The Bunsen Burner

I was in the chair, the one we all hate. The one that sits in the cold little room where you go to see the dentist, everyone’s favorite person.

There was a picture on the wall directly in front of me, showing boats in a marina. I wondered if a picture with water was purposely placed to soothe the almost-always-nervous souls who fidgeted in this chair.

It was my third visit in an ongoing quest to complete a difficult root canal. I have learned quite a bit on this latest series of appointments, mostly because my dentist is one of my father-in-law’s best friends, and we do a lot of chatting. We will call him Dr. P.

Dr. P loves to teach me about his field because he knows I work for a doctor. Often, I will stay longer than necessary while he shows x-rays, sketches teeth and answers my endless questions. I learned lower molars often have extra nerves (oh goody), which was why it took two trips just to remove them all. Then there is an impression, then filling in the tooth, the little poles that anchor everything, the temporary crown, the filing down of the tooth, and then finally, the permanent crown and the end to my troubles.

Well, my troubles with that tooth, anyway.

I tried to focus on the boats. The water. I thought of the beach, my wedding on the Chesapeake Bay, swimming in the crisp, salty ocean. I willed my body to un-clench and told myself repeatedly, “You’re fine. You’re at the dentist, not a prison camp. You’re not going to die at the dentist.”

During most of the procedures, I have the extreme fortune of rocking a rubber dam. They look something like this:

This isn't me, in case you were wondering ... or the mustache didn't give it away.

The rubber dam is a good thing. It prevents anything gross from leaking down my throat. For this, I am grateful.

However, it completely limits your speech to “Yes” or “No.” Any conversation beyond that is literally impossible. We’ve all heard the jokes, how dentists love to engage while their entire fist is in your mouth, but the rubber dam stays the whole time. Any questions/responses/cries for help will have to wait until the end.

Dr. P said, “Do you know what a bunsen burner is?”

I responded with “Mrmps,” aka “Yes.”

My brain responded with “Why, dear God, is he asking me if I know what a bunsen burner is?” Usually our conversations are teeth-related when the rubber dam is in place.

And then, lo and behold, a mini bunsen burner appeared on the tray beside his stool. Apparently, it was going to have an active role in my visit.

I’ve become accustomed to closing my eyes when the tools start to come toward my face, so I continued to listen as he described what he was doing, but firmly clamped my eyes shut. Dr. P asked if I was interested in all of this, and I replied with “Mrmps.”

Then he asked if I wanted the mirror.

I love ya, Dr. P, but that one got a firm “Nrmph, nrmph,” along with a shake of my head.

Eyes closed, I tried to remember the picture of the boats, and not focus on what I was really thinking.

I smelled something burning, and took a peek. He was holding a tool, possibly with some material on the tool, over the flame. I didn’t peek long enough to actually find out.

The smell started to permeate my throat, and I felt the anxiety rise. I mentally scolded myself because I knew he was almost done, and I had only felt a little pain.

I un-clenched and gave myself a break. I thought of random moments in the day when I feel really good, then am overcome by a sharp, stabbing pain in my knee. Down my leg. Up my arm. In my head. Through my shoulder. It’s always a brief shriek of pain, lasting only seconds, but sometimes takes away my breath for just that moment.

But it always goes away. It leaves behind a constant ache, but I’ll take the ache over the stab.

That was when I knew why I always sat so rigidly in this chair. I was always waiting for the stab. But in waiting for the stab, I was contributing to the ache. I relaxed, yet again, and heard Dr. P say, “And we’re done!”

I opened my eyes and the flame was gone. In a brief flash, I thought of the people I know and know of that suffer from the illness I have. The ones who can’t get out of bed, can’t work, can’t meet their friends for coffee, can’t go on dates with their husbands, and can’t go alone to their dentist appointments.

So next time I feel that stab, I’ll try to remember it will soon fade to an ache. When I feel the ache, I’ll be grateful it’s not a stab.

And I’ll remember the bunsen burner, whose presence made me write this.

Finding Warmth in the Cold

I have a tendency to be a bit of a complainer. I really do try to be more positive, but sometimes the inner “me” just wins.

That being said, I HATE THE COLD.

I grew up in South Jersey and I always hated winter. Spring was exciting since my birthday is in April. Summer often consisted of church on Sunday with the family, then piling in the car with friends to drive down the shore for the day. Mack and Manco’s pizza on the boardwalk was the perfect end to the fun-filled day, and we settled in for the hour or so drive home. Fall meant pretty leaves, a break from the sweltering heat and random summer-like days that made me smile.

But Fall was just the stepping stone to Winter, and I liked to curl up in a ball and pretend that dreaded season wasn’t coming. I never really understood why I hated the season so much and started to wonder if I suffered from Seasonal Depression. Was it the dark morning and dark evenings that made me so blah? Was it the teeny bit of snow we always got, that first looked so beautiful but then settled into black, gross slush? Whatever the reason, I just wanted to hibernate until I could hear the birds chirping again.

When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, it suddenly made sense. In a nutshell, cold hurts. It reaches its long, chilly fingers into my already aching body and wreaks havoc on my joints. I shiver like I have a fever, and even after entering a warm room, it seems to take forever for my body to stop shaking. Our house could be 70 degrees but I am firmly planted on the couch, covered in a fleece blanket, and sometimes I’m still shivering.

Hey Geese, aren't you supposed to be in Miami by now? Crazy birds...

