In the early 20's I helped out at a boy scout camp that my brother ran. One of the most hilarious sights was watching the boys learn to canoe. There were several requirements including swamping the canoe and throwing rope for thirty or so yards - feet? Most of the city boys did not know how to paddle a canoe and in the best case some scouts zig-zagged across the water. Sometimes they ended up traveling in large circles usually away from where they wanted to be. It took quite a few tries for them to go from point A to point B. They just kept paddling until they could work smoothly, even if not evenly. The rope throwing was just as funny to watch as the rope mostly traveled sidewise instead of in front to "save" the other scout. They did pass off their requirements, though they were by no means perfect by the end of the week.
Back in my girls camp days, in the craft area, a sign asked us to guess how many items were in the different jars set up. One jar of jelly beans looked very inviting and quite a few of my friends and I made some guesses - we didn't win. At the time I wondered how long it took the "bean counter" to figure out exactly how many were in each jar.
My work in the dental clinic resembles both of these previous experiences. I told Sister Stewart about going to scout camp - she has been to scout camp too. We both have watched scouts learn to paddle. Running the front desk while the dentist work their magic in restoring teeth sometimes feels like zig-zagging all over the place while trying to get from point A to point B. My highest priority each day is to make sure there are patients in the chair, enable any help needed while they are there, and then to get the paper work done.
To get a patient in the chair requires a schedule and a patient chart to be filled out. That sounds pretty simple. Missionaries are rated on a 1 to 4 category, 1 being urgent and 4 needs a cleaning (prophy or prophylaxis) in six months. Patient charts are made on paper and on the software. Paper for the dentists to keep track of procedures and the software chart to make reports from. After each patient leaves, a rating is given by the dentist to decide if that person comes back for another appointment. The ratings are entered into the computer. Entering each procedure on the software system is not difficult just a matter of pressing the right buttons, but can take some time. To make up a daily schedule the missionaries sorted by their ratings. The computer has macros that decide how far away their mission field is and other factors giving priority to one over the another.
But the computer does not take into consideration the time a patient needs to heal from an extraction, or swelling to go down on a root canal so that more fillings can be done. The computer also doesn't find any patients that have been forgotten or unfinished. Fallible senior missionaries get to take care of those issues.
So here is the story:
While entering data into the computer the front door rings and the missionary is let into the door by pressing a button about knee level. Greeting the missionary, "Have a seat for a little bit. I'll tell the dentist you are here." Walk back to the operatory, "Your 6:30 missionary is here" or Elder/Sister so-and-so is here. Walk back back to the computer and start entering, answer the phone, go back to the computer, have a different doctor come out and say his patient hasn't arrived, call front desk, if no one answers, walk up an incline to the front building, search for missionary, page missionary on the intercom, walk back down and remember where you left off at the computer. Get a call for Jonah to come help in the MTC nurses office (she is a trained nurse and can administer immunizations) put gloves on to assist Dr. Stewart sometimes for 10 minutes sometimes for half an hour. Go back to the computer and remember what was going on before leaving. Just as I finish the next day's schedule a field missionary calls with an emergency that will need to be fit in. Redo the schedule. Then I find a doctor is scheduled for two root canals/extractions etc. in the same hour, redo the schedule. Check the calendar, answer the phone, go get a missionary, answer a question from someone walking in. Redo the schedule. Sometimes I tell Sister Stewart that I'm still paddling.
Another part of my job is answering questions. Usually Sister Hoem's is manning the front desk (making schedules and patient charts). Whenever Sister Stewart sends a report to the Missionary committee or whomever it is that she sends reports to, she needs numbers, all kinds of numbers to put in those reports. Number of missionaries served, screened, taken care of. Number of procedures done, how many were urgent, Where those missionaries came from. Who needs to be seen the most. Luckily I've never worked on money amounts - for supplies, procedures, or how much it saves to take care of the missionary in the MTC versus in the field. I work with numbers, I'm the bean counter. I have poured over charts and lists and count each missionary who has been seen - probably two or three times for different lists. If a man from Salt Lake walks into the Clinic I wonder what kind of question he will have. Inevitably I will be counting somewhere to find part of his answer.
Sometimes I wonder if there are guardian angels watching from the shore laughing as I zig-zag along paddling as they watch my actions. Are they happy I'm getting more experienced? I do know they make sure missionaries are not missed and that the schedule goes pretty smoothly despite my slip-ups.
I have also come to appreciate the value of numbers and how important they are to the questions that need answers.
"We take care of the health of the missionaries," is pretty vague. Versus "The dentist extracted 15 "rotted stumps" of teeth or more accurately root tips this week to avoid infections in missionary mouths.
A big question is who needs dental care? Isn't that suppose to be done before they come? There are lots of answers, I just provide the data numbers to help answer them.