The Root of the Problem

Yesterday, I felt human again for the first time in a week. It had been touch and go and there were honestly some moments when I wondered how I would make it to the next… but here I am, alive to tell the tale.

The cause of my near-death defeat and redemption? A tooth. A *&#! infected tooth.

It began last Wednesday on my way to join Nick in NYC to see Hamilton (yes, it’s worth the hype a hundred times over). As the plane descended, I felt some pain – and pressure – in one of my left upper molars. I’d seen my dentist only last month and everything had checked out okay (I had even mentioned to him that I’d had some pain in that area; it still checked out okay), so I thought maybe it was just my sinuses freaking out from the descent. Tylenol and an Advil Cold and Sinus helped get things under control.

Dinner and the show were uneventful, pain-wise – which was a good thing, because our meal was superb and the show… well. You know. It’s Hamilton, for goodness’ sake.

Overnight, I was awakened by more pain; nothing to write home about, but still, annoying to not be able to just enjoy a hotel room – after seeing Hamilton (it was, like, really good) – without my children. As the morning wore on and we returned to Newark, the pain intensified. By the time the plane touched down in Rochester, I knew something was very wrong. I was ready to schlep myself into the nearest Urgent Care but had a nagging feeling that maybe it wasn’t a sinus infection.

While I waited for my dentist to return my somewhat panicked call (see: “I don’t know what’s going on, but this pain is basically the worst ever and I might be dying so please call me back”), I Googled “sinus infection or tooth infection?” and self-diagnosed that I was probably going to get sepsis. When Dr. M confirmed that it was almost certainly a tooth infection, likely “a bad one” based on my description of the pain, he told me we’d schedule a root canal in a few days and immediately prescribed antibiotics and Vicodin.

This was most welcome news; the throbbing, constant, jackhammer pain was so strong, I honestly worried I’d pass out while driving to the pharmacy. Truly unbearable. The closest thing I could relate it to was childbirth – which baffled me, because… a tooth? That much agony from a measly tooth?

Thinking I was either insane or had the world’s lousiest tolerance for pain, I took to Facebook to see if anyone had insight. Their responses confirmed what I had suspected: infected teeth are tiny baby Satans.
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If you’ve dealt with tooth pain, you know what I’m talking about; we’re members of a secret torture club. (Seeing my inability to stand upright or speak clearly, my pharmacist chided me for coming to pick up the scripts [Nick offered, several times, but I requested that he make dinner instead] and said she would have personally delivered them to me because “you don’t mess with teeth.”) It’s like when you’ve finally seen The Usual Suspects and everything changed; you’d heard Keyser Söze’s name bandied about before and it meant nothing, but once you knew, you couldn’t unsee it. (“Poof… he’s gone…” OMG.)

If you’ve never experienced the kind of tooth pain that requires an emergency root canal, you may think this is crazy talk – or, at the very least, an absurd exaggeration. I can assure you it is not. I’ve had knee, wrist, and abdominal surgeries. I’ve broken bones. I gave birth to two children, the second of whom I attempted to push from my body for over 3 hours without any pain meds (not out of choice but necessity) and then had an emergency c-section; the OB-GYN said it was basically like I’d given birth twice. While I cannot conjure the specific feeling of the pain that occurred with each contraction, I can remember the kind of pain it was, how it was – bar none – the most awful, excruciating thing I’d ever encountered, the kind I imagined might literally rip me apart.

This was worse.
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At least a 12. No joke.

There was no escaping it. It was right there, in my head (there’s no getting out of your own head; I’ve tried), affecting my sight, my sense of smell, my hearing. Nothing made it better – not ice, not heat, not Advil or Tylenol or Vicodin, and definitely not trying to claw off my face with my hands. Admitting defeat, I retreated to bed – an almost unprecedented move for me – to wait for my head to explode.

Once the antibiotics began to kick in, there was marked improvement. Come morning, I was still alive, which was definitely a start. I’ll spare you the rest of the details – there were some reeealllly bad hours, several sleepless nights, and many tears over the course of those five days – but I will say that the root canal was a freakin’ walk in the park compared to the pain that preceded it.

I have a thing for lip balm, which is unfortunate when your lips are numb.

Dr. M said that he expected I’d be pretty much back to myself in 36 hours and that I should, barring some unseen complication, be free and clear by yesterday… And, by gosh, he was on the money. SWEET FANCY MOSES.

Now that I’m on the other side and have had some time to contemplate the ridiculous set of affairs that is Teeth Infections, I’ve drawn a few conclusions. To wit:

  1. Screaming in pain scares the children. It just does.
  2. Moaning in pain alarms the children. And your husband. That’s why doors were invented: to prevent your families from becoming undone when Mama has a tooth infection.
  3. When you are in so much pain that you physically cannot get out of bed and get everything ready for the following morning, the world will still spin and the sun will still rise. INCREDIBLE, I KNOW.
  4. When your spouse (who has never had any trouble with his teeth and therefore can not relate to the death spiral you’re in) says, time and time again, “Babe, that sounds just awful. I’m so sorry. How can I help?” and actually means it and makes good on the helping part… it helps your heart and almost helps with the pain. Almost.
  5. Chronic pain not only hurts, it also makes you feel off-kilter pretty much all the time. There is a quiet (or sometimes really loud) desperation and anger that accumulates when you cannot banish pain. The desperation you understand; the anger is unexpected. (I have new empathy for those with truly chronic pain. Ugh.)
  6. Being angry – and in agony – for days on end is really debilitating and exhausting.
  7. Being chronically angry means being chronically cranky (and certainly not up for things like “games” or “children making loud noises” or “being a good listener”) and prone to tantrum-throwing (see: when the ice cream I’d ordered arrived with Hershey’s syrup instead of hot fudge; blasphemy). This, in turn, makes your children rather cranky. When both of them break down around day three and you recognize that it’s because Mama is there, physically, but otherwise nowhere to be seen, replaced by a moaning, shhhh-ing, complaining wretch, it really sucks.
  8. A canker sore heightens tooth pain. This is a scientific fact.
  9. If you are accustomed to chewing gum or consuming hard candy as a pastime (or maybe to help you not eat that second bowl of ice cream before bed, just saying), being unable to do so will make you lose whatever is left of your mind.
  10. Sometimes, the drugs used to treat the problem cause others – like, for example, an upset stomach. Did you know that pooping requires pushing, and that pushing creates pressure in your head and that that pressure hurts infected teeth like nobody’s business? IT DOES.
  11. Root canals are really no big deal and will come as a welcome relief after the pure hell of the infection.
  12. With that said, tooth infections can really, um… smell. Like, disgusting. Rotting flesh, durian fruit disgusting. I do not recommend it.
  13. This too shall pass. Either the root canal will do its job or you’ll pull a Tom Hanks a la Castaway and decide you have a future as a stunt double. Either way, win-win.

Now that the pain is gone and I can actually chew on both sides of my mouth, I feel like I’ve won the lottery. Tooth pain = perspective. Huh. Further, I’m considerably less cranky (well, aside from my usual crankdom), which is welcome news to everyone.

Also reassuring: my lip balm game? VERY SOLID.
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When half your mouth is numb, smiles are… wonky…

 

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