Tag Archives: Pain

Safely out of the canal zone

I’ve had a sinus infection for going on two weeks. If that were not enough, an old pain in one of my teeth returned, right at the site of the root canal my dentist performed five years ago. I aced the procedure, but had zero desire for a replay.

Thursday afternoon, after two days of throbbing, I called my dentist’s office and explained the return of the pain. The sympathetic receptionist worked me in for an appointment Monday. The office is closed Friday, and she told me I should not hesitate to call my dentist on his cell phone Friday if the pain became unmanageable. He would come in to the office with an assistant and check out the problem.

I knew that. My dentist is a superior being. He once met my husband and me at his office, the evening of Memorial Day. He drafted his son-in-law to assist him.

Today is Friday. I awoke to an ancient memory. I have had this pain before. It’s some kind of knack with me, to get sinus infections; I have had a lot of them. The maxillary sinuses have a nerve relay indistinguishably near the back teeth, where my root canal was done.

I checked my back teeth in the mirror. Aha! My gums in the canal zone were significantly inflamed. The connection light finally switched on.

I deduced that the pain had nothing to do with my teeth or the root canal, but was due to sinus inflammation. The throbbing subsided within half an hour after taking an anti-inflammatory combo of ibuprofen and acetaminophen.

I’m still trying to decide whether to take consolation from the theory that, at this point in life, my teeth are better than my memory.


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Getting a grip. . .

My husband and I have determined our ISP to be up for replacement; no further comment. “Lousy” is the strongest descriptor I will use, although I am not unwilling to insert “Comprehensively” as a modifier before “lousy.”

We haven’t watched either presidential debate, but from the news coverage, I wish the media would cover it up more deeply, like out of sight entirely. I’m too easily tempted to watch the invective duel, even though it is a spiritual pathogen. At least with swords, one or at most two people are hurt; with guns one is likely to be killed. Invective duels may wound the spirits of hundreds of millions of people. I remain NOVOFOP (Not Voting For President), a depressing prospect, but necessary for me.

Closer to the upside, I am having an MRI of my elbow Tuesday.  The pleasant woman who called today to confirm my appointment asked whether I weighed more than 350 pounds, the limit of the MRI’s capacity. I couldn’t help laughing as I replied that I actually weigh under 100.

My right elbow was injured in an auto collision in March. The pain has been fairly constant and limiting, and I decided it was time to get it diagnosed, as my doctor has repeatedly suggested. It seems disinclined to heal on its own after seven months, and I want to know what I’ll be living with. One doctor, a pain specialist, suspects a deep tear in a tendon that he says would “require” surgery. No it wouldn’t. There is no compulsory surgery in this country. If I just know what I’m dealing with, I can deal with One More Thing.

Frustration is part of life. Even carefree Effie has her own coping mechanisms, like sharpening her claws on my shin. I don’t know whether she has frustrations, or, if she does, what they are, but she definitely has a good grip. And, like me, she is loved, and she really has it pretty good. ^-.-^



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“But the feeble gird on strength. . .”

The total verse reads,

“The bows of the mighty are shattered,
But the feeble gird on strength.” –1 Samuel 2:4 (NASB)

I don’t think Hannah is seeking so much to avenge herself, comparing her barrenness to her testy co-wife’s fecundity–an easy enough way to take the words God gave her to speak–so much as she is acclaiming God’s limitless sovereign power over the whole of creation, and her real confidence that her Lord will change her circumstances and grant her what her heart desires. And He does, of course; otherwise, we would not have the two books of Samuel.

But we do have them, and I came to a reflective halt this time at the particular words, “But the feeble gird on strength,” on a morning I felt puny after a tough night of spinal pain, needing encouragement, and perhaps gratitude, that all my nights are not this hard.

But the feeble gird on strength. . .from the only wise God, for the weak.


Filed under Pneumatos

Another year, another first, another ER night

“Cramping viscous tubular vessel” would have been an arcane, meaningless word group to me, had I encountered it before Monday evening, when my husband and I conferred with my doctor at the end of the day. I needed my husband there because he had full recall of the sequence of events that began shortly after midnight Friday, whereas my recollection, mercifully, was close to nil.

