News From The Woods - March 25, 2008


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published March 25, 2008

".......But I Feel Much Better Now"

Wow! My last article was written waaaay back in December. So I've missed 3 months! My how time flies when you're trying to save your life! As you can read from my last News From The Woods offering, my life has been pretty dramatic in recent months. At first - almost a year ago now -I just attributed my ill feelings to just "getting old". I thought "well, this must be what it's like getting old, so I guess I'd better suck it up and get on with it." As it turned out I had multiple dental problems and was actually poisoning myself internally. No one knows for sure just how long that had been going on, but it was gauged by the dentist to be "years". So...... For years I had unknowingly been poisoning myself. Of course I have always been keenly aware of my overall dental health, or lack of it.

As a back story let me tell you here that I have suffered from dental problems all my life, starting in the 4th grade when I had false teeth. Actually, it was a lower plate. I can recall my first memory of dental work, which was an extraction done in St. Louis. This was before the time of Novocain and nitrous oxide. The dentist had me bite down on a wooden block while he did the extraction. I was 9. When I was four years old the dentist told my parents that my lower teeth would not come in straight because I had "bone structures" in my jaw. They had to wait until I was old enough so my mouth would be large enough to allow an adult's hand inside to do the work. I don't actually recall that work at all. I don't know if they put me out or if the memory was so awful that I just blocked it from my conscience mind. In any event, they had to basically rip out all the bone structures that lie beneath the surface of my jaw line. That was why I had to wear a lower denture as a child.... To allow my teeth to grow in naturally. But it doesn't stop there... Oh, no. I was born with poor teeth ("soft teeth") which were prone to decay rapidly at the mere sight of sugar. By the time I was 14 I had to have all my front teeth capped. This was in the early years of the technology of dental capping. My dentist here was a pioneer in this part of the country. I believe I was one of the very first persons here to get a tooth capped. Without going into grisly detail, what they did is drill the tooth down to the size of a toothpick (containing the actually nerve of the tooth), then cover and sear it with a (white hot) metal band, then cover that band and cement it with a porcelain cap. The concept was sound enough, but due to his lack of experience in this fledgling craft he drilled it down a little too much, resulting in my waking up in the middle of the night with a porcelain cap in my mouth. Back to the dentist! Now he had to make a bridge to the next tooth/cap over so the first position would hold fast. That one held. Within six months they had replaced all my upper front teeth with caps. By the time I was in my late 20's I had to have my lower teeth capped as well. This was done when I was living in Ft. Smith and the technology had improved much. I had the work done all at one time and enlisted the services of an oral surgeon. One minute I was laying there counting backwards and the next I was waking up with a mouth full of cotton. It was almost a pleasurable dream compared to my earlier experiences.

After moving back to Mountain Home in the mid 70's, I was behind schedule on my dental work. The main reason was that I was working for myself - therefore no fancy insurance plan was in place. And because I was struggling so much trying to build my audio/video business I never had enough money to spare to assign to dental work. So my overall dental health started a slow, downward, spiral. First one cap expired, and then another, then other "real" teeth began to decay, until my mouth was not only an embarrassment to me but in addition my fear of dentistry helped convince me not to go to a dentist. Occasionally I HAD to go as I had an exploded wisdom tooth or a tooth which was heavily-filled broke apart, or some other dental emergency. I had a very close friend who was a dentist here in town and each time I reached a new low in dental disasters, he would "bail me out" by patching, filling, or otherwise "fixing" the affected tooth. Finally all the upper front caps had died of old age and I had to have an upper plate. Even then I didn't do the correct thing and have it taken care of properly (that would have meant more extractions), and my friend, amidst much prodding, pleading, and reprimanding to "get something proper done" would once again save the day (temporarily) by having a "temporary plate" made, which I wore for over five years. I am ashamed to tell this story but feel perhaps someone reading this that needs dental work might learn something from this story. I had developed such a phobia about dental work that I lived in a constant state of paranoid fear of having any dental work done. I figured it was so bad by then that ONLY "major dental work" would bring me up to spec.

In the past couple of years my overall health has been deteriorating. It seemed like after I turned 55 I began a downward spiral. I was prone to catching colds that would take forever to go away. I contracted pneumonia several times. My neck was bothering me daily. I had frequent headaches, and constant sinus problems. I started going to the doctor and a chiropractor to find the source of the trouble. No one ever found anything. Do you recall your first visit to a new doctor? You have to fill out the "personal health" form, right? You have to answer all these questions about your health and your habits and your medicines and your ailments. It seems they prod and pull out all kinds of information relating to your personal health. They are compiling a medical history of you so they may better come to grips with your problems. There is only one snag: There (usually) isn't a section dealing with your teeth! They ask about your sleeping habits, you're daily routines, and your allergies, but not one question about your dental health. Looking back I can't blame the doctors for not discovering the source of all my ailments. After all, no one thought to ask me about my teeth. Well, after several months of being bantered about the medical community I started thinking to myself "What IS it that they can't find?" or "What am I missing?" - It is so obvious to me now but I guess my overactive subconscious was "withholding information" at the time and I went a long while before it dawned on me........ What if all this has something to do with my dental problems? By this time I was so weak and weary of living with all this grief that I (for once) overcame my fear and made an appointment with an oral surgeon. They took X-Rays on the first visit. The doctor came in and I could tell by the look on his face it wasn't good news, not that I expected any in the first place. First, he told me he could not believe I was not already in a hospital. He said there was so much inflammation and abscess that it burst through the wall of my sinus cavity and was running down into my stomach and therefore distributed throughout my body. In short I had been poisoning myself for an unknown number of years. He said it was the worst he'd ever seen. They couldn't do surgery until my mouth was relatively abscess free, so they prescribed large doses of antibiotics and I returned in two weeks for the surgery. Just like in Ft. Smith... one moment I'm listening to the surgeon talk and the next minute I wake up with a mouth full of cotton. I cannot tell you of the relief I felt after that day! It was glorious, and it still continues to make me smile when I realize all that trouble is behind me. Here is a personal note to ANY of you out there who are living with dental trouble and/or dental phobia: GET IT DONE! NOW! Make the decision and act on it immediately and get your teeth taken care of. It's not just your dental health it is affecting. It also affects the rest of your body (not to mention the cause and effect of the close proximity of your teeth to your brain!) and also your mental health as well. Just the mental relief alone will lower your stress levels.

