The River of Doubt

The year was 1914; Teddy Roosevelt and his son Kermit were nearing the end of an epic trip to explore the most unknown and intimidating tributary of the mighty Amazon River. Aptly named the Rio da Dúvida (River of Doubt) before being re-named the Rio Roosevelt, the serpentine waters of the hitherto unexplored branch wound through nearly impenetrable jungle, with impassable rapids and waterfalls.

Lost and running out of supplies, the expedition fell into jeopardy and the lives of the entire party were at stake. To make matters worse, Teddy had slipped and sustained a deep gash on his leg, which had become infected. He did not have the energy to go on.  The great ex-president, a self-described “bull moose” of a man lay against a fallen log, his face pale and gaunt. “Leave me and save yourselves!” he told his son and fellow adventurers.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the economy, some dentists may be facing their own potential crisis: loss of patient revenue, staff layoffs and unpaid bills. It may be tempting to give up on the idea, cut your losses and move on.

But Kermit Roosevelt had a different idea. Forged of similar steel as his father, he and refused to let him father die in the wilderness. With Kermit half-carrying his Teddy, the intrepid pair limped their way back to civilization.

There is always a way to make the best of even challenging situations through resourcefulness and collaboration.

There’s a good lesson in this remarkable story for all of us who are running dental businesses: In times of adversity and challenge, we can come together as an industry and help one another.

Consider how people from the medical field, public agencies and business leaders are currently coming together to fight a common enemy, a virulent strain of virus—warp-speed development of vaccines, drive-through testing facilities in the parking lots of WalMarts and Targets…challenges and adversity can get people working together, finding solutions, innovating, emerging stronger—and that includes you!

There is always a way to make the best of even challenging situations through resourcefulness and collaboration.

River of Doubt

For example, when the present crisis blows over, you may need to make a big advertising impact to bring patients back in. But how will you be able to make a big splash with a pebble of a marketing budget?

Perhaps your cosmetic dental practice can team with a nearby surgery center on a health and beauty ad. A sedation dentist might share a billboard with a neighboring counseling center to promote anxiety management. These are just a few of myriad possibilities.

You may not be able to afford print ads in a prominent dental publication, or a pay-per-click campaign, for example, but maybe you can afford to split the cost on a co-branded ad campaign.

One business owner expressed the following, during the recession, and her words ring true today:

"Don’t lose heart—the kind of setbacks you are experiencing are very common, especially in today’s market, but don’t mean that you’re done. Every successful business owner I know has found breakthrough with perseverance and resourcefulness, and by looking at “failures” as a chance to learn how to do it better." (Personal communication)

When you’re ready to quit, don’t. Much like the father-son Roosevelt team, we stand stronger when we stand together.

Postscript: After Teddy and Kermit returned to the U.S., skeptics raised doubts about the River of Doubt story. Teddy rebutted his critics in a public forum sponsored by the National Geographic Society. In 1927 American explorer George Miller Dyott led a second trip down the river, independently confirming Roosevelt’s discoveries. By not giving up, the great man and his son prevailed.


Author: Kelly John Walker is Senior Writer and Editor with Strategic Dentistry, the parent company of DOCS Education. He holds a Master of Science (MS) degree in Environmental Science from New Mexico State University and a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in English Composition.

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