“What color was your hair until the age of six?” That’s the first question on the patient questionnaire at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California.
When I was six years old in 1958, my father, mother, six of my nine siblings and I moved from New Jersey to São Paulo, Brasil, where my father was director of a dental and surgical products manufacturing operation. Forty-three years later we are still here and now I am married to Ivete, a beautiful Lebanese Brasilian. We have three young adult children: Andrea, 23, Robbie, 21 and Phillip, 19. I now own the family business, and we continue to sell high tech surgical equipment . . .
I awoke in the middle of the night with a start. The noise was like the rushing water of a mighty waterfall along with the high pitched whiney sound of a motor. I realized very soon that what I was experiencing was in my left ear and I thought possibly I had some pressure from a sinus problem or fluid around my ear.
Within a few days I had called a doctor who sent me to a specialist. I was told to make an appointment for some type of test which I did not do because I was planning to get married and this did not fit into my plans. After the honeymoon, I decided maybe there was indeed a more serious problem because not only was the noise still in my ear, but I was nearly deaf in that ear. I found that I had to make major adjustments to my life, at work and at home. I no longer could use the phone on my left ear and I always turned so people could talk to me in my right ear. With my new insurance and a new doctor, I was sent to a neurologist who ordered an MRI . . .
Sounds like a cheap science fiction title, doesn’t it? Well, it is true. I am a medical physicist and I have worked at San Diego Gamma Knife Center since it opened in 1994. My mother has suffered from trigeminal neuralgia pain since 1981. As with most patients, her affliction was misdiagnosed and mistreated for many years. A dental surgeon in St. Louis did a root canal, and when that was unsuccessful, he said (insightfully) that it could be a “nerve problem.” However, nothing effective was done to alleviate it.
My parents moved to the San Francisco Bay area where her problems continued. She had a tooth pulled and the pain went away for a while. In 1984, Dr. Gerald Silverburg at Stanford University Medical Center correctly diagnosed the problem as trigeminal neuralgia. She was started on Tegretol, which managed the trigeminal neuralgia more or less effectively for five years . . .