Okay- cut to present day. I have all my dental trouble well behind me and although my overall health was improving, it became clear to me after a couple of months that I still "wasn't quite right". My wife started telling me "you're gaining weight", but my eating habits had actually improved and my intake was less. Then one morning I noticed I could not reach my right foot to put on my sock. I didn't have any problem with my left foot, but my right foot simply did not cooperate. Reminding myself that I broke my right hip in a jeep accident and was also shot in the right hip in the 70's, I (once again) assumed that I was just getting old and I'd be better off just getting used to it. My mind's eye shot forward five years and there I was, sitting on the edge of the bed begging someone to put on my socks. All of a sudden I really felt old. From that day on it got worse on a daily basis. The back aches were terrible. Not even sitting in the hot tub helped. I developed an uncomfortable and dull pain in my abdomen. I started imagining all sorts of ailments which generally result in death. My mood changed to surly. Then one night I woke up around midnight and had a major stomach cramp. After sitting in the bathroom for fifteen minutes it occurred to me that this wasn't helping so I went back to bed, but could not sleep for the pain and fear. Trying not to wake up the wife, I silently moved into the living room and lay down on the couch, shivering. My son Robert heard me get up and followed me to the living room and fetched me a blanket. He lay down on another couch and said he wanted to be with me while I was feeling so badly, God love him. Jane heard me moaning around 2AM and came into the living room and asked what was wrong. As I couldn't tell her beyond my current situation, she advised me to get dressed and go to the emergency room. I declined and told her I could wait it out until morning when I would go in to see the family doctor. But by morning I could hardly move, much less get up and get dressed. Jane and Robert helped me dress and she drove me into town to ER.

To make a long and painful story mercifully short, I had collapsed with Diverticulitis, a digestive disease found in the large intestine. Diverticulitis develops from diverticulosis, which involves the formation of pouches (diverticula) on the outside of the colon. Diverticulitis results if one of these diverticula becomes inflamed. In other words, I had a perforated colon, and body waste was leaking into my chest and abdomen. They call this "going septic", which is as good of a descriptive term as there is. They pumped several gallons of brackish black fluid from my body (this was why I looked like I was gaining weight) and removed about 9" of my colon. I won't bore you with the grisly details of my hospital stay, but I will tell you the first words I heard as I was coming out from under my anesthesia was when my surgeon leaned over me and said "At least you won't have to wear a colostomy bag". From that moment on, I knew I was going to be okay. Actually, it all happened so fast after I arrived at the hospital that I didn't have time to conjure up any demons or worry about my prognosis.

It's been two months since the surgery now. The first few days back home were difficult, but I was so glad to get out of the hospital that it didn't matter. Each day brought new sensations, like the day I recall feeling my organs slowly making their way back to their natural original positions (they were all moved around by the mass of waste) The staples were removed after the first two weeks, and at my last appointment 2 weeks ago my doctor said I had healed up so rapidly and satisfactorily that he didn't need to see me any more. It's all just an ugly memory to me now. It's odd how your mind assimilates information and then dismisses the "ugly stuff" so you don't re-live each excruciating moment over and over.

So, now I bet you think this whole story is over, right? Wrong! Last week I was coming down the stairs early Saturday morning holding a cup of coffee, when both feet slipped right out from under me and I sailed through the air and all the way down the stairs.....Of course not before banging the coffee cup against my forehead and dumping hot coffee in my hair and then hitting the back of my head on one of the 13 stairs leading down to the family room. I landed very unceremoniously on the bottom step RIGHT on my tail-bone. I don't recall feeling that kind of pain since I was shot back in 1976 (and that's another story). I laid there while my wife and son were fussing over me. I must have looked pretty bad judging by their looks, and I didn't try to get up for several minutes, and when I did my tail-bone let me know in no uncertain terms that it had no intention of cooperating. A similar situation happened to my wife years ago and she immediately offered up a cautionary warning that #1- There's nothing medical science can do for it, and #2- It will be a while before it actually stops hurting. She was right on both counts.

So now let me close this review of my recent medical pitfalls by saying - I THINK - I am getting better each day. Even though I have to gently sit and rise from a seated position, I am able to shoot some hoops with my son out in the back yard, and can ride the 4-wheeler without wincing. Work at the computer is still a little difficult as I cannot stay seated for more than fifteen minutes without having to get up and walk around. But I AM getting better..... I KNOW I am! Maybe I can regain some semblance of a work schedule pretty soon, and News From The Woods can get back on schedule.

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