Too Much Information

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I have jaw issues.  We know this.

In case you are someone who loves hearing all the gory details and the comprehensive medical history of others, or in case you are someone who also has jaw problems and wants to make sure you’re not alone, OR in case you are someone who loves to read rambling, not-even-trying-to-nutshell accounts of things, here is the extended history of my jaw problems.  {Really…the word count of this post is breaking some serious blogging rules.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.}

{A note – I will mention some medical professionals by name, and to some of them I do not give raving reviews.  This is very uncomfortable for me, but my goal here is not slander.  My goal is truth and information, so that if you live near me and have similar issues, you have at least one person’s honest perspective.}

April, 2000 – I woke up on my 13th birthday to find that I couldn’t open my mouth all the way.  It felt sort of stuck, and I was afraid if I forced it open I would crack or break something.  I told my parents, “Something is wrong with my jaw joint!” to which my dad amusedly responded, “Well, that’s just because you’re getting so old.  This is just the beginning of your body falling apart.”  And like any self-respecting teenager would, I said, “DAAaaaad” and rolled my eyes.

May, 2000 – I went to a doctor for the jaw issue, who said it was probably TMJ syndrome and told me to ask a dentist about it.  My dentist’s assumption was that there was an out-of-place tendon crossing through the TMJ joint, and that was causing the clicking.  I could get a bite splint made to wear at night, but the cost of the splint in relation to the fact I would have to keep getting new ones as I grew older and my mouth grew bigger made us decide to hold off for awhile.

2000-2013 – Mild jaw issues continued.  Sometimes when I got stressed, my jaw would ache for a day or two.  Occasionally, I would have moments of pain when chewing on tough things, like beef jerky or Laffy Taffys.  My jaw would sometimes click when I opened my mouth really wide.  All of this was only ever a nuisance, not requiring any further medical attention.  {Although, frankly, at this point in the game I’m wondering if further medical attention during those years would have prevented these recent problems.}

March 2013 – This was when I really started getting concerned about my jaw.  With a church site plant, foster care licensing, my first album, and a trip to Israel on the calendar, I assumed the increased pain and decreased range of motion were due to stress.  Even so, it was worse than it had ever been, and a new problem arose.  Instead of getting “stuck” closed, my jaw started getting stuck open, mostly when I would laugh and sing, which was not only painful but awkward too.  This was when I really started praying hard for healing.

April and May 2013 – Things went downhill quickly.  My jaw issues changed from an occasional nuisance to a daily hindrance.  I would wake up each morning in pain, so I bought an over-the-counter bite splint, just to see if it would help.  It did, but only for a short time.  I began choosing my foods based on whether or not they would hurt to eat.  I continued asking for prayer from the people I love.  By the time I got home from Israel in the middle of May, I decided it was time to seek some professional help.

First I visited Dr. Scott Ellard, recommended by an orthopedic surgeon who is a friend of mine.  Our first visit was extremely difficult for me.  I was expecting him to tell me that the tendons and muscles surrounding my jaw were inflamed, and that I would need to take some Advil or something stronger and, at the very worst, I would need to start wearing a custom bite splint at night.  However, it was much worse.

After performing a manual exam and seeing my panoramic x-ray, Dr. Ellard informed me that my jaw was actually misshapen, which even I could easily see on the x-ray.  He pointed out sections of it that were affected by arthritis {Arthritis?!  But I’m only 26!}, and he spent longer than I was comfortable with scolding my previous dentist for not having put me in braces a long time ago.  He said I was lucky to only have this much damage after 13 years, because there are people he works with now who have only had issues for 5 years, and they are “crippled”.  Somehow, after that sentence, I felt very far from “lucky”.

I left with instructions to get an MRI and to have a consult with an orthodontist to see about getting braces.  Truth be told, as soon as I got to my car, I started bawling.  I felt completely blindsided that these jaw issues were as severe as they were, and I felt pretty humiliated at the thought of having braces as an adult, not to mention the financial burden all of this would be.  Even now as I recount this I’m still wishing it wasn’t true, and tears are still coming.

Dr. Kenneth Grabowski was the orthodontist I was sent to for a consultation and for further x-rays.  While he and his staff were professional, kind, and helpful, the place felt a bit like a braces factory.  It was huge, automated, and extremely geared toward adolescents.  They probably do great work for all of their patients, but I felt that my case was pretty unique and pretty specific, and I wasn’t quite convinced that I would get the attention I would prefer.  The $6700 price tag with the prognosis that braces, “may or may not even help the problem” were enough for me to consider exploring other options.

The next step was the MRI, which was much less scary than I anticipated.  The worst part was not being able to swallow for two or three minutes at the time….have you ever deliberately tried?  Go ahead.  You’re curious now.

