stevens, Dr. McIntosh, and Ms. Dolloway, our chairs were filled all day,” Lee said. “Especially Ms. Dolloway; she was nonstop. My procedures usually take longer. At times, the only illumination I had was a small flashlight. It left a lot to be desired. Dr. McIntosh was a good, smooth operator. He had a lot more in his chair than I did.”
The team’s day began at 7:30 a.m. and everyone “worked very hard,” McIntosh said.
“I saw about 25 to 30 patients every day,” he said. “We had issues with the equipment. It was nice, but it had sat for probably a month or two. It made it very challenging.”
Stevens said the culture is vastly different because of the huge expanse between the very rich and the very poor. Although there were problems to overcome, such as trying to locate the dental equipment and the lack of certain supplies, she thoroughly enjoyed her visit and would gladly return to treat the people.
“While Dr. McIntosh was restoring teeth and Dr. Lee was extracting them, I screened patients,” she said. “It was like a triage.”
In a written synopsis of the trip, Jackson explained how the team had to improvise when the autoclave machine, used to sterilize instruments, malfunctioned.
“One of the dentists suggested using the oven in the rectory (St. Pius X Church located nearby), and that is what we did,” he wrote.
Stevens’ only complaints were the coffee, which she said she will bring with her next time, and the annoying rooster that crowed, keeping her awake.
“He started at 5 p.m. and went on all night,” she said.
Stevens said when the team deplaned in Kingston, the van taking them to the compound had a dead battery. When they finally arrived several hours later, the food awaiting them was cold.
“I bit into what I though was a fish stick, but it was cold and full of flour and dough,” she said. “They had a tray full of fish, but they still had the heads and fins on them. I ate a lot of mangos, different fruits, boiled eggs and beef patties while I was there.”
Although the days were busy and frustrating at times, Lee said they relaxed in the evening after a shower, sometimes with cold water and sometimes with hot, by listening to reggae music and visiting various homes for dinner.
“If I were a tourist, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to really get to know the people,” he said. “It was wonderful.”
McIntosh echoed Lee’s sentiments. He said Jackson would take them out to dinner at his relative’s home. Anywhere they went to eat, they were not allowed to pay.
“They treated us royally,” he said. “I was so impressed with their Rotary Club. They are first-class people.”
Lee said it was a very rewarding experience and he gladly would volunteer to make the trip again.
“The people were very appreciative of the dental care they received by the team,” he said.