Many people will know Richard McQuillan as their dentist. Many people will also know that Richard McQuillan retired at the end of August. What many people may not know is that the following day he flew out to Tanzania to dedicate himself to two weeks’ voluntary dental work.
He has been aware of Bridge2aid, a charity that sends volunteers to East Africa to assist in dental care, for many years. His view is that, whereas a lot of younger people have, or have had, a chance to do this type of thing in their gap year, he never did and saw it as an opportunity to use his skills for something worthwhile.
Along with five other dentists and four nurses, he embarked on a fairly arduous journey to reach his first place of work, Gallapo: four hours from Nairobi to their ‘residence’ via Kilimanjaro, and a further one hour to the clinic – a concrete building without water or electricity and with a battered dining room chair on which to seat his patients. He was allocated a set of instruments along with the sterilising equipment – a pressure cooker used on a petrol stove. With several objectives – to relieve pain for many people who have no access to dental care, to educate the local people and train local Health Workers to continue the work – he set to to treat the dozens of people who came along to the clinic each day. The Health Workers are already trained to help in childbirth, to treat fractured limbs and give contraceptive advice.
Whilst he was treating the patients he was also training the Health Workers in the diagnosis of acute or chronic pain, also the appropriate use of antibiotics, how to give local anaesthetic, then the actual extraction of teeth. It was the remit of the dental nurses to provide oral hygiene education to both Health Workers and the patients and, for a little light relief, to delight the children by blowing bubbles. Since 2004, 3.1 million people in East Africa have had access to emergency dental care in this way.
Some of the patients had been in pain for a year or more and Richard has particularly fond memories of an albino woman he treated. She had walked many miles at great danger to herself as albinos are still a target for witch doctors in that part of Africa. Another patient was a four-year-old girl, brought along by her ten-year-old brother. After a full working day and the one hour return journey, Richard enjoyed a beer with his colleagues in the evenings and also Sunday off.
Richard is now looking forward to enjoying retirement although he hasn’t drawn up his ‘Bucket List’ yet. He has a large garden to care for and two boisterous grandchildren he and Sue, his wife, help with. He is looking forward to more travelling although he says he is disenchanted with long haul travel; they are more likely to travel to corners of Europe that they haven’t visited yet and are tempted to buy a camper van. He recently re-took his scuba diving qualification so perhaps long haul travel will beckon after all.
One thing is for sure – Richard will go to any lengths to watch his beloved London Irish play rugby. Now what if they were playing in East Africa?