Around 12:30 Saturday morning, I awoke with abdominal pain already at full crisis level. It was immediately obvious that I would have to get the pain under control before it precipitated an Addisonian crisis. What was not immediately obvious was the cause of the excruciating pain that was causing me to actually scream. I was sweating, and my heart rate was high.

There was no question we needed to get to the ER, and that I would need to go in an ambulance, which arrived nearly a quarter-hour after my husband’s 911 call. He followed the ambulance so we would have a car to drive home. Vic always has such presence of mind. It was the first time either of us had ever ridden in an ambulance. I would have to say that, for not being an Audi, it was quite comfortable, though I don’t recall noticing that at the time. I don’t recall anything else at all about the ambulance.

Apparently the medics installed an IV in my wrist, ready for pain and anti-nausea drugs. I had a blood test and later a CAT scan. At some point, a nurse asked me to quantify my pain level on a scale of 1 to 10. I said “40.” My intention was to convey that this pain was a total outlier in statistical terms; sorry, Nurse Bubba, but 10 doesn’t begin to get there. The nurse affirmed his system and said he would write a 10. I was too exhausted and in too much pain to care what he wrote. He gave me sufficient hydromorphone and promethazine over a couple of IV refills to make it possible for me to sleep through the pain and not throw up in my comfy metal-railed bed. My blood pressure and heart rate warranted a heart monitor. I was still picking off little electrode sticky things on my skin Saturday evening. I tentatively thought maybe Café Press could make one into a souvenir pendant or charm.

Later, I was served two bottles of completely horrid-tasting gunk, a dye that would enable the CAT scan to see what it needed to see to make a diagnosis possible. I took a sip of the gunk, promptly threw up into a blue cone cleverly designed for just this purpose, and went back to sleep. My husband woke me every 10 minutes to take another sip, and another. I was getting used to it. The latex-paste taste wasn’t so bad; it was actually fairly tasteless. The problem was the strawberry flavor; I hate strawberry-flavored anything. I finally got one bottle of gunk down. The nurse thought it might work, but two bottles would be better. I picked up the second bottle and another blue cone, ready to do my share for radiological science. The nurse took pity and said one bottle of dye would probably work.

The CAT scan revealed objective reasons for the pain that caused me to wake screaming. My small intestine had apparently stopped working. Various physiological dynamics resulted in cramping viscous tubular vessels, which I suppose means something like a pinched gut. Whatever it is brings about the highest level of excruciating physiological pain, according to my internist: right up there, he told us Monday, with kidney stones. I had come through the worst of it with some loud groans but no real complaint, other than what it took to describe my symptoms. I’m inclined to think this was due more to lack of strength than to actual valor.

God had been most gracious. When sufficiently conscious, I had been given to remember, whatever this was to be about was ultimately for my good.

The ER doctor on duty came to see me after the scan. He was wonderful; he knew from the CAT scan that I had been in very real and very hard pain. But he could not provide a specific diagnosis; that was for my internist to try and resolve.

I was released around 8:00 a.m. with instructions to report to my doctor. We met with him Monday afternoon. My husband had to recount the events; the large amount of painkiller I received by IV, and gladly so, erased most of the sequence and details from my memory. Just as well. . .

My doctor wants to check some particular enzyme levels and other variables the hospital doctor did not order. As keen as I am for answers, I’m not attaching myself to any diagnostic labels until further information and well-founded reasoning coalesce around that time-honored medical standard, “reasonable degree of medical certainty.”


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Collateral fomentations

I “sleep” like a hostage rigged to a loaded spring-gun aimed at my head. Combing my hair is excruciating; speaking and noise often cause scalp pain that quickly or later escalates to migraine. My heart is torn out, dragging, tethered by a cord of familial passion, behind a spirit trying to be brave. How am I to enjoy my active grandchild, toddler of wonder, when she comes—the wonderchild I have not yet touched—in this condition? How am I to be unable to? Why are simple things suddenly impossible? Why do people assume these things are simple and joyful, plaguing me with questions: when is my family’s visit? How excited I must be!—wonderful things I cannot imagine being up to? Lord, You know.

There have been offsets since I jotted this yesterday, which I did in order to have an honest chronicle of the peaks and troughs of probably my most abysmal health sequence in seven years. God’s mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, and great is His faithfulness (Lam. 3:23).

