pain in the…face: part three

The rule of thumb is the faster you seek treatment for herpes zoster, the sooner the damaged nerves heal, and the sooner the pain subsides. I didn’t know what the mess on the right side of my face was, but thought it was a drug reaction to an antibiotic my dentist gave me after root canal surgery. This story has no happy moments! Sorry. Root canal. At least it’s something normal people have done, not one of these one in a million or 39 examples in 150 years of records (or whatever it was) deals!

The chain of events is a blur. All I know is I made an appointment to see my doctor, the veteran MD who’d never seen a worse case of herpes zoster in all his years practicing medicine. It was a week or more after onset before I saw my doctor, plenty of time for the disease process to really foul up my facial nerves! He sent me to a regional hospital immediately because the disease threatened both my hearing on the right side and my right eye.

Sorry for the aside. Back to where I scream and call on Satan or God to end my pain and gain a follower. You know, the goat sacrifice.

I took prescription painkillers (the narcotic painkiller oxycodone) for a short time after I was diagnosed. Strong stuff. The stuff druggies pay hundreds of dollars to procure for their habits. I belong to a different tribe: The sooner I can stop taking painkillers, the better. I just don’t like the idea of addiction, no matter how miserable I am.

Once I stopped the painkillers, I had mostly good times, with occasional sharp pains in the corner of my right eye that cut their way down to the bottom corner of my nose. It’s difficult to explain herpes zoster pain. A burning itch with knives stabbing a hundred times a second? Severe, at any rate, drop you to your knees strong. I couldn’t drive across town for fear a pain attack might happen. If it did, all I could do was stop the car, scream as loud as I could till the pain subsided, then struggle to get home.

If the pain happened at home, I either heated a wet towel to boiling hot and wrapped my head in it or splashed icy water on my face. I guess either way interrupted the pain signals transmitted from my face to my brain. These methods worked at any rate, though sometimes I had to try both to get relief.

By “occasional”, I mean at least once a day, sometimes as many as four pain attacks in the early days. I discovered if I touched a certain spot on my back or another on my head, I could trigger a pain attack. Gad! You know I fought touching those spots! I couldn’t believe they existed, so…! Instant icy water or steaming towel time, every time I yielded to the temptation!

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pain in the…face: part two

When the first tooth fell out, I contacted my dentist. By the time I saw him five or six teeth joined their little brother. I placed them in a Zip-Loc bag in case he needed them. I guess I thought he could use them in a prosthesis or something. Pain does odd things to how one thinks and reacts. He took the teeth. (He’s a nice guy, and probably didn’t want to tell me there was no point to this exchange.)

He contacted an orthodontist, who examined my mouth, which now lacked six of the 32 normal tooth count. He researched the odd condition, and noted I was only the 39th known person to experience this condition because of herpes zoster. The records went back to the 19th Century. Yes, once again, I was a case study for a specialist who called in all his interns for a chance to view this human oddity, this 39th human known to suffer a herpes zoster related necrotic mandible that lead to tooth loss!

He arranged for me to see an oral surgeon in Denver. The oral surgeon was not only delighted for a chance to examine me, since he headed the department at a teaching hospital, he arranged for free treatment. All my insurance had to cover was my hospital room and hospital-associated costs. The hospital room overlooked Cherry Creek and had a million dollar view of the Denver skyline and the Rocky Mountains. But enough of that. You want to read what happened that required hospitalization.

The oral surgeon and his interns clipped out the dead portions of my mandible till they reached healthy tissue. It was dead, right? I didn’t feel a thing, though I felt a jolt when the trimmers broke through the dead tissue. They did deaden the area, just in case they hit living tissue, but the process was uneventful except for the series of photos they took of the herpes zoster wounds healing on my face and the details of trimming back the necrotic bone. Ugh!

Once they trimmed back the bone to healthy tissue, the oral surgeon arranged for that hospital room with the million dollar view. The final stage, cleaning up what was left of the necrotic bone, had to be completed under anesthesia. In all, they removed roughly 50%, perhaps a bit more, of the top part of the right side of my mandible.

The facial pain continued. The oral surgeon had me come back once a month for several months to verify the remaining tissue re-established a vascular system, that there was no further necropsy. The healing went uneventfully, except for the pain attacks.