Saturday, October 8, 2011

Trigeminal neuralgia: ABC news report

Has the ABC report of trigeminal nerualgia (TN) and microvascular decompression (MVD) surgery given you hope?

I'm encouraged not only by the fact that the debilitating condition has received recognition by a major network but also that people who suffer have had a moment of validation. Let's take that moment and internalize it, making it a part of who we are: strong, sane individuals who suffer and want to get well.

Several of my friends, none of them who have experienced facial pain, have contacted me about the ABC news episode. They wonder if I am aware of the procedure. When I was the Director of Patient Services for TNA, the Facial Pain Association, I discussed the surgery several times each day with individuals who were looking for relief.

No, I didn't have the surgery. One of the reasons I didn't was that I was afraid. Although the statistics show great results, not everyone's pain is relieved by the MVD. But don't lose heart; MVD surgery is not the only resource.

After I was properly diagnosed, I searched the Internet looking for help. I ran across message boards where people talked about their complications and expressed their remorse for having this procedure. I was paralyzed by fear, afraid to move forward with treatment. When the electrocution-type pains struck, I prayed to die. They were in all three divisions of my nerve: my right eye, my cheek, and my jaw.

What I didn't know was that people often post on their worst of days, never returning on the good days to say that they are better. When they pain is relieved, they often move on with their lives and prefer not to think about the trauma they have experienced. For the people reading the blogs and message boards, it looks as though there is there is no hope. But there is.

ABC News encourages people who have trigeminal neuralgia to make sure they have a physician who believes them. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this. It's part of the validation process. Many individuals who have facial pain have been dismissed as having emotional problems. It's important to know that depression is secondary to trigeminal neuralgia. Another thing you want to consider is that the MVD attempts to treat the situation that causes the pain. Other procedures, often called less invasive, cause damage to the nerve.

Other important things to note is that some neurologists do not have experience in treating facial pain. Neurologists prescribe medicines and can refer you to a neurosurgeon if you are interested in a procedure. Not everyone is a candidate for an MVD, and not every surgery is successful. It's important to discuss this possibility with a neurosurgeon. One thing that may give you insight into what you can expect after the procedure is to ask what constitutes a successful surgery in the neurosurgeon's opinion. You may want to find out how many MVDs the physician has performed in the past year.

Most of all, it's important to do your homework. To learn about the many types of treatment, you can read an excellent book called Striking Back. It discusses the many types of facial pain and their treatment options.

If you are wondering why God allows people to suffer like this, you may be interested in With Great Mercy. It's a personal account of how TN affected every area of my life and how my faith pulled me through the dark times.

I've told hundreds of people, maybe thousands, that the world would be a better place if everyone experienced this excruciating pain for just one day. No one has asked why because we know. It gives us greater compassion and empathy for others. It makes us thankful for the blessings we once took for granted. We so desperately want those around us to understand why we cannot talk, brush our teeth, or experience the slightest breeze without being "electrocuted." But maybe - just maybe - reports like Diane Sawyer's will help others relate to us.

ABC: thank you!

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