by Hatem Ahmed
Dentistry is beautiful.
Have you ever tried to impact a person’s life? Push them to the point where they can’t help but smile?
An eight-year-old boy, coming home from school, leaped onto the doormat, singing primary school anthems as he waited for his mother’s response to his persistent knocking. He was born a smiling kid and grew up with the smile of someone who feels blessed and grateful. And he’s always been grateful.
“Dr. Hatem!” said the voice from inside. The door and her arms opened at the same time, followed by waves of hugs and kisses. This was the ritual end of his school day – and now he can start bragging about the number of young people he made smile today. Who else would listen to that but a beloved mother? But later…
“Hatem, why do you have the TV so loud?” She had never had to repeat the question before.
“Mom, I want to hear every word. It’s my favorite show.” His eyes were glued to the lips of people talking on the screen, and his own lips followed their motion. His mother knew that once again, she must take him to an earwax-removal appointment. Then he will hear her better.
At the audiology clinic he had another hearing test. But this time, ear-wax was not the problem. Anxious and shocked, she was told that her son needed a hearing aid in his right ear.
“I really don’t like this hearing aid, Mom. The tubes look terrible.” He continued, with his usual humor. “They remind me of snorkeling. What If I took them off, Mom? My ears will drown?”
She hugged him. “Hatem, this is to make you hear better, so you won’t miss a word the teachers say in class anymore. You’ll keep up your high grades, do you understand, Dr. Hatem?”
His smile widens.
Dentistry is mesmerizing.
I remember sitting in the first row in all my classes, listening intently with my ‘diving’ right ear. My eyes were pinned on my teachers’ lips and while I might not remember their facial features, I would memorize their teeth alignments and lips closures. Perhaps this contributed to my growing passion for teeth?
My left ear decided to go snorkeling around the time I started the first year of dental school in my city of Cairo, the capital of Egypt, in late 2005.
School was a struggle. Why is it so hard to hear in universities? The huge lecture halls and long hallways aren’t friendly to people with hearing loss. I also had to attend tutoring clinics and receive instructions from ninjas (which is how I pictured my supervisors at the time). Ninjas and dentists have something in common: a face mask! The inaudible words coming from behind a face mask could be anything!
By the end of my first year, I wasn’t able to understand my lectures or clinical work. Frustrated, I went to my faculty dean. His response: “We don’t have accommodations for someone with a hearing disability here, you should start thinking about transferring to another school, maybe one of those “theoretical” colleges.”
And that response motivated me to continue – I was going to make it to graduation day!
For five more years, I struggled with verbal orders from behind masked lips – in the name of infection control guidelines. I didn’t complain because this was my chosen path. Furthermore, I was grateful to dentistry in spite of my challenges; it integrates mimicking, sculpturing and art. Although I had no accommodation as a dentistry student, being a dentist naturally accommodated my hearing loss. I fit into the gloves of a dentist to become a dental artist although I had no previous artistic skills. Dentistry was my best friend.
I graduated in 2011.
Dentistry is adaptive. Dentistry is rewarding.
The power of believing is astonishing. If you believe you belong somewhere, then you will be there. There will be many steps to take, but believing will be your escalator. I attained my most-wanted dream of becoming a health professional, but there was another roadblock; a hard of hearing dentist must provide a great deal of patient-reassurance. People need to know their dentist can listen to and understand them. I’m striving toward that every day.
I wouldn’t give up my hearing loss; it spices up my life recipe and flips the usual situations into real challenges. Without it, my life would have reached a plateau long before this.
Hatem Ahmed lives in Vancouver, B.C.