on wisdom and teeth

1013374_479246245492724_714511161_nSome time ago, when I finally picked a dental office to work with, they did a new patient exam which included a 360 x-ray (180? not sure it was most impressive) of my head to see all my teeth. The hygienist noticed I had two remaining wisdom teeth: one was horizontal and un-errupted, while the other sat around doing nothing. Over the course of our conversation she mentioned she’d recently taken her teenage son to have his wisdom teeth removed as she put it, they “knocked him out and pulled all four at once.”

At the time, I thought that course of action was barbaric. All four teeth at once? That’s cruel! Knock them out for a simple dental procedure? That’s crazy.

Then, not too long ago, I found myself reassuring my oral surgeon that don’t worry, “I haven’t gone without local anesthetic since the late 1980s/early 1990s” and that “it was only two, maybe three that were filled without it and they were baby teeth.” Then he mentioned how he would likely need to chisel the remaining wisdom tooth out — the roots ran very deep, and asked what sort of anesthetic I’d picked for the extraction.

My other wisdom teeth had been extracted with local, they’d needed to come out quickly — they were impacted, at least one was infected, and I remembered the experiences very vividly. In the past, had been an urgent phone call to the office, not a consultation to discuss the best course of action — and what would be most comfortable for me. In my mind, it was “a routine extraction” and I’d toughed out two before, why would this one be different?

When I scheduled the consultation and appointment, I’d initially picked local, but after hearing chisel I decided to deffer to his thirty-plus years of expertise and I decided to go with general instead.

I called a friend of mine who used to work as a dental surgical assistant, she talked me through the process and assured me that I would not remember anything. There would be no pain, and I would not remember anything. I could go home and sleep for a few hours, take my prescription pain medication and I would be okay.

It was liberating to know that I didn’t have to be awake for the procedure. It was comforting to know that the oral surgeon was compassionate — sure, he could’ve taken care of the tooth while I was awake, but I would probably still be curled up in bed in tears. In the past I would’ve said selfish, I’m sure it is easier for him to extract teeth from people who are out cold, but I have to agree, it is a win-win, he can work without fear of them freaking out, and the person who is out does not remember the procedure.

I admit, I did a fair bit of crying. Crying because I was terrified of a chisel being used on my tooth, terrified of being put under, terrified of being in pain. Talking to my friend helped with the terror, and the tears turned to tears of anger. If there really was a less painful, less traumatic way to take out wisdom teeth why hadn’t my dentists offered it before? Why hadn’t my parents offered it?

I think it may have been because we didn’t have dental insurance growing up (much less health insurance, pfft, that’s like asking God to cause problems for you), and I already had a well-established terror of dentists, and medical procedures. Dr. Do-it-all didn’t do oral surgery (at the time of my first extraction some were still below the gum line and un-errupted) and I would’ve had to be recommended to an oral surgeon.

I went to my oral surgery appointment with a mix combination of trill and terror. Thrill, that if the oral surgeon and my friend were right, I wouldn’t feel any pain during the procedure and I wouldn’t remember any of it. Terror, because it is dental work, and that’s what happens.

My husband drove, I filled out the paperwork, reassured them that I’d not eaten in “at least 8 hours.” I was taken to one of the rooms in the back, hooked to some monitoring equipment and fitted with an oxygen mask that just covered my nose. I cried a little, oxygen masks make me a little uneasy. My husband told me I looked like a 747. The oral surgeon came in and fitted me with an IV (full disclosure, that part did hurt a little – needles make me squeamish), told me to wiggle my right foot and “think happy thoughts.”

My husband remembers this a bit differently, apparently I was simply panicked: I lay in the chair, frozen in fear, my heart rate and blood pressure climbed — I’d like to blame the wrist-monitors, beeping monitoring machine, and freaky nose-mask. He talked to me, and the numbers went down a little, and as the anesthetic kicked in I slowly started to go limp and the numbers dropped to more acceptable levels.

That’s really about all I remember, except for some very vivid dreams about sand worms on Dune (it was like an odd surreal comic from the Oatmeal), and then waking up with everything surprisingly in focus — they’d put my glasses back on for me, and very tired. I came home, had some liquid yogurt, took some hydrocodon (to keep the pain at bay) and then crawled into bed and slept for two solid hours. Then I watched Nazi documentaries on Netflix, because losing Berlin to the Russian’s is far worse than having a nearly-pain-free wisdom tooth extraction and I wasn’t feeling up to indulging in the pint of comfort ice cream in the freezer just yet.

