I Treated My Mother

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  • Sounds like a cheap science fiction title, doesn't it? Well, it is true. I am a medical physicist and I have worked at the 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.

    My parents moved again to Thousand Oaks, just north of Los Angeles. The pain returned intensely in 1989. She saw a neurologist for four years who kept her on Tegretol while the pain steadily worsened. In 1993 she saw a neurosurgeon in Santa Monica, who performed a successful rhizotomy on the middle branch of her right trigeminal nerve. However, two years later, he had to perform a rhizotomy on the lower branch of the trigeminal nerve and this was not very successful. Mom had pain afterwards in the right side of her face, ear, tongue and chin. When those problems subsided the trigeminal neuralgia came back.

    She went to see my dear friend and former colleague, Dr. Tony De Salles at UCLA Medical Center, and he managed her condition with Tegretol for another 18 months.

    Finally, with Mom taking 800 to 900 mg of Tegretol per day, and liver function becoming an issue, I convinced her to come to the San Diego Gamma Knife Center for treatment. After much hesitation, and worry that "she would be a bother," she came to our center on October 21, 1999 and was treated by our two medical directors, Dr. Kenneth Ott, neurosurgeon and Dr. David Hodgens, M.D. F.A.C.R., radiation oncologist. We had three patients to treat that day and no other physicist, so I participated in her treatment. She tolerated the procedure quite well, but felt bad that the nurses had to get up so early and work so hard. She did extremely well post-op and went out to dinner the next night. Slowly, her pain decreased and she dropped down on her medication. Now, she no longer takes Tegretol and has not had any attacks in quite a while. My mother and father now have the confidence to plan a two week cruise to Alaska, something they never would have done while she was in such pain.

    Not every patient we treat gets such prompt and effective relief, but I can now tell our nervous patients, "I treated my own mother with this machine." I can truthfully say I did not treat her any differently than I have treated our other 1,500 patients.