Yeah, as you can probably tell, I've been struggling. I've been trying to figure out what to do about a particularly unfriendly diagnosis by the TMJ doc. Long story short, I now know more about my left mandibular condyle than any sane person should. It's not life-threatening, but it kinda freaked me the hell out. Just a little.
OK, a lot.
So the TMJ doc gave me the option of spending $3000 or $6000 for a course of treatment that a few searches of the interwebs told me may or may not resolve my primary issue. Yes, they require payment up front. No, they don't bill insurance.
Hmmm. The doc has a good reputation and all, but, um, no. At least, not without checking out other options first. So what to do? From the sound of it, I really ought not to leave this untreated, even if there's very little pain.
Once I stopped freaking out about it, I realized it seems to be a healing issue. I'd heard acupuncture is good for that so I called the acupuncture people down the street.
It helps that my insurance actually has an acupuncture benefit.
First, the free consult. I filled out a form listing my top four complaints (only four?!?). The guy read my pulse and asked me some questions, then said he was confident they could help me.
Oh, they have quite a system at the acupuncture clinic, which they say is the largest in the US. The girl at the front desk grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and dropped me right into the New Patient pipeline: Five visits, which must be scheduled in a two-week period.
Tuesday was Day One, an exhaustive review of my medical history, which only left me even more depressed. It blows to be reminded that the last five or six years have been pretty sucky, health-wise. I've always been proud of my resilience (thanks, Protestant Ancestors!) but somewhere along the way it fell off or I used it all up or something. I realized I've lost that innate sense that if I rub enough dirt into it and walk it off, it'll get better. That made me sad.
Yesterday -- Day Two -- was a one-hour group lesson on TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), where we learned that (apparently) the language that Westerners use to describe it were mistranslated from the original texts. Forget 'energy' and 'meridians'; it's all about increasing blood flow throughout the body so the body can heal itself. And not just my jaw, mind you, but ALL my complaints will disappear once the appropriate blood flow is restored and the body has a chance to do what it does. Oh yes, and there will probably be nasty-tasting Chinese herbs (not covered by insurance). I'm as big a sucker for magical thinking as the next middle-aged white female, and there was just enough reality scattered in there for me to feel like this actually just might work.
After the pep talk, we were taken to separate rooms and stuck for the first time. The goal was to see how well I react to the treatments, so I was told to 'pick a pain'. The practitioner would treat that pain to see if it would resolve. Somewhere along the way I had popped a nasty headache that had sucked up all my attention. It seemed as good a pain as any.
Most of the needles went in without a problem, with only a slight stinging or 'sensation', but she stuck one at the base of my right thumb that WAS NOT HAPPY. After a very long tooth-sucking minute to see if it calmed down, that one came out. I don't know what the hell she hit, but I felt that fucker for the rest of the evening. But I digress.
Once I was porcupined and relieved of my glasses and watch, I was left to stew in my own juices for an hour or so. I relaxed as best I could, and I'm pretty good, but the headache just wouldn't recede. It ebbed and flowed, as if the Forces of Light were trying to beat off (heh) the Forces of Dimness but just couldn't quite get their shit together. But I got to lay down for an hour with no one asking me anything and that alone was pretty nice.
After what was probably close to an hour, just long enough for me to get anxious about being forgotten, she returned and pulled out the needles. I hated to report no joy, but it didn't seem to phase her. She just told me to keep an eye on my symptoms and note what changed and when. I was a little disappointed, but not enough to abandon hope.
I headed home, and was surprised to note I was in a better mood than I was before. And you know what? By the time I got home, I was feeling... better, somehow, even though the headache was still there. Hard to describe, but for the first time in weeks (months?) my outlook was just a tad lighter. Things didn't seem quite as hopeless. I almost felt resilient!
The headache, however, wasn't playing that. I finally had to surrender and throw some ibuprofen at it so I could sleep.
When I got up this morning I almost felt perky. The headache is still lurking back there (could be the jaw thing, could be hormones, could be sinuses - who knows?) but on a very basic level I FEEL better.
You know, there just may be some value to poking your body into releasing a shot of endorphins. I mean, look! I'm writing a blog post! Now if they can just get my jawbone to grow back....
Day Three, aka the second sticking, is this evening, with two more stickings next week. Then they will tell me how long it will take to make me all better and what it will cost.
And that, I'm guessing, is when I'll decide how much feeling better is really worth.