Right before Memorial Day weekend I started having some pain in my neck. I thought it was from doing planks wrong, as I’ve had pain like this before and I attributed it to the same issue. [Side Note: I have this goal to try to be able to do a 5 minute plank by my next birthday. Why? Well, just to say I can – and hopefully be super strong. I’m not sure I’m going to make it though because now I need to start over – taking a week-long break.] But anyway, back to the pain in my neck.
A nurse friend helped to massage it out, I used my “back buddy“, and applied some heat. I thought it might even be a pinched nerve because I was getting some throbbing in my jaw. The same friend was sending me texts of muscle names, nervous system diagrams, and more to help me try to get through it better. I was alternating between Advil and Tylenol, taking as much as I medically could. Nothing was touching it.
I woke up Monday morning after a fitful night of sleep nauseous from the pain with tears in my eyes. The throbbing in my jaw wouldn’t cease, and I felt like I couldn’t move my neck or walk without being in pain. I called another nurse friend who lives close by. She dropped everything and came over with a gel ice pack (these things are amazing, I need one of my own), Deep Blue, Biofreeze, and an offer to stay as long as I needed. Some of that helped, the company most especially. It’s hard to be alone when you’re in serious pain. And I was in serious pain. She asked if I wanted to go to Urgent Care, and I felt like the only way to get some relief was with meds stronger than the OTC stuff.
We trucked off to Urgent Care, got some stronger pain meds and a muscle relaxor with a confirmation diagnosis of what I had originally thought. Strained Muscle in my neck accompanied by a potential pinched nerve. The swelling needed to go down and then the nerve would be released and I’d be good to go. The rest of the day was filled with ice, meds, rest, and crying because the pain was so bad.
The next day I got an appointment at the chiropractor who I thought would be able to release the nerve and provide almost instant relief. Found another friend to take me there and received about ten seconds of relief when he fixed a small misalignment in my upper neck. Went home to do all the same things (meds, rest, ice, crying), all while trying to work!
After having no relief for a few hours, I wrote my doctor a super long email and asked “when should I come see you?” and “how many pain meds can I take at one time without overdosing?” (well it was a little less dramatic than that, but you get the point).
Less than three hours later, found another friend who could take me into the doctor the next day and made an appointment (before the doctor could even read my email). As I went to bed, sleeping fitfully – better than the previous evenings, but not well at all – so mad at myself for “planking too hard” that I messed up my neck, maybe for good. I even swore off planks forever! I prayed that whatever was wrong would be very clear to the doctor in the morning. I needed a diagnosis from a doctor who could prescribe the best meds for the job. I needed the throbbing in my jaw to stop and my neck to heal.
When I got to the doctor she took a few looks around, said “you’re in a lot of pain, aren’t you?” I replied, “Yes, the worst pain of my entire life, to be honest.” (and I wasn’t exaggerating!) I told her my plank theory and she said, “you may have a sore neck muscle, but I think this is a tooth infection.” [Two issues simultaneously, but probably a bad tooth infection that is causing the sore neck since they are so close together.]
A Tooth Infection?! WHAT?
Oh I didn’t mention that when I woke up Wednesday morning the entire left side of my lower jaw was swollen – like an inch or two larger than normal. Definitely an obvious sign of an infection.
She gave me some meds, an antibiotic, stronger pain meds, and steroid to reduce the swelling – and told me to follow up with my dentist. As I walked out waiting for my friend to come pick me up, I called the dentist (just 5 minutes from my doctor’s office) and said, “can someone see me right now, my doctor thinks I have a tooth infection and I’d like someone to look at it and get a baseline and a next step.” [I had called them in a panic the night before and they recommended “moist heat” – which probably drew the infection up, make the swelling increase, and led to this diagnosis faster.]
They got me in right then, called me back within minutes of me arriving, and the dentist walks in and says with a smile “well, we’ve got ourselves a tooth infection here.” [SMILING!! Why are all dentists so happy when they see things like this?] They took some x-rays to confirm the tooth (which I could tell them which one based on the throbbing) and said “Come back in 10 days.”
I said, “and then what will we do?”
Dentist (with a SMILE, of course), “Oh, a Root Canal.”
Oh, great … he said it’s the only way to fix it. “See all of that infection (pointing to the x-ray), the drugs will clear it up, but it will come back, so we need to take care of it. We’ll get you scheduled for 10 days from now and it’ll be fine. The procedure shouldn’t be too bad, some people even sleep through it!” SLEEP through a root canal? Seems unlikely, but he’s a good dentist, so we shall see.
My friend reminded me that I’ve had issues with this tooth before – and after she said it, I remembered things for the past two years that have been issues. Soreness, sensitivity, my last ‘plank issue,’ and even more. It all makes sense now, but just a week ago, it was a mystery.
Things Aren’t Always What They Seem, that’s for sure. So many times we take the surface knowledge of a situation and think “we know everything about what’s happening here.” We make judgments and inferences about behaviors or situations and make them gospel truth. This is what the gospels are talking about when they say “don’t judge.” We should know ALL of the facts, the entire situation, root of the event (ie: intentions) before making a judgement on the situation.
We can definitely judge our own behaviors and actions, but again – let’s figure out the root of the issue. If I’m always irritable with others, why? What’s going on at the heart of the matter? A priest spiritual director once told me that when people confess “road rage” he always says it’s more. There’s nothing really that people do on the road that would bother us if something else, something deeper, wasn’t going on in our lives. The anger we feel there doesn’t start there, it starts somewhere else. The irritability has begun with some other restlessness in our hearts.
The root of the problem is different – and if we can fix that, all of the other issues will follow in succession. Let’s remember to look deeper next time something is annoying us. Remember that things aren’t always what they seem. Sometimes a neck issue is a tooth ache. Sometimes road rage is a deeper hardness of heart.
So I’m off to fix the literal root of this neck issue. As soon as these meds take away the infection (which is happening slowly, but it’s happening), I’m scheduled for a root canal. And I never thought I’d say this, but I cannot wait – I want the relief. It’s on the 11th, so prayers would be appreciated. I’m offering up the suffering for all those in need, especially those in the world who do not have access to good dental care. My dentist is amazing, and I’m grateful he’s taken me on as a patient. [If you’re in Charlotte and want a referral, just let me know.]