The Tooth Ache That Took Me Down: Why Being A Martyr Mom Helps No One

 On Monday night the pulsating pain radiating from my tooth and down my jaw was so intense I started crying and called my mom.  Tylenol and Motrin were no longer numbing the ache and I didn't have an appointment with a specialist until 3 pm the next afternoon.

Why Being a Martyr Mom Helps No One Colleen Duggan Catholic Writer

John had mercy on me and called the Endodontist anyway, even though it was after 5 pm and no one would be in the office.  The emergency physician on call prescribed an antibiotic over the phone,  encouraged me to take some more over the counter pain medicine, and call the Endodontist first thing in the morning.

After we picked up the amoxicillin at the pharmacy, I curled up in my bed and tried not to think about the pain.

But the pain was all I could think about.

I couldn't function, I didn't want to move my head.  I just wanted sweet relief from the hell wreaking havoc in my mouth.  I woke up several times throughout the night--sweating and unable to go back to sleep.

As it turns out, the dentist who performed a root canal on the tooth about seven years ago left a drill bit in the root of the tooth, thus not fully completing the tooth's treatment.  Since then, the tooth fractured and became severely infected at the root.  On Tuesday evening, after visiting three different offices, an oral surgeon removed the large infected molar at the back of my mouth in under five minutes, alleviating a great deal of the pain but not completely eliminating it.

Here's the thing:  my tooth had been bothering me for a long time.  I don't even want to tell you how long it bothered me because a sane person wouldn't ignore that kind of nagging pain for as long as I did.

But ignore the pain, I did.

The ache at the back of my mouth would flare up, so I would pop a few Tylenol and then the pain would go away.  But it always came back to bother me, and eventually the Tylenol didn't cut the ache anymore.

Eventually the fractured tooth, infected at the root, became so bad that I couldn't function.  I was unable to see past anything but swelling and throbbing and pulsating pain.

I've been thinking about what it is I'm supposed to learn from this toothache debacle.  The first thing that comes to mind--the thing that I'm constantly harping on in conversation with my mom friends--is how important it is for moms to take care of ourselves.

It's easy to put myself last.

I have seven people I take care of, day in and day out.  I often put their needs in front of my own.  This self-sacrifice is often good, it's been the instrument used to carve away some of my ego and selfishness.

But what isn't good is neglecting myself.  Ignoring basic needs, like having a tooth repaired, is actually a dysfunctional way to live.

It isn't good to continue to make excuses and purposely not schedule regular doctor's appointments for mammograms or trips to the dentist.

It's not good to abandon the exercise routine that I know helps me maintain my sanity.  

It's not good to eat poorly and vegetate on reality TV.

It's not a way to live and whether or not I like it, I am teaching my children a lesson about self-care, even if it's not the lesson I truly desire.

Plus, in the end, it really doesn't help anyone to ignore my basic needs.  This week, during my dental emergency,  John had to take off work one day--despite the fact he had appointments.  It's like drinking poison for a sales man to cancel appointments, but he had to because I was in so much pain.

I also worried the kids.

They've never seen me so distraught and upset.  And while there are advantageous lessons there for them, I'm sure, about caring for those in need, the entire situation could have been avoided if I had done what I was supposed to do--if I had taken care of myself.

The second thing I think I'm supposed to learn from the toothache that took over my life is how I can run from certain issues--maybe certain attachments or addictions or emotional junk--but I can never actually hide from them.  I will be forced to deal with whatever it is I'm trying to avoid, whether I like it or not.  

Isn't it better to deal with these issues when I'm not in crisis, when I have the sustained capacity to respond intentionally to a trying situation and not when I'm in so much pain I just want someone to put me out of my misery?

Yes.  Absolutely yes.

The toothache that took me down sobered me a bit.

It has put me on guard.

This painful lesson showed me the importance of taking care of myself in proper order so that I can truly be of service to my family.

I don't need to be a martyr mom; I need to be a healthy one.