I read Romans 5-8. A few hours later, my daughter e-mailed some pictures and a video of my grandaughter triumphantly articulating her first word (“Baby!”), and checked in for a Skype time for today–and she knew nothing of my ER jaunt, had no idea my migraines were worsening–it was simpy the providence of God’s merciful love beaming through my daughter, whose own daughter is clueing her in on things outside herself.

The cheer this brought didn’t reduce the gnawing in my scalp, but it did reduce my terror of the gnawing. Having God’s abiding mercy brought so imminently to mind must necessarily reduce our terror; if He is for us, who or what could possibly prevail against us?

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Hospital 2

To its credit, our local hospital did nothing to make any future visit, for any reason, an attractive prospect. Nothing. Not even cheerful Nurse Beau. (Why have women abandoned the RN track? Come back! We need you! We miss you!) But just 10 days after my first visit for something else, I was back, this time with a migraine that blew off Imitrex and Maxalt, and was in its third hour of high throb. I had no choice.

I took a seven-year-old promethazine, souvenir of my first incapacitating migraine, to stay the nausea. Vomiting is an especially bad thing with Addison’s disease. It’s an ER Pronto thing. I called my doctor first but was told I would need to go to the hospital and get stabilized before he could see me. I didn’t want to, but afterward I realized it was necessary. For one thing, my doctor doesn’t have injectables in the office. Too many regs.

I called my husband (it’s amazing what I can accomplish while virtually incapacitated, but I deal with a lot of pain and the override effect somehow takes over). I knew he was scheduled to interview a witness within minutes. I wanted to let him know I was going to call for an ambulance. He aborted the interview and came home for me. On the way to the hospital, I called our pastor to ask if he could meet my husband at the hospital and wait with him. I had no plans for consciousness. He came. I wished I’d combed my hair.

As it turned out, I was burdened with consciousness for more than three hours, but a lot of that was my fault. I misunderstood things and persisted in refusing narcotics. Looking back, I can only see the stupid irony of my anti-narcotic compunctions when I was ready to be euthanized. But such hours are seldom our finest.

This time I drew Nurse Kyle, Boy Wunderklutz. I am not ungrateful for his help, but he is a klutz. He gave me an injection of pain medication combined with an anti-nausea drug. That went ok, though I would have preferred to expose my thigh to a female nurse. I know. More stupid compunctions. Besides…but we won’t go there. The doctor also ordered an IV of fluid and electrolytes. Nurse Kyle, affable jock that he is, lacks the eye-touch combination that gives one the ability to install an IV properly. What Nurse Kyle lacked in dexterity, he made up for with persistence, until I sported three bruised holes in my wrist. He did understand a few magic words: Stop. Sue. Battery. Withdraw consent. He rerouted his mission to a vein he could actually see, and I awoke two hours later without a headache and a little goofy.

From there, we visited my doctor, who is apparently trying to get his mind around this new interposing variable, trigeminal neuralgia. My husband and I have been researching it on our own, and have learned that I actually have atypical TN, which has a migraine adjunct.

My doctor really is a comprehensive thinker, but he hates this disease. “So which is the chicken and which is the egg?” he said, meaning, is TN causing the migraines, or are the migraines exacerbating the other TN symptoms—the shooting pains in my ears and teeth, and the persistent gnawing scalp pain. “It’s a feedback loop, I think,” I said. “But what they gave me at the hospital for the migraine is indicated for TN as well.” Yeah, and it’s on Schedule 2. He gave me the required handwritten prescription for the pill version of the injection I had received.

I feel protected, prepared, and a little afraid. I saw a new look in my doctor’s eyes. I hadn’t seen this look before. It made me uneasy. He looked perplexed.

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from foolish prayer

My law school tax professor used the expression “turn the crystal” to get us to see another side of an argument or concept. Turning the crystal has recently asserted new meaning for me, in a sphere far more important to me than the IRC.

I have had to turn the crystal because I have been obverse, and thus utterly foolish, in prayer. Blessedly, our wise God does not cater to foolish prayer; instead, He urges us to turn the crystal and pray sensibly.

What sort of sense does it make, if you have a boundlessly rich and boundlessly good Father, who has a limited number of heirs, though he could make an infinite number endlessly rich, and you ask him to take something away? Why would you not ask him to give you something?

