Dropping out of hygiene school was a difficult decision, but that’s life—sometimes it pitches nasty curveballs. Just after the very first semester of the program, an unexpected incident occurred in my personal life. My fiancé and I were involved in serious and tragic car accident, and unfortunately he was partially at fault.
Things had been great up until that point. I had just been elected vice president of my class and had excelled in my first two classes. I remained in the program until the fall before graduation. The accident had left a mark of uncertainty for my fiancé and me, and we lived in constant fear of the near future. It had been quiet for a little while, almost like the calm before the storm. But as more information rolled in and we began to get a clearer picture of what was ahead, I became more and more overwhelmed and had to make a decision.
At the time, my family was my top priority, and I was at a point where I felt it was impossible to give my full and focused attention to school. I was just past the halfway mark (peak intensity), but the time I had left with my fiancé was ticking before we would be separated for years. Even one mistake has harsh consequences, and the reality was that he was going to serve time for his. He was going to prison, and every kind of preparation was in order. I withdrew from the dental hygiene class of 2017. I remember telling myself and others around me that I was not going back.
But then the year I spent out of school really placed things in perspective. My fiancé’s departure was my breaking point, or in my mind, my “waking” point. I became so focused. Never had I expected that I would be filled with so much drive and determination. I was going back to hygiene school, finishing my degree, and getting my license. It was like I sat alongside while a different person took the wheel. A part of me came out that I didn’t know was there. I had to do it for myself—I had to do it for us.
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Not only did I go back, but I was lucky enough to jump right back in where I left off with just two trimesters to go. I succeeded with flying colors. I won a scholarship, received awards, and graduated with honors. As my first year without my partner of six and a half years and my last year of hygiene school, it was a challenge like no other, but I told myself I was going to do whatever it took and that nothing was going to stop me.
Now I can proudly say that I am an RDH, and having those three letters after my name feels so good. I have a profession of my own and a skill of my own. I can prepare for the future and begin to create a sturdy foundation for when my fiancé returns. I can support myself, and it has never felt better.
While hygiene school had grueling demands that left me fulcruming in my sleep and finding clever ways to remember all the medications that cause dry mouth or gingival overgrowth, the opportunities and skills that came from it were far worth it. It all became clear as I walked up on that stage to receive my diploma.
My instructors were helpful and encouraging, and I can’t thank them enough for giving me a second chance and believing in me enough to allow me to pick up where I left off. My fellow students, friends, and family were also nothing short of amazing. But the person who was my biggest support and genuine source of inspiration was the one who was also furthest out of reach and miles away—my fiancé. He was there for me every step of the way, and he gave me strength I didn’t even know I had.
To those of you out there facing one of life’s curveballs, don’t let it get the best of you; let it bring out the best in you. If the thought of giving up has ever crossed your mind, or if you have ever questioned your ability to continue what you started, let me reassure you that you can do it. Sometimes the bumps in the road are what set you back on the right track. Don’t underestimate your ability to succeed even in the harshest of circumstances because you are stronger than you think. Use whatever support you can—friends, family, and especially each other. Keep your goals in view and give it all you’ve got. You won’t regret it.
Scarlett Finlay is a dental hygienist, writing under a pseudonym.