Remember the gum we used to get on Halloween? Wrapped in that waxy paper and twirled tight on each side, it was a rock-solid lump of chewing heaven. I’d unwrap it, stick it in my mouth and put my jaw to work, softening the gum until it was the perfect bubble-making consistency. Then I’d blow as many amazingly big bubbles as possible before the flavor disappeared, which usually took less than a minute. I loved that bubble gum!
Well, this isn’t actually a blog about chewing gum. (Although who can forget Freshen Up- it had that liquid inside that squirted out as you chewed it?!) Because today I’m writing about the gum in my mouth; specifically, one spot in the gum of my mouth that has been causing problems for years.
It started as a small nuisance. Just an annoyance. But over the past six years the pain became so intense that it was absolutely unbearable. In trying to determine the cause, I’ve seen five dentists, two periodontists, three oral-facial pain specialists, two neurologists and one neurosurgeon. I’ve had a flap surgery, been accused of bad oral hygiene, and had numerous x-rays and MRI’s. I’ve explored the pain on the a spiritual level, meditating, giving the pain a voice, working through any possible chakra blocks, sending the pain love; all of which led to interesting insights, but no pain resolution.
When my search for relief landed me at the Oral Facial Pain Clinic (more than five years into this journey), I was finally taken seriously. The Doctor, who was a specialist in both dental and neurological issues, prescribed medications that helped make the pain manageable. At long last, some relief! But these medications also came with some tough side effects. For about eighty percent of my day, I’m foggy and sleepy. Focusing on driving, writing, or anything cognitive takes tremendous effort. I’ve spent the past year in a haze and I was beginning to feel hopeless.
Then I met a neurosurgeon who noticed something in my MRI. And finally, I have a diagnosis. But I don’t like it. Not one bit.
The Trigeminal nerve starts near the top of the ear and runs down the side of the face, carrying sensation from your face to your brain. When the nerve is compressed, which is what the doctor saw in my scan, it can cause pain that is usually described as a kind of electrical shock. Mine is more like a sharp, stabbing pain. It hurts every time anything brushes up against that one specific area of my gum. Doesn’t matter if it’s water, food, air, or when I speak and the inner part of my mouth taps the spot. It is an excruciating pain that radiates through my gum, face and jaw.
The neurosurgeon explained various treatments, from least to most invasive and then recommended a procedure called Microvascular Decompression (MVD).
Up until now, I was able to handle all the other suggested treatments. Beyond the medication, there were topical treatments (that burned like heck!), and lidocaine, steroid and even botox injections placed right into that painful spot in my gum. (No, this has not been pleasant.) But this MVD- it is SERIOUS.
An incision is made behind my left ear and then the doctor cuts into my cranium, finds where the nerve is being compressed, and places a kind of cushion to relieve the pressure. The procedure usually takes about four hours and requires a three day hospital stay, then four to six weeks of recovery, including not being able to drive or lift anything heavy- not even laundry! (Visions of my husband and younger son walking around in rags race through my head.)
And I’m thinking…how the heck did I get here? I mean, this all started with a small pain in my gum! Even my bilateral mastectomy seemed like nothing compared to this because now I’m discussing brain surgery!
Side note: Although it’s called brain surgery, the doctor made it clear that he never really deals with the ‘brain,’ but the nerves around the brain. …I’m not sure that made me feel any better.
So it’s a scary, big deal surgery. But the reason to consider it is simple- there’s an eighty-five percent chance I will permanently be relieved of pain.
Sigh. Oh how I wish this were a blog about chewing gum.
I’ve grappled with the decision to have this surgery. Theoretically, I could stay on medicine the rest of my life. But the idea of having to deal with these side effects is daunting. I really miss being able to think clearly. And because the pain increases over time, the medications require constant adjustments, which mean more side effects. That’s not how I want to live my life.
Fear popped up right away, roaring in my ears, “You’re gonna let some guy cut into your SKULL? What about all the things that can go wrong?” And yep, you better believe that my mind is running rampant, considering all of the horrible possibilities. But I do my best to quiet this voice, reassuring it with the facts.
I checked in with myself many, many times- asking my Higher Self, my Inner Counselor for guidance. I received a message to slow down. Take my time. There was no rush in making the decision. I had a sense that with some time, I would be guided to an answer that was best for me.
I’m a girl of action. I see something that has to get done, I do it. No hesitation. So this message goes against my grain. But I thought back to a few months ago when I got my very first speeding ticket. I mean, how literal can the message be? Slow. Down.
Then I noticed a metaphor around the brain fog: it’s causing me to slow my life down the way I’d have to slow down when I drive through fog, telling me to proceed with caution.
So, I took several weeks contemplating all of the variables involved. It wasn’t long before I began noticing signs that assisted me in making my decision.
First, my new medications made my fogginess heavier. I’d catch myself staring into space, lost in a fog of nothingness. I felt heavy, unable to move. Becoming aware of how often this happened each day helped me see how deeply it was affecting my quality of life.
Next, I researched alternatives to the surgery, including Eastern medicine, Accupuncture, chiropractic techniques, even Shaman healers. While those may all be helpful to some, nothing resonated with me.
And as my pain worsened, I recognized how the thought of never again living a pain-free life was infiltrating every aspect of my life.
And here was this amazing doctor offering a solution. And hope.
So I’ve scheduled the procedure.
Of course, all along the way, I’ve been considering why is this happening for me? I’d already gotten the message about slowing down. Point taken and I’m following that guidance.
I also recognized something else that’s making me squirmy: this surgery is going to force me to ask for help. Again. Ugh. I feel like I already maxed out this quota during my experience with breast cancer when so many people stepped forward and supported me. I felt overwhelmed with the amount of love coming my way. Yes, it was a wonderful lesson around receiving, but now I have to ask again?! Yep, definitely out of my comfort zone here.
So it seems the learning opportunities are circling around me. But in that swirling circle I also notice all sorts of light. I mean, I’ve met a gifted surgeon, have the means to undergo the extensive surgery and, for the first time in a long while, I’m beginning to see the possibility of returning to mySelf.
If nothing else, this experience has reenforced how very much I have to be grateful for— health, prosperity, and the love that surrounds me every. Single. Day. What a wonderful reminder.
I’m sure there’s more learning to come, but for now, I’m just gonna chew on that!