My husband commented that I looked a lot better than I did the last time, and I reminded him, the last time I was still a Christian Scientist, had been fully aware of what was going on, in pain because it was impacted (and infected), and then I’d gotten to take public transportation home because he couldn’t get off work (in his defense he also wasn’t aware of how deep my dental issues ran at that point, we’d only been married a few months). I also did not hallucinate, because this time the pain medication is worked and I did not have an unpleasant reaction. I also went to an experienced oral surgeon, not Dr. Do-it-all’s East Coast Twin.

The longer I am out of Christian Science, the more I realize that I’m not “giving up” by “giving in” to “materia medica.” I have had enough, I’ve had enough unnecessary and untreated pain, enough infections, enough dental terror. I don’t think dental work under general anesthetic is practical all the time (child care and a day of downtime are not always easily obtained), but for things like wisdom tooth extraction, it was definitely the right choice for me.


unprepared to be my own advocate

The following post is part of the on-going “I went to the Doctor” series, which details first hand experiences of Christian Scientists and former-Christian Scientists who sought medical care or treatment outside of Christian Science.

Today’s post is by former Christian Scientist Bacon.

Having health insurance is still a very new thing for me (thanks, ACA!) and having only been to the doctor twice previously (with no insurance), I was more intimidated about the paperwork than anything else… especially when I showed up at my primary doctor’s office and found out the address on the insurance card was wrong and had to call and change it to their primary location. That was about a 15 minute hassle, but I was able to go in for what I guess, for most people, is a routine checkup. And, for the ladies, the pap smear.

I had a pap smear done in 2009 by a remarkably gentle, matronly sort of doctor whose bedside manner was fantastic. I barely felt anything. This round was by a younger general practitioner whose specialty was something other than easing the nerves of patients. The pap smear itself was an odd sort of prodding feeling, but on a scale from pleasant to unpleasant, it wasn’t much worse than unpleasant and at least, thankfully, very fleeting sensations.

At the time of the appointment, I also had a horrible cold. And, regrettably, I downplayed it. The doctor offered to prescribe antibiotics and I had foolishly declined, thinking that 3-4 nights of
constant nose-blowing and coughing was improvement… on the bright side, in order to have blood work done, I was required to fast overnight (12 hrs of no solids, then only water until a few hrs before the sample is drawn) and return in the morning. The morning visit was when I piped up and said “I should have taken your advice about the antibiotics” and they obliged. Three weeks of medication later, the sinus infection finally let up – but I had needlessly gone an extra day, prolonging the situation which hurt only myself.

One thing I have noticed about having been raised in CS is not only downplaying problems that I myself have, but also those of others. There’s the gut feeling that if you acknowledge your problem and verbalize it, others will affirm, confirm, and make the problem that much more real. And I never wanted to hear of anyone else’s problems lest I internalize, personalize, and manifest those issues myself. Yet CS doesn’t believe in contagion…… (unless it’s mental?)

Being my own advocate was something I was not prepared to do – not knowing how much of what kind of pain would require medical attention, and not knowing how to admit that I didn’t know how to handle symptoms, much less the doctor’s instructions (“what do you mean by take an over the counter antihistamine?”) …but with enough questions and patience, it’s possible to muddle through. And it’s ok to call back and say that you really should have emphasized your sinus infection instead of ignoring it. But these are the things that will be a steep learning curve, long after leaving CS, but hopefully things will get better.

Coughing, coughing, and coughing from Untreated Allergies

The following post is part of the on-going “I went to the Doctor” series, which details first hand experiences of Christian Scientists and former-Christian Scientists who sought medical care or treatment outside of Christian Science.

Today’s post Coughing, coughing, and coughing from Untreated Allergies is by former Christian Scientist Rogue Sheep.

The coughing started one summer in elementary school. The details are a little fuzzy at this point. I remember being on family vacation and I had developed a really bad cough. I would cough uncontrollably for minutes, feeling like my head was about to explode, and always needing to spit up phlegm. Sometimes I coughed so violently that I ended up throwing up.

