Sunday, June 28, 2020

In a place I never imagined: I’m hoping it’s just for a long visit

This may be my last post for awhile.  I’m just not good.  Since developing my TMJ disorder in December 2018, it’s taken me places I never imagined.  From nine months of snap, crackle & pop in my face (my jaws were a bowl of Rice Krispies) to the constant dizziness, blurred vision and upper body issues that later joined in, it’s like I’m fighting gravity on another world.

A year into things when it ‘blossomed’ into the temporalis muscles (large, flat muscles that cover the sides of your skull), I thought I was having a stroke.  Very intense pressure.   Any kind of chewing intensified it, and I changed to a slurping diet. 

I also began wearing a hard, acrylic oral splint over my upper teeth, all day, everyday to keep my teeth from clamping shut.  It did the trick, but my TMJD retaliated and spread into my neck & upper back.

In mid-February, the pain & pressure began to lessen in my jaws at least, and I began experimenting with more soild foods like toast, eggs & the occasional large pancake. Finally, after a year I was feeling human again!  Soon I was eating things like beans and chopped hot dogs. 

March & April got even better, and I began eating baked fish, rotisserie chicken & baked potatoes.  Soft sugar cookies (I baked myself).

I was still wearing the oral splint 24/7, but would take it out long enough to eat and when my jaw began to feel ‘wobbly’ I’d brush my teeth and pop it back in.

Then towards the end of April, everything went haywire and I went back to Planet X.  Liquids only on this world.  I’m experimenting with soups & watered down oatmeal though.

This past Thursday, my dear friend Elisa went with me to see Dr.Singh at North Pittsburgh Oral Surgery, an oral surgeon & TMJ specialist.  A very patient man, he aked me to explain everything that was going on.  He then did a 365 degree scan of my head and examined my skull, neck & the interior of my mouth with a couple of (gloved) fingers. 

He said “The good news is, you’re not a candidate for surgery.  I see no abnormalities or fractures in the skull or mandibular region.  Butttt…. your masseters are pretty swollen and appear very tender.  You’ve got some serious muscle spasm going on and I can see the tendons in your neck and right temple are swollen.  Besides your jaw pain, are you having any vision or balance problems?”

I told him yes, it pushes hard behind both eyes and in one ear & my upper back.  He said these issues weren’t uncommon, but such muscular derangement were out of his scope. 

He suggested I buy lidocaine patches for the painful areas, and prescribed a 6 day steroid pack of menthylprednisolone, to “break up” the chronic inflammation.

He also told me not to be afraid to load up on Tylenol, “it won’t hurt your kidneys like ibuprofen.”   I was tempted to tell him that my PCP said that Tylenol was the second leading cause of liver failure, but I just nodded my head & thanked him for his time.

The irony of it all is, after 20+ years of being 60-70 lbs overweight, I’ve now lost 55 lbs.  While picking up these items at the drugstore, I ran into someone I used to ride the bus with daily (before I retired 5 years ago) and she was very kind, exclaiming how “fit” I looked since the last time she saw me.  I told her she looked great too. 

After 18 months of this, I admit I’m fearful I’ll never be my old self again.  I recently met a kindred spirit online (Dan from New York, a man in his forties who’s been going thru the same things after having his wisdom teeth removed a couple years ago).  He said “I’m not a suicidal person, but I just can’t imagine living with this another 30-40 years either.” 

Same here, Dan… at least I probably won’t have that long and ok, that was pretty gloomy.  As always, if you made it this far, thanks for reading. 

So I wonder what’s happening on planet Earth?

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A friendly voice from the past: Georgia on my mind

Recently, I got an email from Georgia D., a classmate I haven’t seen since the 1970s.  (Okay, it’s been 41 years… wow.)  She wrote to ask why I left Facebook, and said she enjoyed reading my posts there.  She hoped I was doing okay.

To be honest, I was a bit surprised she reached out to me.  I knew Georgia was on Facebook, but she very rarely posted anything.  All I seemed to know was she was married to an oil exec (I think), had a son & daughter, and lived in Texas… or Egypt? 

She got around.  But that was pretty much all I knew.

I responded, thanked her for the message and told her I left Facebook almost 2 years ago, I’d been spending too much time there.  I hoped she was good, thanks for writing.

I sat here thinking about Georgia, wondering if she shared the same memories I did.  In our senior year of high school, strangely enough, we’d become pretty good friends. 