My husband has discovered that warm, fuzzy socks are one of the best gifts he can give. He can run with the dogs wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and I’m in my raspberry-colored-snow-bunny coat as if I lived in Alaska. I check the temperature like an addict, always praying for that first number to at least start with a 4. 50s and above, I’m happier, but the minute that first number becomes a 3, I start to shut down.

This winter, I think God smiled on me extra hard. It’s been mostly mild and we’ve even had several 60-degree days. I could never live somewhere with frigid temperatures all season, and Alex could never live somewhere that didn’t have 4 real seasons. I’m happy where I live, but part of me still dreams of knocking him unconscious (but in a loving, gentle way), kidnapping him and *SURPRISE!* We now live on an island.

Oooo look, a boat! Honeymoon in Turks and Caicos, never wanted to leave...

I just don’t think we could find jobs. I doubt “sun-bather,” “goddess of the beach” or “lives-with-sand-between-her-toes” will earn me kudos on a resume.

So for now, I hate you, cold. But you won’t be here forever. I’ll snuggle up with my fleece and dream about Memorial Day.

8am and Pinot Grigio on the beach...beat that, January!

Living with Fibromyalgia

I keep wondering when full-body transplants will be available. My body is confusing itself with an 80 year-old woman. But before you stare at me with that glazed-over look, let me start at the beginning.

My headaches started when I was 15. I was healthy and in good shape, playing both basketball and softball for my small school’s (terrible) teams. I don’t remember the first time I realized that my sometimes-headaches were happening more often, and then they were coming every day. They weren’t migraines and they weren’t even that bad in terms of headaches. Eventually, though, it became bad enough that I brought my issue to my parents, and the adventure began.

15 years later, I now know what is “wrong” with me. But over those 15 years, I’ve seen four neurologists, one orthopedic doctor, one rheumatologist, and several physical therapists. I’ve had two CAT scans and four MRIs. I learned I have a benign Rathke’s Cleft cyst on my pituitary gland, but it allegedly is asymptomatic. I’ve tried countless prescription medications, most of which made me feel worse. I cut out dairy, caffeine, peanut butter. Some things helped, but nothing was enough.

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It wasn’t until a conversation with a friend that I started to get a clue. She said, “You know, you sound a lot like my friend who has fibromyalgia. You should talk to your doctor.” I immediately ran to Google, and when I read the list of symptoms and the stories from other patients, it was like reading my life story. I found a rheumatologist who diagnosed me and started treating me, and that was 5 years ago.

According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, Fibromyalgia (FMS) is described as “a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.” There is no definitive cause, and some speculate that it can manifest after an injury, stress, infections or no reason at all. There is no blood test or screening that can determine if one has it, and a very large portion of the medical community doesn’t even think it’s real. Only a physical exam of 18 tender “pain points” on the body can get you a diagnosis.

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I originally had pain in almost all of those points. 5 years later, after medication, exercise, healthier eating, etc, I’ve narrowed it down to 11. You need to have 11 of the 18 to be diagnosed, so I would be considered a “mild” case. I know others with this illness that can’t get out of bed, can’t work, can’t function. I am thankful every day that I have never been that bad.

But that being said, there are good days and bad days. No two people with FMS will feel the same way. One thing that is consistent is I have pain every single day. There are mornings when, if I wake before the alarm clock starts shrieking, I am aware of the pain before I open my eyes.

My head, neck and shoulders are the worst. My doctor told me that since most of my pain points are in the upper half of my body, it’s no wonder I suffer with so many headaches. There isn’t a minute of the day that I’m not aware of my right shoulder. If someone hugs me too hard, it hurts. If someone playfully punches me, it hurts. It may not hurt enough to be worth mentioning, and it’s certainly not going to ruin my day, but the hurt is always there.

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Sometimes the pain is good, like in the wonderful times I’ve been blessed to have a massage. I always tell the therapist that I have FMS so I don’t end up feeling worse when I leave. Sometimes I’ve asked them to “go rough” on a certain spot until I can’t tolerate it anymore, because when that point has been released, there are a few precious moments of no pain. Even as I type this, my head is resting back against my chair and I’m struggling to keep my eyes open. And I went to bed at 8:45 last night. *Sigh*

The hardest thing has always been to stay positive. I’m not an optimistic person by nature, and the moment I finally accepted that, I began to learn to not be so negative. But imagine how you feel when you have the flu; the ache, the stiffness, the pain when you stand, the pain when you lay down, the pain. Take away the crappy-cold-symptoms-part of the flu, and you have FMS. And I have it every day. (So when I actually get the flu, just stay away). 🙂

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Some of you may have heard of FMS and some of you may not, but the real point of this blog is to make people aware. There are so many illnesses/diseases that don’t “look” like anything serious. Chronic fatigue syndrome, myofascial pain syndrome, celiac disease, endometriosis, lupus, hypothyroidism and more. There are millions of people suffering with illnesses that have no cure, and constantly get comments like “Well, you don’t look sick.”

As someone with FMS, the part that feels the worst is knowing I’m living my life with something that will never go away, because it’s not even really a disease. It’s hard to find a doctor that can talk about it without rolling his eyes. I am thankful to God every day that what I deal with is not life-threatening, and that makes me try a little harder to be a happy person.

But there’s good days, and there’s bad days. My hope rests on the fact that the bad days make the good ones that much better. I can thank my Lord every day that I am able to get out of bed, I work a full-time job, I can still walk my dogs even when it brings me to tears, and I will live a happy life. There are so many that can’t say that.

Still, I better be pretty high on that full-body transplant list.

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