When we got home from the trip, I was still coughing. I stayed home for the first month of school because I couldn’t stop the coughing and throwing up. I thought my eyes were going to burst out of my head.

My parents had been trying to treat it with Christian Science, but finally they took me to a doctor. I was diagnosed with Bronchitis and given this pale purple liquid medicine. It tasted awful, I always put up a fight, and generally just coughed it back up. They gave me a choice between relying on Christian Science treatment or taking the medicine. Because I loathed the medication, we turned back to Christian Science.

When I finally stopped throwing up so much and just had occasional coughing fits, I went back to school. I remember having to step out of the classroom to have my honking coughing bouts and I’d run to the bathroom to spit out the extra saliva and phlegm. Eventually the cough cleared up.

But as the years went by, I kept getting these really bad coughs, usually after a cold, and the coughing lasted at minimum 3 weeks. I was always carrying around tissues to spit in, or I’d hide in the bathroom or go outside to cough my brains out. This was a problem I was constantly praying about yet was getting no relief. The cough and chest congestion usually just ran its course and yes, 3-4 weeks later I was “healed.” Funny how that happens. My chest and stomach would be exhausted from all the coughing and sleep was pretty evasive. I eventually just learned how to sleep through my coughing (which I’m still capable of doing as an adult, much to the dismay of others). I can’t tell you how many cough drops I consumed in my teens, it was one of the few “material remedies” that was ok to use. I now despise the taste of most cough drops.

I stopped practicing Christian Science right as I was getting into the working world and I was still getting these bad coughs after a cold. I still had to run outside my office so no one would hear the full extent of my coughing. It was embarrassing.  And my co-workers started noticing too. I can tell you this: when you work in a quiet office with non-Christian Scientists, nobody likes to be around you when you’re coughing. If you sound like you’re coughing up a lung and just getting worse, it’s important to take steps to show you’re not a big contagious mess. I couldn’t just stay home because these coughs happened so regularly and lasted such a long time. I remember my co-workers would ask if I’d gone to the doctor yet. Sometimes I would lie and say yes because I didn’t want them to know that I was scared to go to the doctor despite having gone to Urgent Care once before.

So I continued to do a lot of self-diagnosing and self-medicating. I spent countless hours reading labels at the drug store. I had given up on most herbal remedies and I think I tried almost every single variation of cough syrup and cold remedy from the shelves. Mucinex DM became one of my saving graces, but it still wasn’t perfect. Finally I started going to those walk-in clinics at CVS and Walgreens (though I don’t see them around much anymore). They were close to work and they felt a little more approachable than Urgent Care. I remember one doctor prescribed me a cough syrup, and it actually worked! It was amazing. Something finally brought me relief for at least a few hours at a time.

At this point I still hadn’t taken the step to find a primary care doctor. When you go to Urgent Care or clinics, it’s often different doctors each time. In hindsight, I wish I’d found a doctor to go to on a regular basis much sooner. I had been so afraid that a primary care doctor would judge me for having no medical history or they would want to talk about more than my cough and end up finding some heinous disease hidden in me. Silly, I know. But by going to different clinics on my as-needed basis they really only assessed me in that moment and could treat symptoms, not root causes. They couldn’t really review my history of this coughing because my records were here, there, and everywhere at clinics.  A primary care doctor might have been able to help me cut to the chase sooner.

During a routine visit unrelated to one of these coughs, my doctor recommended over-the-counter allergy medication to manage my allergies to cats and dust, among other allergens. Little did I know that managing my allergies would have many more benefits.

I’ve since realized that most of my “colds” that led to the coughing were actually started by nasal allergies and the nasal drainage that ensued. By managing the early sniffly symptoms of allergies with Claritin (Loratidine) or Claritin-D (Pseudoephedrine, you have to buy this from the pharmacist), I’ve dramatically reduced the number of these “colds” that progressed into Bronchitis.  Imagine that! Relief from years of suffering and hiding in bathrooms so I could cough. I used to bank on these coughs happening at least 2-3 times a year. At the time of writing this, I haven’t had one of these bouts in at least 3 years. It’s amazing how much time I wasted being sick.

