Today I Am Struggling with All the Pressures on Me

By: Loolwa Khazzoom, Founder, Dancing with Pain

April 23rd, 2011 • Living with Chronic PainPrint Print

I am not well today. My hip and back went out early in the week, a few hours after I biked 13 miles. That doesn’t really make sense to me, because I have been biking regularly, with no problems, as far as 21 miles a week or two ago. So what the hell?

Plus I’m going through dental distress. About a month or two ago, one of my molars essentially collapsed against the tooth next to it, suddenly making it nearly impossible to floss. I would place the floss over the not-so-much space between the two teeth, and the floss would rip.

I developed a method of adding pressure very gradually and found that I could in fact get the floss between the teeth. But obviously something was wrong. Plus a front tooth was wiggling and a tooth near the rear was both feeling loose and hurting when I chewed. That last one was having problems since I tried getting a night guard a year ago, and the dentist was basically shoving a malfunctioning night guard down on my teeth, effectively causing this issue ever since.

And that’s how it goes, doesn’t it? We have to put our bodies in the hands of various healthcare practitioners. When they behave in ways that are anything from not-quite mindful to outright negligent, we pay the price, possibly for the rest of our lives. And then everything else that comes after is more complicated and more sensitive and higher risk.

At any rate, I have been struggling to make ends meet. My priorities have been paying my health insurance, keeping a roof over my head, buying food that doubles as medicine, and ensuring that my phone, electricity, and water stay turned on. On a good day I even put a little gas in my car. I’m way behind in a number of these bills, getting by on my negotiation skills alone, because I just don’t have the funds; so there’s not a whole lot of budge room.

That’s why I was just praying that my teeth would stay functional, as I brushed, flossed, and used Stimudents and those cool tiny brush thingamadoogees that go between the teeth. Fortunately, they did hold on for months and months, until I found a coupon for a cleaning and full-mouth x-ray for $60.

Jackpot was that the dental office was near my home and used The Wand – the hi-tech device that makes syringe injections obsolete. Given past dental trauma, namely, when a dentist injected my trigeminal nerve – leading to a numb head, inability to open my mouth more than a crack for a week, horrific headaches for a month, TMJ ever since, and ongoing hypersensitivity to any dental work – I was stoked to find someone whose service was cheap, close, and using that there gadget.

So I went to get my teeth cleaned and to get X-rays – not a full-mouth set, mind you, because I’d had one about a year earlier (and I avoid radiation wherever possible) – but I did want X-rays of the teeth that were bothering me. Mostly, I was concerned about the tooth that had collapsed.

The x-ray machine and intraoral camera machine were broken on the day of my visit. So when the dentist did the exam, I told him the story about this tooth and asked him to check it out. I gave all the details about the tooth collapsing and the floss breaking. He said the tooth was fine. But I noticed that he was looking at the x-rays that had been taken a year ago. I’d already told him that they were a year old but reminded him as such. He informed me that teeth don’t really change that much in a year. I figured that he had examined all my teeth in addition to looking at the x-rays, so the tooth must be OK.

About a week later, when I tried getting the floss between the teeth, the floss broke, and some of it got stuck between my teeth. Usually I pushed the floss down, then pulled it out from between the teeth, but this time, I pulled the floss up, to get rid of the string that had gotten stuck. It was causing discomfort, pushing against my teeth.

When I pulled up, something tiny flew out of my mouth. At first I thought there must have been something stuck in there, causing the tightness between the teeth. But then I realized that what had flown out was a part of my tooth. Fuck. I called the dentist’s office the next day, Monday, but they were closed until Tuesday. I didn’t have any pain until I ate a date that afternoon. It hurt like hell.

At the dentist’s office the next day, I got an x-ray and intraoral picture of the tooth. In the picture, there was a piece of food stuck in the crack, so you couldn’t see the contours of the crack. But the technician didn’t retake the photo. Instead, I was led to the exam room.

