1. Things are slowly starting to improve in the wisdom teeth department, though not in quite as linear or predictable of a fashion as I had hoped. Last Friday, my left socket really bothered me after cleaning it after breakfast. It was the first time ibuprofen didn’t eliminate my pain, and by Friday evening, it had migrated up into my left temple. It was, truly, some of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. I don’t get migraines, but I have to imagine what I felt was similar to what migraine sufferers feel. I felt like someone was pounding a gigantic nail into my head, and even the prescription-strength ibuprofen couldn’t take the tiniest bit of the edge off.
I called the dentist Saturday morning to inform them of my condition, and they told me to come in that afternoon. The dentist took a look at my mouth and said everything appeared to be healing normally–she didn’t see any sign of infection, and new tissue was growing where it should be, so no bone was exposed (the condition required for it to be a dry socket). Regardless, she rinsed it out with medicated wash and then filled it with a medicated packing. Guys, GAME CHANGER. The packing, which included eugenol, solved all of my pain problems like that *snaps*. For the first time in a week, I forgot to take my ibuprofen, because my mouth didn’t hurt. It was a miracle! Why didn’t they put that in there to begin with?!
Sunday continued along in a similar vein, and I was pleased as could be…until late Sunday afternoon, when the eugenol packing started to wear off, and I was in increasingly worse pain for the remainder of the day and Monday morning. Fortunately things calmed down a bit, at least in the pain department, starting around Monday afternoon.
I mention all of this not just for the sake of documenting my recovery process, but to highlight what has, without question, been the most difficult part of this entire experience for me: the need to take pain medication. Even though I very, very strongly believe in a science-backed approach to medicine, I am also very, very hesitant to take actual medication, except under the most necessary of circumstances. I hate it, especially when the medicine primarily exists to manage or minimize symptoms rather than manage or minimize the condition. (Though to ibuprofen’s credit, it does minimize inflammation, so it did double duty for me in this case.)
The reason why I hate taking medicine is because, much like anti-smoking ads I saw on TV as a child convinced me that smoking would absolutely kill me, the side effects list on medications send me into such an anxious spiral that, unless I genuinely need to take the medicine to survive or function, I would rather just wait out whatever is ailing me. And yes, I understand that your chances of getting lung cancer or heart disease from smoking are much, much higher than your chances of encountering the worst of the side effects for any medicine, and I also understand that the side effects listed include just about every single possible thing that could ever happen as a result of taking the medication so that the manufacturer won’t get in trouble for not telling you something could happen if something does happen, but knowing that and believing that are two wildly different things for my anxious, hypochondriac mind.
I eventually got so anxious about taking so much ibuprofen for so many consecutive days that I decided to switch over to Tylenol. That was all well and good for three hours, until, in an effort to understand how acetaminophen works, I Googled it–and I swear on everything important to me, I only Googled it because I was, really, truly, genuinely curious how it works–and of course was stupid enough to click on the Adverse Effects section of the Wikipedia article. There, I became wholly convinced that I would come down with a terrifying, potentially fatal skin condition that, according to the FDA, happened to 67 people between 1969 and 2012 (that averages to 1.5 people per year) who took acetaminophen. The fact that 1) millions upon millions of people take acetaminophen and do not get this condition, 2) the condition is most often caused by drugs I have never even come close to being prescribed, never mind heard of, and 3) of the roughly 300 Americans who come down with the condition annually (.0001% of the population), only 1.5 of them come down with the condition as a result of acetaminophen, did little to quell my fears. So if I’m concerned over something I have astronomically low odds of getting, hopefully you can begin to grasp the crushing anxiety I have about experiencing side effects that are much more likely to happen, and, consequently, why I have so much anxiety about taking medicine that isn’t necessary for survival, and, consequently, why taking pain medication, even non-narcotic pain medication, has been a huge struggle for me in the mental health department after a procedure that in and of itself was ALREADY a huge struggle for me in the mental health department.
2. As I alluded to in last week’s Thursday Things, I got a tetanus shot earlier this month, and that experience could’ve gone much better.
I had had my last tetanus shot in May of 2008, so I wasn’t sure if my doctor would think I needed on in January of 2018, or if I’d be able to delay it until January of 2019, since it hadn’t technically been 10 years yet. Apparently, almost 10 years was close enough, so I put on a brave face and got my Tdap booster at my annual physical. While I wouldn’t say getting the shot was a fun experience, I’ve also been through much worse. My arm felt fine for the remainder of the day, and I didn’t think much of it.
The following day, however, was a very different story. My arm was SO sore when I woke up Tuesday morning–sore to the point where putting on clothes was a hassle–and by mid-morning, I felt like I had been hit by a truck. I had a headache, I was nauseous, I was dead tired, and I was cold. None of these symptoms are abnormal after getting a tetanus shot, so I didn’t think much of it, either. I went to therapy, went to dance, and went straight to bed without showering that night (real life, folks).
I felt much better Wednesday morning, though my arm was still smarting. I went to the gym after work, did some strength training, and came home to shower. While scrub-a-dubbing, I rotated my left arm and noticed a HUGE red patch on it, from where I assumed I received the injection extending about two and a half inches down my upper arm and getting to be about an inch and a half wide. I had a somewhat similar reaction to the flu shot in 2016, figured this was just a normal reaction, and went about my evening.