Once all of this was done, and all of the records from the MRI and from Dr. Grabowski were collected and sent back, I went to have a consultation with Dr. Ellard.  One of the first things he said was, “You’ve had braces, right?”  I said no, to which he replied, “Oh good.”  This confused me, and I told him so, especially since during my last visit, he had been very verbose and very clear that I should have had braces.  His response was that braces can sometimes make these situations worse, and while his answer may have changed because he had more information from the MRI and the further x-rays, his forgetfulness about our previous conversation just a few weeks earlier became a little red flag in the back of my mind.

He pulled out a piece of paper and drew a little picture explaining to me that there is a disk of cartilage that is supposed to cushion the lower jaw joint {the one that moves} from the upper jaw joint {the one that is attached to the temple and stays put}.  He said that, according to the MRI, in both of my joints {even though the left one has never bothered me}, that disk of cartilage had slid down in front of the joint and was now being “crumpled” every time I opened my mouth.  Gross.  His suggestion was that we use bite splint therapy to fix the problem – one for wearing at night and a different kind to wear during the day.

The hope was that the space in my joint would expand, allowing the disks of cartilage to slip back into the right place.  All of this would take about six months and would cost about $2800.  In the meantime, I was told to go on a soft-foods diet, staying away from anything that caused excessive chewing.  I decided to wait for pre-approval from my health insurance before going ahead with the splints and while we were waiting, Dr. Ellard would call Dr. Grabowski to get me in for mouth moldings and all of that jazz.  I left the consultation feeling  still bummed yet quite a bit more hopeful about the whole situation.

So you can imagine my surprise when Dr. Grabowski called me about a week later and told me that Dr. Ellard had told him to put me in full braces, once again flip-flopping from what he had told me.  I called Dr. Ellard to double check and had to call twice more to finally get an answer from one of his assistants.  She said that, yes, Dr. Ellard did indeed want me in braces and that they could put special attachments in the braces that would do the same work as the bite splints would.

Ugh.

So much money.  So few sure answers.  So much feeling more like a dollar sign than a person with a unique issue.

I felt really uncomfortable moving forward with Dr. Ellard, so I decided to scrap the whole thing for a while and try chiropractic treatment.  A friend of mine had similar jaw problems, and she felt improvement after just one visit to Dr. Kristina Hoard in Plainwell, MI.  Plus, each visit only cost about $40, so I thought, “What the heck?”

I made an appointment and went in for an adjustment.  Dr. Hoard started with my neck and then with my jaw, neither of which hurt and both of which felt SUUUUPER weird.  My jaw made a very definite “clunk” sound.  – – shivers – –  I didn’t feel immediate relief, but I liked Dr. Hoard, and I wanted to keep trying it out for awhile.

I’ve had six or seven adjustments in the last month, and I wish I had a miracle story to tell you.  I like the idea of a chiropractor, I really do.  It makes me feel very earthy and natural and eastern.  But I honestly haven’t felt any improvement.  I’ve been on a no-chewing diet for almost two weeks now {by my own choice}, and even that hasn’t improved.  If anything, I feel like my jaw is worse today than it was a month ago, but maybe it’s one of those gets-worse-before-it-gets-better things.  I’ll probably give it another month before I try something else.

Whew.  That was long.  Are you still here?  Because here is where I get to the heart.

Lots of people have been praying for me.  Mostly, I believe that prayer changes things, and I’ve had lots of faithful, hopeful, wise people tell me they know God is going to heal my jaw.  I’m trying believe them.  I’m trying to believe that God will perform a miraculous and supernatural act, and I will go prancing up and down the aisles shaking my head, waving a hanky, and shouting, “Glory!  HalleLUjah!  Thank ya, Lawd!”

{Too much?  God might’ve just kicked my shins under the table.}

But when I wake up yet another day in pain and when my jaw locks up again and when I hear the gravelly noise of the arthritis while I’m singing and when I have to be so picky about what I eat or how I hold my jaw while I’m typing, it all feels very big and very hopeless.  {Again, here come the tears.}

I really want to have a cool healing story.  Well, another cool healing story, I should say.  Two years ago, God healed me from anxiety, but it took more than a year, and it was very very challenging.  I guess I’m okay if that’s what He wants to do again, but I just really wish He wouldn’t.  I really wish He would just get to it already.

I’m working hard to believe and to be surrendered, to not complain all the time and to let Him do whatever He wants with me, knowing He has imagined a goal for me and {usually} knowing that it’s better than anything I could make up.

So I guess that’s where I’m at today.  Uncomfortable, slightly hopeless, and looking to Him for the answer.

Anything making you feel the same way?  I hope it helps to know you’re not the only one.

 

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.  – – Psalm 42.5 – –

 


photo by Brian Wolfe(y)

 

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