Adventures for the hygienists spirit

Feb. 1, 1999
After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1972, I have been a clinical dental hygienist for 25 years. I have flossed and root-planed my way through a multitude of practices in four different states. Having been in the dental hygiene trenches, I`ve dealt with the frustrations and often the sense of powerlessness that women in dentistry often face.

Ohio RDH connects better with her job after petting a few tigers and swimming with dolphins

Gayle Lawrence, RDH

After graduating from the University of Michigan in 1972, I have been a clinical dental hygienist for 25 years. I have flossed and root-planed my way through a multitude of practices in four different states. Having been in the dental hygiene trenches, I`ve dealt with the frustrations and often the sense of powerlessness that women in dentistry often face.

I did not retain my sense of commitment to this profession solely by attending yet another perio course. Rich, rewarding personal experiences that I initiated for myself have served to care for my spirit in the context of my work. Some of these I would like to share with you and other hygienists - women with untapped potential, whose hearts and souls are dying a slow death amidst hectic schedules, repetitive procedures, and a lack of meaningful connection with their patients.

Sit back, relax, and allow me to tell you a story - an on-going story with many different chapters. Some are humorous; some are more deeply personal. But the plot always reveals subtle, yet profound insights - insights that have led me into a deeper connection with my work and into more of a human vs. professional relationship with my patients. A single-minded focus on being the most professional is not always the most healing.

Imagine the following adventures:

Special encounters with animals and nature are a source of joy for me. I have friends who have some unusual companions. Simba and Nikita are Siberian Tigers. Shasha is a Black Mane African Lioness. These beautiful, exotic cats share their country homestead. So picture this scenario. Nikita, a 650-pound Siberian tiger, has softly roared a warm greeting. You`ve sat on his back and kissed his nose. Two huge furry tiger paws grab your leg in a gesture of friendly tiger play.

After this experience, I am fearless. So the next time I sit facing a grumpy, growling patient, snarling at me with an intense stare, I don`t even flinch. I am woman - I am hygienist - I am powerful. I simply smile and gently pat him on the head.

After you`ve ridden a camel in the desert sands, your eyes behold an awesome structure, the Great Pyramid on the Gizeh plateau in Egypt. One of the Seven Wonders of the World rises dramatically in front of you, reaching up to touch the sky. You`ve sat contemplating the mysteries of the universe and realize that seemingly impossible feats can be accomplished with focus and persistence.

I feel infinite and limitless. I have rediscovered a bottomless well of renewed clarity and vision. Suddenly, it does not seem hopelessly impossible or absurd that one day, as I advance confidently in the direction of my dream, I will be able to motivate and inspire Mr. Smith to become the Eighth Wonder of the World and begin flossing his teeth.

You`ve sat on a mountaintop in the Andes at one of the most magical places I`ve ever been, the "Lost City of the Inca`s" - Machu Picchu, Peru. A herd of wild llamas graze near you, and you quietly observe this mystical place of spectacular beauty.

It is a place that has a tangible aura of purpose and powerful energy. What is my purpose in life, personally and professionally? How can I fulfill my purpose with clarity as a self-empowered woman, a hygienist?

I sit pondering these questions, amidst awesome structures of natural stone on top of a mountain, surrounded by the rain forest. It is quiet, and I feel welcomed. There is ancient wisdom here, available to me; I need only open myself to it.

Upon leaving this place, I have a deeper sense of purpose. I am going to make more of a difference in people`s lives. Machu Picchu inspired me to return home and transform my treatment room into a space where my patients felt welcomed and nourished while in my presence. Many large, healthy plants remind me of the rain forest. The relaxing sound of a mountain stream is provided by a recirculating fountain. The inviting scents of aroma therapy are soothing, and I incorporated colors that convey a sense of softness. I used the effects of stress-reducing sound by playing my own selected music on cassette, not the rock & roll piped through the rest of the office. The ceiling above my patient chair has a unique mural painted on it with a wonderful star mobile hanging from it.

My patients are surprised and delighted. "This doesn`t feel like a dentist`s office. It`s so relaxing. It smells wonderful. What nice music," they say. Their statements are such a compliment to me. I know they will share this experience with friends and family. I am providing the highest level of quality oral health care with state-of-the-art technology, but I`m giving them another gift as well. Perhaps this is the only time in their day that they will feel nurtured and cared for as a human being.

The Hopi Indians are a gentle, peaceful people. They honor the land and the animals. More importantly, they honor each other. I was privileged to spend a day on the Hopi reservation, north of Sedona, Ariz., last spring. After reading the "Book of the Hopi" several years ago, I wanted to visit first, second, and third mesas where the original Hopi villages still exist. Among the Hopi, the woman is the head of the household. All property and possessions are passed down from mother to daughter. The grandmothers, the wise elders, are the final decisionmakers. They take into account the needs of the tribal community.

Women are powerful here. Although I`m not Native American, I am a woman, and, while on Hopi land, I felt more proud to be one. The end of the day found me high on top of third mesa at Walpi, the oldest Hopi village. There`s no running water or electricity, and the houses are made of dried mud bricks. Yet, it`s still home to eight Hopi individuals. You are allowed to walk through the village, as long as you come with an attitude of respect. The Kivas, underground rooms where they have community gatherings and ceremonies, are sacred places; these rooms are a focal point that maintains the community bond, a thread that holds them together.

