The last month has been physically hard for me. So much of what I wanted to do was put away for a time to deal with a bad tooth. The dental insurance is about to go when my contract ends, so I’m fortunate the awful thing decided to crumble now and not in six months, but I’ve been in a lot of pain.
Don’t worry, that pain isn’t the kind of excruciating thing a lot of people experience. I think. In fact, when something is truly hurting me, I can’t really feel it consciously. I was in the hospital after a miscarriage when a nurse pointed this out to me. She kept pushing pain meds, which I kept refusing–partly because I was still nursing my 16-month old and partly because I wasn’t consciously feeling pain, per se. After about the third time of her asking me, and me turning her down (and starting to get irritated with her push for drugs), she said, “you’re just so clearly uncomfortable, I want to help you.” Shocking. Then I realized how much writhing I was doing, how much tossing and kicking, how many cleansing breaths and finger flicks. Oh. So…this is what pain feels like?
It’s still taken many more years and a spectrum diagnosis before I’ve truly come to understand that. When pain is slight, I feel the sensation sharply, it is unbearable and can bring me gasping to my knees. When it is deep, constant and serious, it fades into the background. Yet, it doesn’t disappear. It lurks there, sucking up my energy to make it go away, shortening my temper, destroying my ability to rest, sleep, or eat properly. I snap at others for no good reason. The fuse of my temper gets frighteningly short.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned to care for myself enough to remove a lot of the pain stimuli out of my daily life. (I had never recognized pain stimuli as such, since, well–the pain was difficult to recognize.) Finally, I’ve started to become the sweet-tempered person on the outside that only I knew to be me on my insides. Until this blasted tooth.
So, I’ve spent the last month keeping myself as rested as possible, removing myself from stress and social events and anything that might add to the painload in my body. Top this off with the fact that the dentist is a very difficult, stressful, anxiety-inducing place for me–for sensory reasons and because of past experiences. First there was the check up. Then there was the root canal. There there was the crown fitting. All of this with intermittent drill sounds, random crying, screaming and singing (all this from the other patients), exceedingly bright lights, things in my mouth that make me want to gag (or bite) and…at the heart of it all…trust that someone putting me through all this suffering was actually working toward helping me. Grueling stuff. Emotionally challenging. Intellectually draining–trying to communicate through all my inner noise. Physically exhausting.
Happily, the tooth is healing well, and the pain recedes a bit each day. My sense of humor has returned. This is always a positive sign. However, it wasn’t without a glitch. When the crown was put on, something was wrong with the fit. It made the gums feel terrible, throbbing all the way around the tooth. Back to square one, where I couldn’t eat and wanted to positively lash out at anything crossing my path. Naturally, I blamed the technicians for doing something wrong, and made my way angrily to the office. Funny, though, in the past I would have just suffered the poor fit in silence, figured it was supposed to be that way and buck up under the pain (and blood).
This was a moment of triumph for me. Not only did I seek help because it was hurting far more than it should, but I also sought help in the midst of anger that did not lash out at anyone. Still, I insisted that the retraction string had been left around the tooth, and made them take out the crown to look. The dentist who helped me was…pretty unsympathetic, perhaps even a little patronizing or scolding. I’m not sure about stuff like that. She told me the pain and bleeding was normal. Of course there was no string.
However, the patient technician found out where it was hurting, and I tried to explain to him (although my words were all stopped up), how I had tried to tell him the day before that it didn’t feel right. All I could say was, “I don’t speak well with all this…” He assured me they tried to listen and be accommodating, so I shouldn’t be afraid to speak. After the office, I realized I had wanted to say, ‘no, I’m not afraid, I’m just not able to make the words I need to say. I don’t understand what I’m feeling in my mouth and it is uncomfortable. I need you to help me fix it.’ Still, he understood me, and patiently wore down the medial side of the crown without me telling him any of this. I started to cry.
He had the crown in my mouth and got me up out of the chair before he noticed. But I still couldn’t tell him how grateful I was that he had stopped my pain, and that he had so patiently understood what my words couldn’t tell him. He could have easily taken offense that I had accused him of doing his job incorrectly the day before–in fact, I truly had done so–yet, he still took the time to hear my pain and took action to fix it. It was a humbling experience. I couldn’t tell him all this in words, typing them now I’m finally understanding it myself–tears streaming down my face. So…I hugged him, and gave him the most sincere “thank you very, very much” I could manage. He was a little shocked. Probably still doesn’t understand what most of that really meant from my side of things.
Maybe I’ll have to write it down for him.