By Armond Kotikian, DDS, MD
STEPANAKERT, Karabagh — I got in very late Sunday night into the capital of Karabagh. After the eight-hour bus ride, my body wanted to lie down, bumpy heart and mind were pumping with adrenaline.
Question after question raced through my brain: are the parents going to trust me, given that I am from another country? Are the anesthesiologists going to be able to intubate (place the tube in the windpipe) some of the more challenging patients that I have met via the web for the past four months? What kinds of instruments are going to be available to me? This was uncharted territory and I was anxiously awaiting sunrise.
Earlier this year, the Armenian Medical International Committee connected me with Dr. Sasun Vahanyan, the only oral and maxillofacial surgeon in all of Karabagh, which has a population of close to 200,000. After looking me up online and watching one of my interviews on Youtube, Vahanyan invited me to come to Karabagh to perform surgeries together.
I arrived at the Children’s hospital in Stepanakert on a Monday morning, excited and apprehensive. I was soon greeted by the smiling 29-year-old Vahanyan, whom I had met only over skype. As I approached the entrance to the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery clinic, there were about 50 parents and children hovering around the only entrance. They stared at me, their first impressions settling in, while I focused only on trying to get to the door. I apologized about 15 times before I was able to make it to the white door.
The clinic measured about 200 square feet but had everything I needed to get started: a brown desk and one examination chair. I hadn’t had a chance to digest my surroundings when the patients and their parents began flooding in, with or without an appointment. This was nothing like an average day in my usual clinic. By 1 p.m. we had seen 31 patients and promised most of them we would do their surgery. The cases ranged from cleft lip and palate, to trauma patients, to patients with oral tumors to simple wisdom teeth extractions. My years of training kicked in and I was excited to do as much as I could in the short time I had.