First there was a root canal.
Then there was a presumed infection and Penicillin.
Then there was urgent care for a different antibiotic and insistence that this was dental.
Then it was back to the dentist, where a theory was floated: "Maybe this is TMJ."
TMJ sounded right. Can barely open my mouth. Head and jaw pain. Cheek hurts. Teeth hurt. I bought a mouthguard for sleeping, thinking it would eliminate teeth grinding and keep me from sitting upright in the middle of the night and shrieking OHSWEETJESUSMAKEITSTOP. Plus, my brother and dad played hockey when I was growing up. I've been envious of the mouthguard boiling-shaping-forming process for years.
The mouthguard lasted two nights. Now it's under the bed.
I tell my regular doctor the TMJ theory and he feels the side of my face when I open and close my mouth. He explains the layout of this section of the skull and the interconnectedness of pieces. How if one thing is off, everything is off and ouch. He gives me some TMJ exercises and muscle relaxers. He tells me to apply heat, spend the weekend relaxing, it will probably be better next week. Thursday at the latest. If not, have him or my dentist refer me to a TMJ specialist.
I am miserable every second of the weekend, just like every day of the past two weeks. I watch two entire seasons of "Parenthood" and think a lot about huge families and the complex dynamics. I watch until I can't decide if I love or hate this show. I can't read, I'm sensitive to noise. I have to adjust the screen on my phone to the lowest level of brightness or else I wince when I look at it. I apply heat. I exercise it. I google it. I find my pulse points and experiment with those. I wake up at either 1 a.m. or 4 a.m. or both every night, sit up in bed, rub my face and cry. I wonder if this whole thing is just going to explode.
I hear myself snapping at people. I don't sing in the shower or fake punch people when they walk past. I stop making meals and only eat things that are soft: Naked Juice, oatmeal, scrambled eggs, soup, Mac & Cheese. Sometimes I don't talk for 10 consecutive hours. I think of how easy it is to just morph into not yourself and how easy it could be to never find your way back. Now I'm this person: a quiet woman who eats mashed potatoes and pain killers for dinner.
My dentist refers me to another dentist, I think a TMJ specialist. Good, I think. We're moving toward the end of my pain. But the new dentist is just a root canal specialist who takes some X-rays and compliments the bang-up job my dentist did on the original root canal. So ... great! Kudos, first dentist. I never doubted your work, still I'm glad we could confirm your skill level.
But my head still fucking hurts and now a strange dentist is leaning against a counter in a strange office in practically a different city with his arms folded and for some reason it seems like his chest hair is exposed and moving. He's staring at me with a puzzled expression. And all I can think about is the waste of money and the waste of a day that could have been spent working toward pain-free.
"It's not your teeth," he said. "And I called your dentist and we don't think it's TMJ either. So."
So I take the rest of the day off from researching my symptoms. Cluster headaches, migraines, clogged salivary glands, cysts and brain tumors. How, if you take too many pain killers, you can start to get headaches from the painkillers. I start a Headache Journal that includes a detailed description of the pain, action taken and food consumed. I test not taking pills before bed so I can take them when I inevitably wake up. That goes okay.
But like I said, after three weeks things don't just suddenly go away. So, who knows.