At the sobbing edge of pain, it was given to me to realize that I had been praying foolishly to be delivered from the pain. It didn’t happen and it didn’t happen. Turn the crystal. Give me more faith instead of reducing the pain! Give me the eyes of faith to see the things of faith, its power. “From faith to faith” suddenly made more lucid sense than ever before.

As I read the end of Mark, the Lord’s final loud cry from the cross as he expired, I thought, as I have thought many times before, how extraordinary it was that a man–and it was Christ the man who died–could cry out in a loud voice when his lungs were collapsing. Apparently the centurion wondered at this as well. Doubtless he had seen many people die on the cross. But the death of Jesus Christ was extraordinary to the centurion. Maybe it was because of the loud cry. Something extraordinary gave the centurion to know that the man he had just seen die was the Son of God.

I don’t ask for divine or extraordinary strength. But in reflecting on the divine or extraordinary strength God gave to this Son, I am encouraged to ask for some portion of strength, proportional to my own small trials, to bear me up and see me through. They are really so very little! But so am I.


Filed under Pneumatos

Another day, another Dx

My teeth bear testimony that it is perfectly possible to go through life in a body by Bond-O.

About six weeks ago, shooting pain in a tooth with an expired filling required an emergency root canal and a crown. The seizing nerve triggered nightly migraines for a week, possibly because I sleep on my side, which is the same side as the troubled tooth. It was a pretty normal sequence of diagnostic and treatment events: the X-ray revealed on abscess, the nerve was dead, I took antibiotics, a root canal and crown were done, and the tooth pain and migraines let up, at least for a few weeks.

Then, the same symptoms returned.

Flare-ups happen. My dentist took the sensibly conservative approach. I took more antibiotics and used some dental filler paste (I like to call it Bond-O) and felt better for a week.

Then the shooting pain worsened and I had another jag of nightly migraines. I poked around my teeth and realized the shooting pain was not coming from the crowned tooth, but from the adjacent tooth. I felt dumb not to have noticed this before. My dentist worked me in an hour after I called on Monday morning. I was positive I had another root canal and crown coming, which I regarded as a simple and complete resolution. It made sense, as the two fillings were the same vintage, 20 years old.

But life was not to be so simple. The X-ray revealed no abscess, and the nerve tested very much alive. The nerve test belongs in the arsenal of every war criminal.

My dentist’s wife happens to have fibromyalgia, as I do, and he is not dismissive of my pain. He knows it is real. He is motivated by the challenge of discovering its underlying cause and determined to resolve it. He applied a long-lasting Bond-O coating and promised to organize an appointment for an iCat scan. He suspected congested sinuses might be impacting nerves, causing the tooth pain and the migraines. Like everything else so far, that made sense. I have a history of maxillary sinus infections.

Why would life become simple so soon? I’d been home an hour when my dentist called to ask whether I could be at the surgeon’s office for the iCat scan at 2:00. It was about 12:30; of course I could. I was thrilled they could work me in on such short notice; everyone was being so wonderful. They think I have a brain tumor. Stop it.

My dentist called me at 5:30. He was bringing in a second surgeon to evaluate my scan. He would report back to me the following day. Definitely a brain tumor. No, they didn’t look at my brain. It must just be a sinus tumor….

God is merciful with hysterics. My mind calmed. I knew there had been nothing remarkable about my scan and my dentist called in a second guy because he knew there had to be an explanation for the shooting tooth pain and apparently related migraines. And, true as ever to his word, my dentist called me around 5:00 the following day, Wednesday. He had consulted exactly the right second guy.

The second consulting surgeon, noting no remarkable findings in the iCat, asked about my symptoms. What a concept for a diagnostician.

“Those are my symptoms exactly!” the surgeon told my dentist.

This surgeon has trigeminal neuralgia, and so, I now know, do I. So do 1 in 15,000 other people, and probably more, because many are misdiagnosed as having TMJ.

