I have some autoimmune problems. I've had them since I hit puberty. If only the transition to womanhood had made me telekinetic like Carrie instead!
Alas, from the age of 14 I had a series of mysterious things start happening to me. Skin lesions, joint pain, eye ulcers- YIKES. A bunch of bumps on my legs would yield a trip to the doctor where he would put me on prednisone and all be well again. A few months later, an eye ulcer would crop up and my mom would rush me to Urgent Care because my eye hurt too much to open. Whatever it was, doctors were always quick to prescribe a new medication that would provide quick, easy, and temporary healing.
Growing up I couldn’t help but worry about what part of my body would fail me next. Sometimes it felt like I was playing a body-themed board game like Jumanji. AUTOIMMUNJI. I would roll the dice and it would determine my fate, which would often be cruel.
Fast forward to many years in the future when I lived for a stint in New York City. I was working a very stressful job for Americorps. I didn’t have time to go to the doctor, and at that point I should have consistently been visiting the dentist (as had been prescribed). You see, a few years prior I had started to see inflammation in my gums. No matter how dedicated (obsessed) I became with dental hygiene, my gums were angry and bleeding and terrible. One doctor thought it was probably connected to my autoimmune issues, but other doctors disagreed, because their “diagnosis” didn’t include periodontal disease on the list of symptoms.
One morning I woke up and noticed that there was a gap between my upper central and upper lateral teeth. That means one space over from the space between your front teeth.
I didn’t have time to do anything about it. I was scheduled to take a half-day off to go to the dentist in less than a week, so I put it to the back of my mind.
The gap got bigger. By the time I went to the dentist, I was sure something was wrong. This was more than inflammation.
The day I went to the dentist I learned that dentists and dental hygienists aren’t very good at hiding shock and surprise. At least, the ones that saw me in Coney Island weren’t. When I heard the dentist say, “oh my God,” I knew I was in deep trouble. It turns out I had developed something called Large Cell Granuloma. They had to remove all of the infected tissue right then and there.
They took a chunk of my gum out of my mouth. “Fortunately you don’t have a smile that shows a lot of your gums,” the dentist tried to tell me reassuringly. As a 24-year-old girl, I was mortified. Because they had packed the area with gauze and junk that I wasn’t supposed to take off for a day or so, I had no idea what kind of damage had been done.
It was enough damage that to this day, I cover my mouth when I smile or laugh- which is unfortunate, because I am an improviser and I laugh often. I wish I didn’t feel bad about the hole in my mouth, but I’m very self-conscious. It kind of reminds me of Two-Face, or a skeleton... which I am, under layers of muscle and flesh. The gum recession is apparent, and the hole is unforgiving.
This whole ordeal showed me how much it sucks to lose a part of yourself. This event felt like a giant warning from my body to me- a reminder that I am weak and temporary. While this event did teach me to identify when something is abnormal and TAKE CARE OF IT in a timely manner, it has by no means made me a more fearful person. I can't get my gum back. I will always have a gap in my smile. I can live with the intention of taking great care of my body, but it would be pointless to live in fear of the next abscess, eye ulcer, or fill-in-the-blank-nasty-symptom.