In late August in preparation for classes and a big paper deadline, I slept an average of about 5 and a half hours a night, with interruptions, for a 5 day period. This precipitated the worst downslide I had had yet.
First, starting on 8/27, my jaw pained worsened until I was completely unable to open or close my jaw and my lower jaw was jutting forward so far that my overbite had become an underbite. As it happened, I had scheduled an appointment with both my MD/homeopath (on 8/28) and PCP (on 8/29). I believed that by now they would surely want to see me again (in the case of the PCP) and might think it was time to take more directed action to address what was wrong (i.e. run tests). The changes in my body were beginning to scare me. Still, I trusted my doctors. My MD/homeopath listened to my symptoms, and then asked me to open my mouth so she could look at my throat (I also had a cold again). She reacted with surprise when I couldn’t.
Second, my hearing had gotten truly bad, something both my husband and I noticed a few days before the doctors visits. Both she and my PCP sort of laughed it off when I reported this, and in fact my PCP said something like “aren’t you a little young to lose your hearing” and did not mention it again.
This should have been a reminder for me — for the second time since I became ill, one of my doctors was surprised to see how strongly my illness was affecting me. Description alone was not getting the message across. The first time (see my Feb 1, 2007 post), the extent of my fatigue was hidden by my daytime energy. The second time, the extent of my frozen jaw was not understood until, in front of the doctor, I could not open my mouth. Both times, even after they saw something closer to the truth, I left the office reassured that things would continued to work with my doctor to address my condition through naturopathic means. The hypothesis was that a combination of mold, lack of sleep and other stressors was acting on my body. I saw my PCP a few days later, and he assured me that my symptoms were most likely caused by a virus and would probably clear up on their own and suggested I only come back if in a few months I was not better, or if I started to feel significantly worse. Even worse, serious symptoms such as hearing loss seemed to be overlooked if they did not fit the picture of the preferred diagnosis. In all fairness, none of my more serious symptoms were truly debilitating (I was still biking to work most days!) or if they were they cleared up quickly (the jaw was improving 24 hours later, seemingly responding well to the medication I was given, and completely better by 9/2).
Even so, if I could go back in time, it is at this point that I would whisper in my own ear: Your doctors don’t have a true picture of how you feel. They may be overlooking some of your symptoms. They’re investigating the possibility of a serious disease. And you yourself should never just wait out a combination of changes this diverse — hearing loss, frozen jaw, pain, fatigue, immune problems — this is a picture that should be taken seriously. Sadly, I was focused on things that seemed far more important at the time — meeting a paper deadline for a project I cared deeply about, and preparing for a difficult semester in which I would be teaching two classes, one of which was the most time consuming in our department.