Medical trauma reminds me to be grateful for everyday life (column by Katherine Cobb)
I have traversed quite the medical nightmare these past three weeks. I’ve never faced anything so debilitating, frustrating and painful — nor felt so helpless.
It sure has made me appreciate the small things about normal everyday life. And none of it feels boring to me — I’m just grateful to sleep in my own bed, get back to the gym, and communicate with people in a meaningful way again.
It began with a driving, shooting pain in areas of my teeth and jaw. It came out of nowhere like a meteor. My head started to throb, and it wasn’t long before I took some over-the-counter pain relievers and got horizontal on the sofa.
Although it felt a bit reminiscent of a tooth needing a root canal (how I wish I didn’t know that sensation), this was like that on steroids.
When nothing helped the pain, I turned — a bit hesitantly — to social media, where I described my symptoms and asked if anyone else had experience to share.
I was not prepared for the onslaught of well-meaning folks yelling at me to get to the doctor because I might be having a heart attack.
Not that I’m a know-it-all, but I knew that was way off. In the not-too-distant past, I aced a stress test (I’m even on the hospital’s wall of fame!) plus I am very in tune with my body and its signals and nothing suggested heart attack. Although jaw pain is, it turns out, a potential symptom, it’s always in conjunction with other indicators.
To be cautious, I called my doctor and spoke with a nurse. She thought it was a dental issue so I called my dentist. She was unavailable but another dentist in the practice could see me. He gave me a quick exam and diagnosed temporomandibular joint dysfunction, known better as TMJ.
I wasn’t convinced as I’ve had a few episodes of TMJ, and this was significantly different, but I went home and tried to relax. I would revisit the dentist two more times in agonizing pain before the week was up, but there was no relief, only added trauma as different diagnoses were given and techniques tried — all wrong.
My life had become hell, marked my near-constant shooting pain in my jaw and teeth in various places, all on the left side, plus some swelling. I couldn’t sleep but a few hours, and I couldn’t eat much because of the pain. I couldn’t work, drive, concentrate or do anything but pray through each bout of suffering, and try to think positive thoughts. I said affirmations such as “I am healed, I am well, I am healthy,” a hundred times because I believe thoughts become reality.
I crawled into the doctor’s office, the pain so unbearable at this point, I had no coping methods left.
The physician diagnosed a sinus infection. While she gave me a prescription for an anti-inflammatory and an antibiotic, she failed by not giving me something for the pain.
A doctor the next day finally prescribed pain medication. Imagine my surprise when it stopped working after the first dose, and that initial relief lasted only three hours. The pain came back with a vengeance, almost stronger after being numbed out.
I would spend a few more sleepless nights and distressed days before my husband took me to the emergency room. A CT scan showed I had no sinus infection and the doctor diagnosed a dreadful neurological condition that matched my symptoms.
Days later, the neurologist reversed the diagnosis (one bit of good news) then sent me back to the ER because my face had swollen over time into a contorted version of itself and a huge abscess had formed, and was bursting.
The ER oral surgeon sent me back to my dentist, who sent me to a specialist, who then diagnosed two infected teeth requiring root canals.
Relief came when the abscess abated. I still had pain, but it was manageable, not the inhuman kind. Slowly and surely, I have been recovering.
It’s been an ordeal with widespread missteps and perfunctory annoyances (such as how medical facilities operate), but I cannot shake the small kindnesses. My family felt powerless, but did everything they could to make me comfortable. My mom stepped up, hauling me to various doctors, fetching prescriptions and making me soup. Another friend came to visit with goodies in tow, which made me realize how lonely and isolated I’d been — stuck in a prison of personal anguish. A whole host of folks were praying for me, and rooting for my recovery.
I have a new respect for anyone living with chronic pain, and I’m hanging on to my gratitude for the little things for as long as I can, because they truly equal bliss.
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