Beyond the Tipping Point!
Defined by Webster: “The tipping point: the critical point in a situation, process, or system beyond which a significant and often unstoppable effect or change takes place.”
For those of you unfamiliar with “the tipping point,” it is the concept that an escalating amount of stimulus will initiate unstoppable change in an individual’s life and, similarly, in the world. Never have I felt this theory to be so relevant as I did March 10, 2020, the day the government shutdown forced me to lay off all of my employees/team/mothers/friends. This is the day the COVID pandemic became real in my life.
Wow. Hard to believe I wrote this intro almost a year ago today. The theory that “every action has an opposite and equal reaction,” could not be more true. Without fail, we have all been impacted by quarantines and cotton-swab-up-the-nose testing and have adapted to a reality of wondering if we know the masked face across from us in the grocery store.
As a dentist, I survived the heartbreaking task of understanding how unemployment compensation works, purchased vast amounts of PPE, learned how to configure my body to perform dental procedures wearing “hazmat-like” gear and prayed daily that we would be safe, our patients would be safe and that our world would someday be okay.
Now it is 2021, and—God willing—we did it. My practices not only survived, but we THRIVED and grew stronger amongst uncertainty. We welcomed new team members and patients. We connected on a deeper level with our loyal employees and patient base. We chose to embrace the change becoming a part of the healing process by providing individualized, health-centered dental services with greater meaning than ever before.
I am so grateful to the trust my team and my patients bestowed as we navigated these waters together. It is crazy to think that the message blasted across our media was to fear dental procedures and transmission risk when in reality “they” could not have been more wrong. According to the American Dental Association (October 2020), the risk of transmission in a dental office of a patient to a dentist during a dental procedure (when the patient is not wearing a mask and giving off aerosols) is less than one percent and as little as a half of a percent in some states. As it turns out, the standard dental protocols of washing our hands incessantly, wiping down our rooms with CaveCide and sterilizing everything in sight could have been the COVID handbook for safety. But hindsight is 20/20—ironic, right?
For me personally, COVID has been a mixed blessing. I experienced the loss of community and purpose when shut down and unable to care for my patients and team. I felt the financial burden of lost income and the pressure of being the sole provider in my household. But I have also found the gift of time and the benefits of clarity as I stopped to examine what is most important to me in my life.
I am also grateful for the additional time I had with my mom as she fought through the final stages of ALS. Her courage and fortitude were nothing less than miraculous.
My quarantine memories include screaming into the iPad in the hopes that my hard-of-hearing 97-year-old grandpa would understand me as my mom smiled back at him unable to talk, her eyes filled with love. His bewilderment was apparent as he stated, “Jacque, these talking machines are amazing,” looking at the iPad and then staring at my mom.
The joy on his face as pure as a child seeing snow for the first time. I was beyond blessed with the chance to throw my mom’s last birthday party, an impromptu drive-by with sidewalk chalk and honking horns. I dug in the dirt with my boys and fulfilled my daughter’s dream of a household with two rambunctious dogs (which I assure you is much louder than one). And the list goes on.
Nevertheless, I hope this pandemic is the only one in my lifetime and yours. I pray for the normalcy of smiling faces, concert crowds, and for my less-cautious first-grader to out stretch his arms, hug his teacher, and experience real human connection again. But for now, I will try to be positive and grateful for all we have endured and for the opportunity to endure more in the future. I will remind myself and my children that the pandemic was a learning experience in patience and persistence, and compassion and understanding. I will hug my kiddos close and remember that life is short, and the world is ever-changing. I will breathe in the pain of struggle and breathe out the disharmony of 2020, making space for a something worthwhile and something beautiful to come.
Dr. Stephanie Vondrak is board certified by the American Academy of Craniofacial Dental Sleep Medicine to treat patients suffering from sleep apnea with sleep apnea appliances.