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Note #126: Dental redux (2019.2.1)

No doubt you are all wondering how I fared after having a large tooth ripped out of my head. After my last post, the weekend passed without incident, and I finished taking my medicine on Sunday evening. I figured that would be the end of it, and I would be on the long tail of recovery. Late on Monday, though, I started experiencing what felt like a toothache. I took some Tylenol to relieve the pain, and that allowed me to get to sleep.

I woke up on Tuesday feeling OK; I could still feel a little bit of discomfort, but it wasn’t that bad. That afternoon, though, the pain intensified quite a bit, and I had no choice but to take more Tylenol. I thought that perhaps I had developed an infection, despite having taken all of the medicine and followed all of the instructions I was given by the dentist. Fortunately, I had scheduled my appointment for the morning on Wednesday, so I didn’t have to wait too long to find out what was going on.

When I arrived for my appointment, I told the dentist that I had been fine for a while but had suddenly started experiencing pain on Monday, and she took a quick look inside my mouth before telling me that the blood clot or scab that had formed in the wound had apparently fallen out. I guess this means that the nerve was exposed, or at least more exposed than it should have been. She said that this sometimes happens to people who smoke (presumably because of the suction—I’m guessing this is the same reason why I was told not to use a straw). I don’t know why it happened to me, but at least I knew it was nothing serious.

Then it came time to take the stitches out. The dentist went in with her clippers to snip the stitches, and holy cow did that hurt. Thankfully it didn’t take long, although it did take a while after that to stop hurting quite as much. She prescribed five more days of painkillers—the same painkillers I had taken for the first five days, and I have been taking those since Wednesday evening. It seemed to hurt considerably less from Wednesday afternoon, although yesterday evening it started hurting enough that I took some more Tylenol. Today is the first day this week that I would not classify what I feel as “pain.” It varies from very little sensation at all to what feels like a dull pressure in that area of my mouth, with only the occasional spasm of what could be called actual pain.

So, I seem to finally be in the long tail of recovery. I do think that finding out there was nothing wrong did make it hurt a little less. Pain is the body’s way of telling us that there is something wrong, and if you believe that there truly is something wrong you tend to focus on the pain more, which makes it feel more intense. Knowing that my jaw was simply still throwing a temper tantrum after having had a tooth ripped out of it meant that I could focus less on the pain, so it seemed to hurt less. I’ve also noticed that it hurts less when I am focused on a task, as opposed to just sitting around doing nothing.

When I practiced martial arts in my youth, I learned how to (as I used to think of it) “remove myself from the pain” while meditating. By that I mean that it felt like I was pulling my consciousness out of the part of my body that was experiencing the pain, so that I all I felt was a distant and dull sensation. I suppose a more straightforward way of saying that would be to say that I learned how to not focus on the pain, but it really did feel like something was draining from the affected body part and no longer present there. I’m not saying that’s what it was, of course, only that it felt like that, and it helped me to visualize it that way. I haven’t done this in decades, mainly because it requires a particular state of mind cultivated through regular meditation and training, but I’ve been thinking how the skill would have really come in handy over the past week and a half.

And now, the million-dollar question: Was it worth it? It’s not really a valid question, because I am weighing my current condition against a counterfactual, but it has been on my mind. I’ve definitely experienced a lot more pain over the last week and a half than I probably would have otherwise, but I have no way of knowing how much future pain I might have saved myself, or if the pain I avoided might somehow outweigh the pain I suffered. I suppose all I can really say is that I am glad I got this done now and not in the middle of the semester. That would have really sucked. Anyway, I’m feeling better now that I seem to be through the worst of it; it would be really nice if I didn’t have to go through this again.

Send me your thoughts.

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