I had to go back to the doctor on Thursday for another blood draw, and while I was there, I became increasingly panicked about this gigantic red blob on my arm. I took a picture of it and texted it to my second-favorite medical resource (after Google), my mom, who pointed out that since I was at the doctor, couldn’t I ask someone there to look at it? Good point. I saw one of the nurses, and as soon as she felt the red area and noticed it was warm, she was all, “Oh, that’s not good. I’m going to get someone else to look at this.” I then saw the PA, who, after determining that my temperature was normal, suspected I was having an allergic reaction to the shot, told me to take Zyrtec, and said that I would need to visit an allergist before I get another tetanus shot. Fabulous.
In my uneducated opinion, I don’t think my allergy is to the tetanus shot, or at least not the tetanus toxoid (or diphtheria or pertussis toxoids, for that matter). When I got my flu shot in 2016–the first injected flu shot I had had since I fainted after one in 2010–I had an almost identical reaction to the one I got from the tetanus shot: a large, warm red patch (though the one from the 2016 flu shot wasn’t as large) that extended down from the injection site and lingered for a few days after the shot. Since the flu shot contains the flu virus and, I would hope, no tetanus, diphtheria, or pertussis, and the Tdap shot contains tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, and, I would suspect, no flu viruses, I feel like my allergy/overreaction/whatever it is isn’t to the active ingredient in either of those vaccines. I suspect that one of the many inactive ingredients that goes into the vaccine is angering my arm. Based on the CDC’s list of inactive ingredients in vaccines, there are three inactive ingredients that appear in at least one of the two available versions of Tdap and at least one of the five gazillion flu shots, so that’s what I suspect, but I’m not an allergist, so what do I know?
For those of you keeping score at home: obviously this entire tetanus shot reaction situation was wildly anxiety provoking for me, your local hypochondriac. So when you combine my tetanus shot anxiety (Jan. 16-19) with my wisdom teeth anxiety (technically Dec. 13-Jan. 20, but especially Jan. 12-20) with my medicine-taking anxiety (Jan. 20-present), you can see that, at the most generous, I have been existing in a unrelenting state of heightened anxiety (that is, even more anxious than I am by default) for nearly three straight weeks now, and if you think that’s taking a toll on me, ding ding ding! You are the winner! I’ve survived anxious seasons of life before, and I assume I’ll survive this one as well (“assume” rather than “know” because since all of this anxiety has been rooted in health-related issues, it’s been hard to believe that I am not at all moments teetering on the precipice of premature death), but having been anxious for long periods of time before doesn’t make being anxious for a long period of time right now any easier. It’s exhausting, it’s frustrating, it’s discouraging, it’s depressing, and I can’t even put into words how desperately I want to have my normal self back.
3. In non-medical news, guess what! My sister ran her first ever half marathon last Saturday, and I’m just as proud as can be 🙂
My sister has been an on-again, off-again casual runner for probably eight years or so now–she ran her first 5K before I started running at all–and late last year, texted me to ask if I’d run a half marathon with her in January. I had to say no for a variety of reasons–PTO considerations, knowing that committing to a January half marathon would mean absolutely no breaks in training between February 2017 and December 2018, which, considering how tapped out I was on running by December 2017, didn’t seem like the wisest idea, and, ultimately, getting my wisdom teeth out a week before her race–but it absolutely killed me to say no. We had initially talked about doing this in 2016 (I actually ended up running F3 that year because she decided she wasn’t ready to do a half marathon after I had already started training), and I hated that I couldn’t be there to run the race with her. I did make her a sign and mailed it to her, though, so at least I was there in spirit.
I honestly think I’m prouder of my sister for running a half marathon than I’ve ever been of myself for running any race of any distance. I took up running after being heavily exposed to the running world through an internship, so I knew the tricks of the trade before getting into it–the importance of fueling, how to buy shoes, what kind of clothes to wear, etc. My sister went in almost entirely blind and had to figure out everything as she went along, which really put into perspective how many things I take for granted when it comes to running. For instance, at one point during training, she was telling me how discouraged she was at how her progress had plateaued. In the beginning, she had been able to add distance every week, but at that point in training, she wasn’t able to run more than six or seven miles without needing a walk break. There’s nothing wrong with a run/walk method for long distance running, of course, but since it seemed to be upsetting her, I asked her if she was eating anything during her runs. She looked at me like I had two heads. She had NO IDEA that it’s totally normal to consume easily digestible carbs while running (which I suspected, because I can’t go more than six miles without needing to fuel–I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to go for a seven mile run without fuel, only to fade HARD during the last mile). I gave her some of my Honey Stingers and some Sport Beans, and they made a big difference! When she complained about chafing and I asked if she had been using Body Glide, she responded that she “didn’t even know that was a thing,” so I gave her a spare stick of that, too. Just all these little things that, like I said, I totally take for granted, having been immersed in the running world before I ever started running. I’m really proud of her for sticking with it, and I’m glad to have another half marathoner in the family 🙂