“What did you dooooo?” the dentist crooned as he came in. That might be cute in another circumstance, like, in one where I hadn’t proactively tried to take care of the tooth, but it annoyed me, given the situation. I explained what had happened with my tooth – making a point of sharing that I’d previously told him about the problem. In the past, I protected doctors from their oversights, but I’m not doing that anymore.

Referring to the new x-ray, the dentist told me that there was a vertical crack in my tooth (not related to the chip that had flown off) and that the filling was humungous and needed to be done away with, replaced by a crown. To the tune of $1000. None of what he was talking about was related to the new chip in my tooth. In other words, everything wrong with my tooth was something that could have been identified previously. The dentist did, however, say that because the filling was already so close to my nerve, and because food would get into the crack and cause decay, I needed to get the work done right away, to avoid completely ruining the remaining part of the tooth.

I went home, disturbed by the fact that there was this sudden about-face, of oh yes, isn’t it obvious, this tooth is a problem tooth (whereas before I was told it was find), and also disturbed by the fact that the dentist had not gotten a new picture of the tooth, sans food particles sticking in the chipped area. Then there were some other things bugging me – like the fact that he has this nifty laser machine and wants to do some kind of a “dectomy” on me – forcing down the tissue that connects my lip to my gums. He told me it was too high up and was pulling on my gums.

Um, ok, I’ve never in all my 41 years had any problem with this tissue whose name I don’t even know. That’s just a cosmetic surgery kind of mindset right there. And lord knows how he’ll want to use that laser contraption on my tooth when I get the work done. There’s something about cutting gums with that laser thingy, and I don’t want any more slicing and dicing than is absolutely necessary being done.

I guess I don’t trust this dentist. Which sucks, because all the other pieces are in place, as far as location and equipment. And because now I have to go and interview other dentists, and they may want to charge for those visits; and I need every cent I can round up, to pay for this crown. Right now I am still scrambling to get the funds to pay for my rent. Meanwhile, the tooth has started hurting, even without food in it.

The pressure on me is mounting.

I’m stressed out about the tooth itself and whether it will blow any minute now; I’m stressed about how I’m going to pay for the tooth and simultaneously keep a roof over my head; and I’m stressed about what all this anxiety is doing to my body’s ability to self-heal. I need all my positive, happy juice for eliminating the nodule on my thyroid glands. Meanwhile, I nearly lost my health insurance yesterday, because I didn’t have the funds to pay for it; and the day before I had so much overload from drama with both my father and a man I was seeing, that I ended up with intense, gripping heart pain that sent me to urgent care.

I am scared. So much of my life has been blown away by the negligence of healthcare practitioners – the very people who were supposed to be there for me, when I turned to them for help. It is a miracle that I am neither dead nor bedridden, but rather, leading an overall vibrant, healthy, and pain-free life. I am a scrappy-ass fighter: I do not give up. But it is exhausting to constantly have to battle to stay afloat. And when I need to be peaceful and happy, so as to optimize my ability to heal from something as potentially life-threatening as cancer, well, the stakes are very, very high.

This past month, a few people have lent me a helping hand, which enabled me to pay my rent, save my health insurance, and keep the heat on. I am deeply grateful for that support. But I can’t count on it. The people in my circle barely have anything to spare themselves, and for a stretch of several months, they had nothing. I had no safety net at all during that time, and it was terrifying.

I wish we lived in a society where people didn’t fall through the cracks. While human beings may be resilient, we also are very fragile. If our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits are not properly nourished, our ability to function can be severely compromised. So much suffering is completely unnecessary. We have the knowledge. We have the skills. And on the whole, we have the financial resources, though those are hoarded by a small few.

Today I am having a hard time, because while I generally focus on what is in my power and maximize what I can do, sometimes I can’t help but fall into a pit of despair over how fucked up everything is and how scared it makes me. I give 100% of my entire being to a healthy life. At every fork in the road, I choose not the easy path, but the path that leads to wholeness. And I am outraged that we live in a world that does not support, encourage, and otherwise enable that path.

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