Discovering Urgent Care thanks to Laryngitis – Rogue Sheep

The following post is part of the on-going “I went to the Doctor” series, which details first hand experiences of Christian Scientists and former-Christian Scientists who sought medical care or treatment outside of Christian Science. We hope that by sharing our experiences using medical care that it will help break down the stigma and fear! All posts in this series will be both categorized and tagged as “visited Doctor” and linked back to the I went to the Doctor page under the Christian Science Healthcare Guide.

Today’s post Discovering Urgent Care thanks to Laryngitis is by former Christian Scientist Rogue Sheep.

I can still remember the turning point in my departure from Christian Science. I had already stopped going to church for a few months and was taking pain relievers for headaches and periods. But then I got my first big test of this new lifestyle.

I had developed a really bad sore throat to the point where I couldn’t talk and there was a ton of pressure and pain in my ears. I was pretty clueless about anything from the drugstore other than ibuprofen, so I started trying all sorts of homeopathic teas and supplements. They were derived from nature, how much damage could I do, right? Basically anything I could find at Whole Foods, I bought. I drank copious amounts of medicinal tea, consumed tons of herbal throat remedies, and even tried this ear oil (it was gross) to relieve the earache.

After about 2 weeks of being really sick, I was at my wits end. Around midnight one night, I started crying because I couldn’t sleep from all the pain in my throat and ears. I was so upset because I didn’t know how to do anything for myself other than pray…but the last thing I wanted was Christian Science! I was going to do this medically and going to the Emergency Room was the only terrifying step I could think of doing next. I waited until the next day to take action.

Of course the next day was a Saturday, so I had no hope of going to a regular doctor’s office anyways (not that I knew how to do that either!). Still fearing the Emergency Room, I stopped at the drug store first and asked the pharmacist (with what little tidbit of a voice I had left) if he could recommend any of the over-the-counter (otc) drugs. He could tell I was beyond the help of otc remedies and suggested an Urgent Care center. What was Urgent Care? Oh, it’s like a walk-in clinic, open on weekends and cheaper than the Emergency Room. I was embarrassed that I was so clueless.

All it took was one appointment at the Urgent Care center and I was diagnosed with severe Laryngitis (which is contagious, btw). I distinctly remember the doctor telling me, “Don’t wait so long next time.” I couldn’t agree more. Don’t wait until you’re absolutely miserable.

He gave me a few prescriptions, and I went back to that same pharmacy to have them filled. I remember one of the prescriptions were these HUGE pills. I was already pretty inexperienced with swallowing pills and I was struggling to get them past my gag reflex and my swollen throat. After many failed attempts and a soggy pill on the counter, I finally called the pharmacy and I learned I could cut them in half. Man, I felt dumb. (Note: not all pills can be cut in half. Definitely ask your pharmacist beforehand).

After taking the drugs, I actually started feeling better that afternoon. I was amazed. These were my first prescription drugs as an adult and I was in awe that they had started working so quickly. Prayer had never helped me like that. After this experience, I never looked back at Christian Science as a solution. I still had lots of unfounded fear of going to the doctor, but I took it one minuscule step at a time.

About Rogue Sheep
Rogue Sheep was raised as a Christian Scientist, went to a Christian Science summer camp, and attended Principia Upper School and College. She made her break from Christian Science in 2005 and there has been much trial and error since then. Over the years she became comfortable in her secular lifestyle and didn’t give Christian Science much thought, let alone think about searching for ex-Christian Scientist support groups or blogs. But that changed recently. And now she wants to share her stories of figuring out how to navigate the medical world with the hope that it might help someone else who feels just as clueless as she did.

Hi Kat: I’m so grateful to know that I can turn to evidence based medicine for healing

The following is an e-mail I received from a reader that I have shared here with their permission. I don’t often publish e-mails from readers, but when I do they’ll be categorized and tagged “Hi Kat e-mails.”

I was dealing recently with the apparent belief a very sore foot that suddenly became alarmingly swollen and discolored late one evening. I was afraid, trying to remember what I might have done to injure my foot as the pain initially seemed consistent with a bruise or some other impact, and I couldn’t remember. Now, with the swelling, now more burning pain sensation I began to suspect maybe a spider bite (common where I live). I decided to turn to the one place I knew I could begin to find healing in this situation, so very late at night: the Emergency room at the local hospital. There I was seen almost immediately by the triage nurse who kindly remarked how glad she was that I got in to see them when I did, as my foot situation looked very serious. I waited in the streaming section for around half an hour, then in an exam room. Eventually the doctor on duty was able to see me. He looked at the foot, and assured me we weren’t dealing with a spider bite, but actually a serious and very aggressive infection. Still dangerous, just a different kind. He prescribed liquid antibiotics and bed rest with the foot elevated.