The trigeminal nerve starts at the base of the brain and spans the scalp, touching down behind the eyes, in the ears, and throughout the face and teeth. With TN, severe, acute, intermittent pain may occur in the scalp, ears, teeth, and face–accounting for the frequent sensation of having a tomahawk in my scalp, facial pain, weird ear pain, and the shooting pain in my tooth. Cold, talking, and stress are a few things on the list of triggers. Talking can give me migraines, but I try not to belabor the theme that people make me sick. The heroic surgeon’s TN is so severe that he can vomit or faint if a cold wind hits his teeth.

TN tends to occur after age 50, and tends to worsen with age. My silent years may well be in the very near distance. Or I might continue to make the daily decision that I would rather talk to my friends than have less pain. I prefer the resilient approach to taking the tack of conceding to pain. I can’t see letting pain control the important aspects of my life and its purposes, which might span more themes than I can know.

A diagnosis is somewhat helpful, because it is Something that causes perturbation. But a diagnosis is just an abstract attribution; it doesn’t cause anything, it doesn’t justify anything, it doesn’t provide on answer to any of the whys associated with the condition it identifies. It simply provides the language of a record. It also indicates treatment options, where they exist.

There are medications for TN. They are the same ones I have been given for fibromyalgia. I have been intolerant to all of them. Just one more “oh well.”

It’s nice to know something about the effect of cold on distressed nerve endings so that I can understand why I’m more comfortable wearing a hat in an air-conditioned room, and why talking or lying down can aggravate misfiring nerves and trigger migraines. It’s all interesting information, and information is a good thing to have. But I would have gained, or not gained, the same results heuristically, without a diagnosis.

So I have another Dx for my collection. The challenge is to find sanctifying ways to put it all to use to glorify the God who knows my frame and what I need for my ultimate good.


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The 10th and 25th Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

At the age of 20, Jonathan Edwards drafted 70 Resolutions that he aspired to keep throughout the rest of his life. All are founded in Scriptural imperatives, and keeping them all would be as simple a matter as living by every principle the Lord Jesus Christ preached in the Sermon on the Mount. Fortunately, Mr. Edwards included a repentance clause in his Resolutions that would require perfection. In other words, the totality of Jonathan Edwards’s Resolutions represent an aspiration to perfection not unlike the one Christ preached, not only to remind himself to conform to what God requires, but also that he could not realistically attain what God requires, and therefore his need for a Savior.

I was reading Jonathan Edwards’s Resolutions in The Life and Diary of David Brainerd, edited by Jonathan Edwards, in The Biographical Sketch of the Life and Work of Jonathan Edwards by Philip E. Howard, Jr., Baker House, but I have posted the Resolutions at this link.

After reading through the 70 Resolutions, I came up with two that I think I can focus on, at least from time to time, as long as I can manage to recall the utter inadequacy of my capacities, and as long as I can resolve to simply aspire, press on, reach forward, and remember that Christ has won the goal for me, even though I remain responsible for running the race. What could possibly be easier…

Jonathan Edwards’s 10th Resolution is, “Resolved, When I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom and of hell.” I lack any capacity at all even to imagine, much less withstand, the pains of martyrdom or hell. But the resolution helps me to put my own pain in perspective, and in the perspective of martyrdom or hell, my pain is more on the order of the worldly trivial. It remains a tough assignment for me, but perspective makes it easier in the way a large sharp knife makes it easier to cut an anchor rope than a small dull one.

Mr. Edwards’s 25th Resolution is, “Resolved, To examine carefully and constantly what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.” That “one thing,” of course, is sin, and it is also the reason I cannot with any power of my own direct all my forces against doubt. Not as easy as pie as it looks. I might as well quit. Or, see above, as in where my Help is.

For me, the 10th and 25th Resolutions are intertwined, because when pain deals a sense of hopelessness, God’s love is not always the first thing that comes to mind — in fact, hopelessness hinders any possibility of such a thought. But sanctification is a sure sign of His love, and pain is sanctifying if it is understood by a child of God as a loving chastisement. And this understanding is the fruit of sanctification. So yes, sanctification is necessary to understand the operations of God’s love, and those operations in themselves are sanctifying if we understand them.

Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace — the progressive, ongoing-for-life work that enables us more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness. Or, in other words, to do better and better, until our ultimate Help comes to finish the race for us.


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A worthwhile article about pain, its purposes, and its lessons

The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review featured this surprisingly competent article this morning on the lessons of pain.

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