Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Henry has been with us for about a month now. If he had not come to the ship, it is most likely he would not be alive today.
For the past two years I have experienced pain, which at times was rather significant, in my right molar. My wisdom teeth have been lingering at my gum line waiting to join the cave of my mouth for about the same amount of time. I always attributed the pain to my elusive wisdom and felt bad for teething children.
In October, the pain intensified, putting me on a week long diet of painkillers, until finally one after noon I looked in the mirror to find that my entire jaw had started to swell. I was placed on antibiotics, continued to take my pain medications, and in a few days the swelling went down. An x ray revealed that I had a massive infection (that was probably there for a few years) that had been untreated and ruined my tooth. It was so bad, the ship dentist thought the tooth might need to be extracted.

oops. next time my teeth hurt I probably won't wait until my jaw swells to see a dentist.

When I was home for Christmas I had to get a root canal on my back right molar. I saw two dentists in the course of three days to have the problem properly cared for. My tooth and I are now doing fine.
There are over 3 million people and less than five dentists in the country of Liberia. So, there is roughly one dentist for every million people.

Which means, if you get an infection, or a cavity, or an abscess, you are most likely not going to have it treated.

Henry had a dental infection. Probably similar to mine. But sadly for Henry, he did not have a dentist to go to. He didn't have antibiotics to take. He couldn't have root canal done.

When he came to the Africa Mercy, Henry was in danger of losing his airway and going septic. His infection had consumed his face, spread down his neck, and infiltrated his chest. He was taken to surgery and over 17 drains were placed in his body to remove the puss.
He has been wearing a huge bandage that covers his face and chest. When I changed if a few weeks ago, most of the skin on his chest was sliding off the muscle in his body.

All because of an infected tooth.

I can happily report that Henry is doing well. He is in his 20's and has decorated his bedside with original crayon and marker drawings. Although he will still probably need some skin grafting on his chest, his wounds are healing beautifully. But perhaps the best part is that he is here; and he is alive.

Sadly, there are thousands of Liberians with the same story as Henry who will die this year.

All because of an infected tooth.
I will think twice before complaining next time I need a cavity filled.

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