I visited the hospital for two more rounds of the liquid antibiotics, and then switched to the pills. That, and a few days of bed rest worked wonders! I’m now almost finished the course of antibiotics that were prescribed, and I’m able to walk comfortably on the foot, and the swelling is rapidly disappearing.

I’d like to give my deepest gratitude to the doctors and nurses who helped me and treated me with the utmost kindness and respect. I’d also especially like to give thanks to antibiotics, and whoever discovered them. I’m so grateful to know that I can turn to evidence based medicine for healing, instead of the dangerous and false teachings of Christian Science, which may have resulted in a far different, and much more unpleasant outcome for me.


A note from Kat:

What a wonderful demonstration, thank you for sharing!

Hi Kat: I finally had kicked the cs habit

The following is an e-mail I received from a reader that I have shared here with their permission. I don’t often publish e-mails from readers, but when I do they’ll be categorized and tagged “Hi Kat e-mails.”

About 3 years ago I was late for work so I was running across a busy Boston Street and did not see the unevenness of the pavement and fell. When I got up it was obvious that I had really damaged my left wrist.  So I immediately hailed a cab and got over to Mass General emergency room where I was immediately treated with love, respect and humor.  A wonderful team suggested that I have a metal plate put in my wrist as it was partially shattered.  I almost reverted back to my insanity of cs thinking for a second that maybe it could heal well on its own with a splint in place.  Fortunately the love of the nurse and doctor had me in surgery 2 days later (I had never been in surgery) . It was so well done that I barely think of it other than gratitude for the entire team including the anesthesiologist.  I finally had kicked the cs habit and found love in letting “materia medica” do what no one else could do especially cs.

Thank you for letting me share.

hi Kat: there is hope to get through the red tape

The following is an e-mail I received from a reader that I have shared here with their permission. I don’t often publish e-mails from readers, but when I do they’ll be categorized and tagged  “Hi Kat e-mails.”

Hi Kat,

I really appreciate your website. I was raised with Christian Science beliefs by my mother and maternal grandparents, but wasn’t part of a CS congregation growing-up. I just wanted to share two experiences that really made a difference for me when I went to college out of state. The moment I got to the East Coast I realized my eye redness/itchiness was absolutely horrible. Contrary to how I was raised, I listened to my new friends and decided to go to the school clinic. The clinic nurse gave me a prescription for allergy eye drops. I went and paid full price for them- a couple of hundred dollars at the time- and was very confused about how to use the medical insurance that I had, but was never expected by my family to use. This is to say I had this experience several times in going for a physical for the first time as an adult, and filling a few simple allergy prescriptions. I had to learn how to use medical insurance, and ultimately had to pick a plan at the age of 21 and wade through all the red tape of how deductibles and other unknown things worked. It was very intimidating, but an interesting side note is I actually learned much younger than my friend who grew up in the medical system how insurance and other things worked, because I had to figure it out without the help of my parents.

The other thing I wanted to share is that I had this horrible reoccurring ear infection/cold that happened every year as long as I can remember. In college I was relieved that my doctor could give me a prescription decongestant that helped my symptoms and discomfort immensely. However, at some point she mentioned I could have asthma. Long story short I do have asthma, but it took me about three years to get diagnosed for the simple reason that when I went to the doctor, and the simple instructions they gave me didn’t help enough, I didn’t know I was supposed to go back to see them. Over time, as doctors would tell me “now go home and do XYZ, and if it doesn’t work or you don’t feel significantly better, call me or come back and see me” this message sunk in. Finally in graduate school I met a wonderful allergist who listened to my whole story, and helped me to start asthma medications that changed my life.

I just wanted to share these stories of hope, and that even for those in CS, a few simple over the counter medications (that are much cheaper now that they are now prescription) can make life so much more comfortable. And for those moving out of CS, that there is hope to get through the red tape and to make sense of it so it isn’t so stressful.