I read somewhere that good choices come from experience and experience comes from bad choices.
I have never been a big gum chewer, but last fall, I decided to keep some around the house to help me lose a few pounds. I like to munch when I watch TV or read, and I thought gum might satisfy my craving without adding calories.
Last November, while chewing a piece of gum, I suddenly had severe tooth pain. The pain faded after an hour or so, but didn’t go away entirely. A week or so before Christmas, I went to see the dentist. He said he thought the filling on the hurting tooth needed replacing, so he ground it out and replaced it with a temporary filling.
A few days later, the tooth was hurting as badly as it ever had. I thought maybe I had dislodged the temporary filling, so I went back to the dentist. He said the filling looked OK and that maybe I needed a root canal. He sent me to a specialist to find out. But in the meantime, he said he thought the problem might just be an inflammation deep in the gum tissue. He told me to take 600 mg of Ibuprofen every six hours until the problem was solved. That seemed like a lot to me, but what do I know? I’m not a dentist.
I don’t like the sound of “root canal” any more than the next person, so I thought I’d let the Ibuprofen do it’s thing. For several days, that seemed to do the trick. My tooth felt fine. And then there was another day during which it caused me a lot of pain. I gave in and called the specialist.
It was three or four days before I could get an appointment, and, of course, by the time it came around, my tooth didn’t hurt anymore. I went to a fancy office in Barrington and spent a half hour and $130 for a root canal specialist to try, unsuccessfully, to make my tooth hurt. He subjected it to cold. He made me bite down on hard objects. He pounded on it with an instrument. He was very nice about it, but he said, in light of the fact that he couldn’t find a problem of any sort whatsoever, he didn’t think a root canal was in order. I quit taking the Ibuprofen.
A week after New Years, I went back to my dentist and had the temporary filling replaced with a permanent one. At this point, the tooth exits the story stage left.
This past Monday, I decided to pan-fry some deli-quality bologna for lunch. I made a sandwich of it, on sourdough bread with Swiss cheese and mustard. As the afternoon wore on, I began not feeling so great. At 7:00 pm or so, I threw up.
Immediately, I felt better, and by Tuesday morning, I felt good enough to go to work. The morning went fine, but as the afternoon went by, I started feeling very listless and light-headed and dizzy. I went home and went to bed.
Wednesday was worse. I couldn’t stand up without gripping something for support. Walking up the stairs wore me out completely and left me panting and with a pounding headache. I thought it was probably a virus of some sort, but it was a weird one. I won’t go into details, but as the evening progressed, I began to suspect that something else was going on. I got on the Internet and did some research and determined that what I had was probably a stomach ulcer.
On Thursday morning, I felt a little bit better, but not much. I called my doctor and made an appointment for noon. I was told to arrive 15 minutes early, so I did. I sat in the waiting room for half an hour and then was escorted by a nurse to a small room. She sat at a computer screen and typed my answers to such germane questions as “Do you wear a helmet when you ride a bicycle?” and “Are your parents living?” She asked me if I had ever had surgery, and when I told her no, she either didn’t believe me or didn’t think I knew what surgery was because she proceeded to go down a list of about 10 specific surgeries and ask me if I’d ever had any of them.
When this was finally over, she departed and left me to stare at the smiley face/frowny face pain chart on the opposite wall. The doctor did eventually enter — an hour and 10 minutes after I got there. He asked me how I was doing and I told him. I explained about the tooth and the Ibuprofen and the bologna. I told him that I figured the medicine had weakened my stomach lining and that throwing up on Monday night had probably ripped a weak spot.
He was very impressed by my diagnosis. In fact, he totally agreed with it. He said my reasoning was more intelligent than that of most residents. Then he said, “Well, maybe not residents, but medical students, certainly.” He didn’t even check anything except to poke me in the stomach a few times and ask if it hurt. He chatted with me for a while about what I should do and shouldn’t do. He gave me a prescription for a heavy-duty antacid and told me to eat a lot of spinach and red meat to restore my blood supply. He also wanted to check me for a particular bacteria that can sometimes cause ulcers, although he thought my Ibuprofen theory was almost certainly correct.
He left, and a little while later, the nurse returned. She had me sit in a chair while she prepared to take blood from my left elbow. I said, “Let me get this straight. I came in here today because I’m bleeding and you’re going to take more blood?” She’d been pretty brusk up to that point, but after I said that, she friendlied right up. She was even apologetic when she couldn’t find a vein in my left arm. I had to turn my chair around so she could attack my right arm.
Eventually, I got out of there. I went to the local Osco to get my prescription. The pharmacist said she’d just seen it come through and that it would be ready in 10 minutes. I wandered the aisles and bought a couple cans of spinach. When I got back to the pharmacy, there was a problem. It seems that the insurance company wouldn’t OK the purchase. They said “the prescription doesn’t match the diagnosis.”
Let me remind you that the entire time all this was going on — waiting at the doctor’s office, giving blood, wandering the grocery store aisles and standing at the pharmacy counter — I was feeling very weak and dizzy. I stared while the pharmacist called over her boss to confirm what she’d said. The medicine couldn’t be released until my doctor called the insurance company. This is a process that normally takes a week. Grand.
I went home and called the doctor’s office. The receptionist said she’d have the nurse return my call. I sat down and waited. And waited. Earlier, when I’d been in the doctor’s waiting room, I’d heard the receptionist tell another patient that the office closes at 5:00 pm. When it got to be almost 5:00, I called back. I got a little stern (as stern as I could get when dizzy). I told the receptionist that I had a bleeding ulcer and couldn’t afford to wait a week. She took my message.
Finally, at 5:15, the nurse called. I spoke some more stern words, she made some calls, and then the pharmacy called and said everything was cleared.
While I was on the phone with the nurse, my wife went on the Internet and looked up blood-building foods. She then went to the store and picked up my medicine and all the right foods. Since then, I’ve been eating like a king — angus burgers, lamb patties, spinach salad with radishes and mushrooms and avocado, hard-boiled eggs, dried apricots, rice, peas. (If there is a silver-lining to stomach ulcers, it’s that they’re often accompanied by weight loss.) All of this is supposed to be OK. The only thing the doctor told me not to take was pain killers of any sort.
He also told me to take it easy for a couple days. Friday morning, I felt pretty good — almost back to normal. The doctor’s office called to say I didn’t have the bacteria, but that my red blood cell count was definitely down. On Friday afternoon, I could tell I was bleeding again. The dizziness and weakness all came back.
When I try to sleep, my mouth dries up. And I mean dry. My tongue gets stuck to my gums. It’s very uncomfortable and keeps me awake. (The doctor said this was normal — my body was compensating for something or other.)
I’m feeling a little better at the moment. But it all seems so stupid. Last November, I bit down wrong on a piece of tangerine-flavored gum and as a result, here I sit, late on a Friday night in late January, with a bleeding stomach ulcer.
I ask myself — what lesson can I learn from all this?
Not to chew gum?
Not to go to the dentist for minor tooth pain, even when it lingers for a month?
Not to take Ibuprofen?
Not to do my own cooking?