I think that no one ever wants to hear the words “Oh, my God” uttered from their dentist while they are examining your x-rays with a loupe. It is a rare occasion that such events end happily – with the dentist merely admiring the handy work laid down by dentists past. The rest happened so fast…
I started the year with headaches and teeth pain (yes, plural). Teeth pain the likes of which played my ivories like a New Orleans piano man on Shrove Tuesday: a Mardi Gras party of pain, if you will. Then February came along and the REAL pain took root in the seconds after a kidney scan.
Like most medical issues, I don’t suffer them in isolation, so the accompaniment to head and tooth aches seemed to be kidney problems.
As my head and the teeth throbbed away I was beginning to get sharp pain from the small of my back on the right hand side. I was advised it might have been kidney stones so they checked it out. After ten years of Extreme Medical Problems (a shameless plug for my new autobiographical reality television show – not really) my kidney giving out would hardly have come as a surprise. During the kidney scan I was given the contrast liquid which I have had many times before in similar procedures. This time, however, as I felt the gentle warm watery feeling wash over me I got a massive headache – a migraine monster like thing. On the typical pain scale where the nurse or doctor asks you to rate pain on a scale of 1 to 10 I can honestly say it was a 9 – for someone with my medical history that is significant pain – although little more than 2 years ago I would have said it was a 10. Every time I think I have gone through the worst I find out there is a whole new world of pain waiting for you on the other side.
I came out of the machine and I immediately asked for paracetamol which unintentionally sent everyone into a tizzy. One shouldn’t get any pain from the test or the contrast and if you do, they said, it has to be a problem. For five hours it was like a extended scene in ER… and after five hours they gave up: it was “probably” a coincidence. 3 days later when the pain throughout my head still had me teetering on the edge of insanity it was decided that I should have a brain scan, you know, just “in case.”
In the meantime, I survived on a Quality Street selection of prescription painkillers – a sort of try one, try all approach – which I have learned outside medical-speak is thought of as seeing where on the wall the shit sticks after it is thrown at the fan. I started to get a better picture of my what was happening after the brain CT scan. The brain scan was clear. There was no additional pain at the time of the contrast being injected into the system. But this seemingly good news was also problematic: it seemed to be unwritten instructions for the doctors to rest on their laurels. After suffering this excruciating pain for almost five weeks it was no longer on my doctors’ radar. In fact, I am sure that if I still wasn’t complaining about it that any of them would even have asked me about it. This was frustrating. And surprising. Instead of motivating them to find this unknown problem they simple seemed to test the fuck out of me and give up. The pain didn’t abate, so neither would I.
Next, I went to a dentist to see if it could at all be related to the teeth since we were getting nowhere with the brain. It seemed like a logical next step and nobody seemed to be doing anything else with regard to my pain. Keep in mind that I normally take 450 to 900 mg of Tramadol as high level opiate relief for back pain. However, it also works on pain in other parts of the body including the head and teeth.
This meant that the whole pain was immeasurably greater than that which I was experiencing at the time. That my doctors had lost interest in my situation seemed unbelievable. Moreover, these are almost exclusively highly paid private doctors, you think they would have risen to the challenge, but no, they shrank in the face of it. It was chronic pain and frustration that pushed me to keep asking and asking and testing and testing – so to the dentist…
The dentist couldn’t see anything in the x-rays which was frustrating but predictable enough considering the patient. Before I left, however, she said that she would send me for one more test that would give a larger, clearer, picture. I was desperate with pain so I was prepared to try anything and I went for the suggested 360 degree mouth scan. I asked the radiologist who did the scan if everything was alright… she responded that everything was excellent… much as I had expected. A week later, I returned to my dentist hopeful. I laid there in the chair while she, behind me, picked up the envelope and looked at the results. I could see her lift her glasses in the mirror over me and looked more closely at the pictures and finally she took out a photographic loupe. She cringed. I cringed. She cringed some more. I cringed some more. Then she covered her mouth with a hand and as it slowly slid down her face and she blinked her eyes wide she gasped: “Oh, my God!” Then I knew I was in big trouble. Dentists’ WMD alert.
“What? What was that?” my head turned slowly as my torso remained still. It was like Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist. “What did you say?” my voice took on a gravelly quality, “No, no… no… Dentist’s are not allowed to say those words in the presence of the patient… I mean, you do know that you’re a dentist right?”
“Oh, my Go—-d.”
“Would you stop doing that! What is it?”
“Just a moment, My Lord.” – always nice to remember manners.
She had just committed the sin no dental patient wants to hear while sat in the chair – an exclamation of horror in front of the patient. That is like commandment number one on the list of things not to do in front of the patient.
As I sat there, terrified of what she would say upon her return, I realized that the girl who did the last tests did not mean that my teeth were excellent but rather that the quality of the scans were excellent. Well, that was a bit of an unfortunate assumption on my part, I’d have to say.
My dentist returned to explain that I had three cysts (which later turned out to be four). All my lower gums would have to be peeled back and vacuumed clean of the bacteria which had produced the cysts. They would drill out the cysts and replace them with bones and suture the gums back into place. Take out a fifth wisdom tooth and remove removed two broken implants. The good news, if you are of the sort that wants to make lemonade out of lemons: no cavities.
The dentist gave me a prescription for antibiotics which on the face of it I didn’t think would help, but after a week it proved to be the ticket. It apparently calmed down the infection and took the pressure on my jaw and skull which had been contorted with pain for the last 8 weeks. When I went to the NHS GP for another prescription, however, I was told that he would not give me antibiotics because they have a protocol which doesn’t seem to include pain control. I was furious. Was the GP really prepared to leave me in almost suicidal pain? Yes, he was. Did he care? No he didn’t. The logic of the NHS is, at times, counter-intuitive.
Three weeks later. I have had the surgery. I have to admit I was unusually nervous ahead of the operation. I have never really had a lot of dental work that wasn’t extraordinarily painful and this was like a million times bigger than anything I had had done before so I was not looking forward to it… not even the essential perspective from which to view all dental work to be undertaken, namely that it is just better to get it over and done with – not doing so would only make the pain worse in the future. That paradigm is not, and did not, help.
Every time I think that I am, to quote Jim Morrison, “through to the other side” I find out it ain’t so. There is always a whole new world of pain on the other side. Buddha said that all life is suffering… suffering is caused by ignorance… hmm, I still have a lot to learn.