This I Believe

Chellis - San Francisco, California
Entered on August 28, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30
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The Nerve

I believe in the existence of pain.

When I was sixteen years old, I was inflicted with Trigeminal neuralgia, a neurological disorder known to be the most painful disease to man. At the time, I did not understand the magnitude of my own condition. I was a competitive swimmer, I looked healthy on the outside—not a bruise, not a swelling, not a drop of blood on my face—and in this way, my appearance made me believe that I was fine.

By the time I entered college, the attacks came more frequently—when I swam, when I brushed my teeth, when I ate, when I spoke in class, when I laughed at a funny joke. Any time I moved my face, a sharp pain struck across my right cheek.

I was told to increase my medication of Tegretal, eventually reaching 1500mg a day. I fell asleep in my classes. I took blood tests every month to test for toxins. And yet, the attacks continued. When I confessed this to my neurologists, she asked, “Are you really in pain or do you just think you are in pain?”

That’s when everything changed. I realized that my primary doctor couldn’t help me anymore, and then did a simple thing that altered my life. I went to the Internet and entered “Trigeminal neuralgia.”

TN affects 1 out of 20,000 people, 0.2% are under the age of twenty-one. The symptoms are caused by a blood vessel that presses against the trigeminal nerve, which controls the feelings in the face. The pressure from the blood vessel will cause the nerve to misfire. Hence, the pain.

After my freshman year, and a semester of researching surgical options, I found Dr. Burchiel, a neurosurgeon from Oregon Health Science University. He performed a microvascular decompression. He went into my brain, found the artery pressing on the nerve, and separated it with a piece of Teflon.

Before there were surgical options, TN was called the “suicide disease.” I believe that if I were born twenty years earlier, Dr. Burchiel could not have freed my pain. I believe in my father who worked hard to secure job that paid for the procedure. I believe in the Internet, which gave me the knowledge and power to dream.

But most of all I believe in the existence of pain. In my attempt to pretend that I was as I seemed—healthy and normal—I would not confess the words, “I am hurting.” The more I researched the more I realized that my pain was in fact real. That day, I typed in those words into the Internet, I finally believed in my pain and in myself.