Growing up in a family of dental practitioners, people assumed that I would get into the profession just because I was born into it. Although that is untrue, I understand why it would be an easy assumption. As a child, my mother’s dental clinic was my playground. I pretended to cook with rubber bowls and metal spatulas and learned to sculpt with heated pink wax as if it were Play-Doh. Throughout my early childhood, I was at the dental clinic five days a week, and I would rather help out the assistants than play outside. Naturally, I dreamed of becoming a dentist just like my parents. But that sense of wonder and amusement soon wore out, like a childhood toy forgotten over time.
As I grew up, I became engrossed with everything else but Dentistry. It’s true what they say: You tend to take for granted the things that come easily. For years, Dentistry felt like a persistent suitor — always there, but never quite striking my fancy. When I was about to graduate from high school, I thought I wanted to become a physician so I decided to take up Nursing as a path to Medicine. For three years, I did relatively well in Nursing, earning distinctions and even ranking in the 98th percentile of the Philippine Nursing Aptitude Test (NAT). But all that didn’t help the feeling of lack and dissatisfaction, as I constantly struggled to find passion in what I was doing. Being in the Nursing program felt like I was put on a fast train that was going in the wrong direction. Little did I know that my life was about to take a turn for the worse.
On the night of December 3rd in 2006, just a year short of graduation, I got into a freak accident that scarred my face for life at the mere age of 19. It took an 18-hour operation, 2 weeks in an intensive care unit, and multiple surgeries thereafter, to get me back into working shape after a broken windshield maimed and ravaged my face. I was unable to eat, speak, or open my eyes as my head was wrapped in bandages for almost a month. The fast train that was my life literally stood at a standstill. I was forced to stop and take a good, hard, look at myself asking, “Where do I go from here?” At the brink of death, seemingly difficult choices suddenly became easy decisions. And so, I took an extended break from Nursing as I recovered physically, psychologically and emotionally. At that point, I became determined not only to survive this tragedy, but to thrive from it.
In my year of solace and soul-searching, I found myself being drawn back to the playground of my childhood. As I began to spend more and more time at my mother’s dental clinic, everything started to become familiar once again. Seeing patients come in with a great deal of pain and leaving with smiles on their faces brought me joy and optimism. As I tinkered with my father’s carvers and waxes, I discovered that I had a natural ability for dental work. And as I got better and started assisting in dental procedures, it became even clearer to me that this is what I was meant to do. All those years I was looking elsewhere, when my calling was just right under my nose. It was a revelation. I felt like a phoenix, risen from the ashes.
From the outside looking in, there is no denying that the accident took a toll on me; but from the inside looking out, I can say with fervor and certainty that it has not diminished an ounce of my dexterity, eye for detail, artistic skills, or my capacity for becoming a worthy dentist. Fast forward to seven years later, I graduated 2nd rank in my class and was given a Special Recognition Award in Clinical Dentistry for outstanding clinical work. Shortly after that, I placed 6th out of 600 test takers in the 2013 Philippine Dental Licensure Examination. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy. Getting my dental license in the Philippines was a vindicating moment that fueled my desire to do even greater things in the dental profession. In my first year of practice, I couldn’t have imagined a better working experience as I treated numerous patients, joined dental missions and taught at my alma mater. As I continue my journey here in America, I look forward to taking my knowledge and skills to another level. My commitment and dedication to Dentistry has only gotten stronger with time and I’m excited to see what new heights can be achieved by learning from the best instructors and researchers in the world.
If my relationship with Dentistry were a love story, it certainly was not love at first sight, and neither is it a fairy tale. It has had its ups and downs, but it stood strong through the test of time. The persistent suitor has finally caught my eye, but more than that, it has captured my heart.
I want this story to resonate, not of sadness, but of hope and inspiration. Today, I carry my battle scars with pride as I try to push more boundaries for those who have ever been disabled or struck by tragedy in one way or another. No mountain is too high to climb, and no tragedy too big to overcome. I should know, because that accident nearly a decade ago left me completely blind in my left eye. Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger,” and I couldn’t agree more.