While in the village of Walpi, I had the special honor of talking with two elderly Hopi women, the grandmothers, the wise ones. They had long braids and deep creases in their bronzed skin. Their steady gaze held years of wisdom; they spoke confidently and self-assuredly. They were beautiful, seasoned women, always smiling, quick to laugh, powerful role models for me. Their connection to this place, their tribe, and their community was obvious.

I thought about my own community on my way home. Symbolically, the dental office where I work is like a Kiva. Could I view it as a sacred space, a focal point that draws a small group of us together day after day? We are a community - my co-workers, my employer, my patients. I resolved to deepen my connection to that community; to give more thought, time, and attention to strengthening my individual thread within the group; and to carefully weigh the impact of my actions and how those actions could affect the rest of my dental office tribe. My thanks to the Hopi people for reminding me that we need to work together in love, support, and mutual respect.

Imagine going on an adventure with six other women to swim with wild dolphins. This was a transforming encounter, something I`ve wanted to do for a long time. I joined five friends for three days of swimming with wild dolphins in the Atlantic ocean this past August. Dolphins are exquisite creatures, extremely intelligent, and have a powerful healing effect on people. Much research has been done with dolphins, autistic children, and physically and emotionally challenged individuals. I wanted to be with wild dolphins; my dreams have been filled with dolphins for quite some time. It seemed they were calling me to come play with them.

The first day out on the water, with no land in sight, water as smooth as glass, we had dropped anchor. Our charter guide, Victoria Rose, was playing the most beautiful music from the stereo on the boat. Her special song - in essence, her signature - let the dolphins know we were there. These are wild dolphins, so we knew there were no guarantees they would show up. But deep inside, I knew they would be there for me.

We waited with bated breath, gazing out at the water. I saw them first, four dorsal fins to the right of the boat. It was magical; we were mesmerized. They were swimming slowly, gracefully, in rhythm with the music. I silently thanked them for coming.

They circled the boat, inviting us into the water with them. It was like being in another world - dolphins swimming under me and around me. I heard their sonar underwater, clicks and whistles, as they scanned me.

I had prayed for a very special encounter, something profound that I would never forget. In the water, beside me on my right, was a single female dolphin. As she took a breath of air and dove underwater, I did the same. What followed was the profound experience I had asked for. As we dove side by side, she pulled ahead of me, as gracefully as a ballerina. She rolled over on her back and came face to face with me. I found myself gazing directly into her eyes. The emotional impact and love I felt was overwhelming, I could not hold back the tears. They say the eyes are the window to the soul; that is where she touched me.

When I`m feeling alone, uncertain, or invisible to others, I close my eyes and she is there, gazing directly at me. I feel loved. We tend to avoid looking directly at someone, avoiding eye contact. But I recognize the powerful opportunity I have daily with every person I encounter. I gaze directly into their eyes and silently convey a message of safety and compassion. I validate them as a person and let them know they are visible: They are seen. How humbling that this sentient, wild creature so graciously offered me this profound teaching. I will visit them again.

The experience with the dolphins set the stage for my next adventure, which is scheduled for next month. I will be traveling to the Dominican Republic to spend a week for an up-close and personal encounter with one of nature`s most magnificent creatures, the humpback whale. The Silver Bank area is the winter birthing and mating grounds for the humpbacks.

I will live aboard a first-class motor catamaran, with daily trips in small boats into the middle of the whale nursery area. I will have the option of entering the water with snorkel gear and swimming with these gentle giants in their own environment, truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Humpback whales are the most gentle of creatures, very receptive to human interaction. They are very aware of their size compared to ours. The encounters are quite safe. We will also hear the famed humpbacks songs that reverberate like loud music through your body.

I already have a sense that the whales will be the inspiration that opens me to embrace a bigger vision of what is possible in my life. How that will translate into my work still remains to be seen. I know this special, intimate time with the humpback whales will open me to deeper parts of myself. The more I discover about who I am the more I have to share with others in my life.

For me, evolving as a hygienist has been directly proportionate to evolving personally as an individual. It`s time someone opened the door to something other than perio updates and the latest on oral pathology. In this day and age, with all the chaos surrounding us, we need to address the well-being of the whole entity - the body, mind, and spirit. The person inside the hygienist needs to be nourished, comforted, and allowed to play.

I am organizing a OJourneys of DiscoveryO travel group for women. These are magical adventures I?d like to share with other hygienists. The journeys help us inspire and creatively support one another in designing lives of meaning and purpose ? plus have loads of fun. I have three trips planned for 1999:

Y March ? Caribbean humpback whales and wild dolphin encounter.

Y June ? Ancient Echoes of Feminine Wisdom in Greece, Crete, and Santorini.

Y September ? Mystical Peru and the Lost City of the Incas, Machu Picchu.

Our lives should be a never-ending adventure. Please join me.

Gayle Lawrence, RDH, can be reached at 552 Cherry Ave., Ashland, OH 44805; (419) 281-2887 (phone and fax); e-mail: [email protected].

Editor`s Note: In September 1998, RDH published an announcement asking readers to let us know if they were interested in posing for the magazine`s cover. As noted in subsequent issues, the response was overwhelming. Gayle Lawrence was one of many readers who submitted a letter of interest after RDH reached a decision about its 1999 cover "models." But anyone crazy enough to pose with a tiger, in our opinion, deserved a second look. We invited her to write the account published here about her "adventures." RDH does not, as a general rule, print travel information or promote "sideline" businesses. But her ambition - sharing some truly remarkable journeys with colleagues - is worth noting.