To be completely honest, we shouldn’t have been.  Georgia was very pretty, very popular and really had her act together.  She was a majorette, a cheerleader and dated a fellow classmate who was a varsity everything and handsome as he was athletic. 

(I wasn’t exactly a nerd, but I sure wasn’t part of their set.)

But our senior year, Georgia and I were both on the Yearbook staff and began hanging out a lot together.  We had the same sense of humor.  I always found it kind of special that she was the only one in school that called me Douglas.  I don’t know why, but I liked that.

gerrguanowGeorgia today, looking better than ever 

Georgia & I had afterschool jobs in Waynesburg (a 15 minute drive from our high school), where she worked in a small boutique while I slopped dishes at the Olde Southern Pancake & Steakhouse. 

She had a car, I didn’t.  I’d sometimes ride to work with her from school (or get a lift home), but it was never just a ride—we would sit in her car and have long conversations about school, our hopes, the future.  Those personal talks meant a lot to me. 

Our friendship gave me a feeling of real confidence, that maybe I wasn’t as big a dork as I thought I was.

I sat down to write her a letter in earnest, then stopped and asked myself:  Were we really as close as I liked to remember?  Or was I seeing those dusty memories through a pair of ‘70’s rose-tinted glasses?

And that’s when I got a follow-up email from Georgia, with the attachment below.  It’s a note I passed her in class, a hundred years ago.  I can’t believe she kept it after all these years.

Georgia wrote “Here y’go, Douglas—we used to be good friends!”

We sure were.  Nerd smile

Saturday, June 20, 2020

A few words about Dad and myself, this Father’s Day

This is Dad & me on my 14th birthday (my dad was 38 here).  While I thought he looked his typical handsome self, for years I was embarrassed by this picture.

I was going through a chubby phase at the time, evidenced by the Sears 'Husky Jeans' I was wearing.  I can still remember seeing this photo shortly after it was taken and looking at my then-life of too much junk food & too much sitting on my butt in front of the tv and wondering if my dad was disappointed in me. 

I didn't share Dad’s love for country music or western books or football, I was too caught up in my own world of spacehips, monster movies & comic books.  I always imagined he'd be happier if I had a dried snake or rock collection, or traded baseball cards or built model cars instead of model Frankensteins.  I had an older brother who was considered an “official genius" and excused from the rigors of American boyhood, and a younger brother who was busy re-living The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (complete with straw hat & fishing pole, darn it). 

Many times, I’d awkwardly try to have a conversation with Dad if we were alone at the kitchen table or in his pickup truck, and get silence or a raised eyebrow in return.

Dad in his Navy days; in the 1950s he served as a radar operator on the real USS Enterprise, a Navy battleship

Of course as the years went by, I began to understand his quiet moods and 'staring right through me' wasn't necessarily a disappointment in who I was, but more likely a man caught up in his own worries of making ends meet, feeding his large family & trying to keep my mom happy while battling a personal demon or two of his own.

I wasn't the only one back then with a lot on my plate, so to speak.

Dad & five of his six kids at Ryerson Park; Donda in the lower left, Shawn with the beachball, me, Steve hidden behind me & Duke behind Dad.  It was Dad’s 35th birthday

There is so much more I could say here about the man, other than I love and miss him.  I regret more than anything that we didn’t get to spend more time together.  I guess what's important to me this Father's Day is remembering that towards the end, he began expressing a real interest in my work & life.  His questions surprised me, and I was more than ready to share.    

As a kid I idolized him, tolerated him in my twenties, and finally saw him for who he was in my adulthood—a private, flawed (aren’t we all) but kindhearted man. 

Until his passing in February 2001 at the age of 63, he was a bigger part of my life then I ever let on; apparently he always will be. 
This is such a trivial thing but it’s something I'll always remember with much fondness.  The year before that picture above, on my 13th birthday, Mom & Dad took me to dinner at Ponderosa Steakhouse, than shopping for a present.  I was allowed to pick out anything up to a certain dollar amount. 

As I walked up & down the aisle in a toy & hobby shop, Dad picked up a model of Mr. Spock from Star Trek firing at alien lizards.  He said "Doug what about this one for your collection?"  Mom said "Don, that was one of Doug’s Christmas presents last year!”  

But he knew what was important to me, and that was enough.

Happy Father's Day, Dad

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