Wednesday, August 29, 2007

An Ounce of Prevention

Many of us are faced with difficult choices that have the potential to bring about pain and suffering no matter how we choose. Elective surgery falls into this category.

I’ve been suffering from a pain in my jaw that occurs when I eat acidic or salty food – food that would make you want to salivate. It all started with a particularly big juicy tomato I bought at the farmers’ market a month ago. I loaded it up with balsamic vinegar and aged olive oil and with the first bite I felt a piercing pain in my jaw on one side. Since then it has lessened in frequency and intensity, but it’s obviously still there. I’ve now consulted an endodontist, my dentist, and oral surgeon, and an ENT guy.

Nobody is sure why, but they all conclude my salivary glands on the side of my face are just barely functional and the right one may be blocked. When Reya first heard this, she immediately connected it to the radioactive iodine treatment I had had 18 months ago. The ENT guy agrees that this is definitely a contributor, but everyone says age plays a role too.

So about that radiation and about the surgery that preceded it. Three years ago I had half my thyroid removed with a malignant nodule in it. Although there was no definitive evidence that it had recurred, I was persuaded by multiple doctors to have the other half taken out and the hideous radioactive iodine treatment a year later. I obviously had a choice in the matter, but they painted a grim picture of me getting cancer 20 years from now and it being too late, saying they wanted to deal with it as aggressively as possible. I admit to being scared and to reluctantly agreeing to both procedures. So now my salivary glands are shut down and I am (probably) free of thyroid cancer forever. I will forever wonder if it was worth mutilating and bombarding my body in the name of prevention.

There are so many ways our bodies can betray us. It’s virtually impossible to protect against all the things that can go wrong. But choices that involve elective surgery will forever be difficult to make.


Blogger Kristin said...

I try not to think of "what ifs" all that often; I cannot change the past. It's hard, though, to encounter unforeseen outcomes, especially when pain's involved. I'm sorry to hear that you are suffering.

10:56 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kristin -- My pain is more of an annoyance than a legitimate pain at this point. The solution is just not to eat! :)

But I would love to know what the real cause of it was.

11:23 PM  
Anonymous Bengal said...

Barbara, keep away from doctors. You'll live longer.

11:32 PM  
Blogger riseoutofme said...

Elective surgery should really be the last option .... after all, doctors and surgeons are just human, like the rest of us. Can they really know, definitively, what the best course of action is?

Hurry slowly on this one, Barbara.

4:55 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Bengal -- If I had kept away from doctors I would be long dead from melanoma. I think the secret is knowing when it is important to do what they say and when you can and should just say NO.

Rise -- I am in no way contemplating surgery for my salivary gland problem. I'm just curious about its cause.

5:47 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Thanks, Barbara.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

So often with health issues, it involves trade-offs and gambling. I'm not a risk-taker so I'd have done as you did, even knowing the side effects.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

MOI -- I felt I couldn't gamble on this one. I'd probably do the same thing if I had it to do over.

4:48 PM  

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