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(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

I never thought about the size of my jaw or my ear before, but let me tell you, when those items are swollen out of proportion you really start to realize just how lovely a fairly symmetrical head is and how often you’ve taken for granted that your head will remain that way. I also discovered that I’m much more vain than I believed: not only did I change my hair’s part in order to cover the most obvious results of my infection, but also I used the word “hideous” almost every time I described the swelling. Thankfully, by now I’m not certain a stranger can see any difference in me and even I can only see the slightest discrepancies.

I don’t read much science fiction and/or fantasy but last Tuesday I suddenly felt I’d been thrust into some plot involving some sort of weird science. The initial medical conjecture is that it was cellulitis attacking me and various parts of my head. My Internet research—through respected websites, mind you—told me way more than I wanted to know. I decided not to ponder the possibilities too much and stick to the doctor’s suggestions for treatment, including going to see a dentist to rule out any underlying dental troubles.

I wasn’t too certain all that was necessary, but scheduled the appointment anyway. My friend validated that decision Friday night when I went to her party—hair parted over the offending side and ear covered by a stocking cap as part of my costume—and she asked how I was. After my giving her a short explanation, she said, “You do know why I had surgery in June, don’t you?”

Not the particulars, but I had known it was something extremely odd as so much of her health difficulties have been.

Then she proceeded to explain about a year of misdiagnoses and the near-miss averted when her dentist discovered evidence of bone-eating (!) bacteria after his looking at her facial X-ray. She had to have diseased portions removed and replaced, as well replacement for areas that had already disappeared—and have four front teeth removed and replaced as well. She could have developed brain damage or even died without proper diagnosis.

Now that story should be science fiction—only it isn’t. While her experience is very, very rare, I agreed with her that maybe my going to the dentist wasn’t so silly after all.

Today my dentist saw nothing out of the ordinary. He described to me various parts of my panoramic X-ray—a procedure scheduled anyway as part of my general dental health and wellness maintenance—and showed where he would expect to see trouble if my infection were related to some dental root. He pointed out signs that my previously overblown lymph node was back to its unremarkable and fully functioning state. Then he used the opportunity to—once again—work on scaring me into being more proactive about protecting my mouth from infection through adding Waterpik treatments and more regular flossing to my routines.

Perhaps I’m scared enough on my own to take better precautions.

Despite my family thinking that I’m some sort of hypochondriac because I always research medical possibilities, I didn’t really expect this sort of thing to happen to me. Now, I admit I first thought about ruling out some weird sort of Hantavirus response—which is an infection for which there is no cure except for the possibility that medical supervision along with hydration can provide the best environment to give you a chance to recover. And, while the few mice we trapped in our home were not deer mice, the CDC does advise people to use the recommended precautions for cleaning since other mice may carry the disease—and we did not always follow those cleaning precautions, plus a local man really did lose his fight to that disease a couple weeks ago.

However, infection is a much broader threat than something specific with specific risks such as Hantavirus—which actually makes it easier not to think about. Even with my father-in-law’s more than yearlong battle with staph as well as the healthy respect I gained from his experience as to the power of infections to run rampant, I really haven’t thought about getting such an infection myself. In my own mind I realize I associate that with people who have been way more antibiotic-happy than I have been—and, yet, who is on a serious antibiotic right now?

Just over a day’s worth of meds to take, plus I plan to follow-up with probiotics, but boy am I counting those not-so-little bright blue pills.

So hard to tell whether it’s the naturally occurring science or the science that we have created that is the bigger danger in many situations. Do you dance with the devil you know or the one you don’t know? Isn’t an out-of-whack balance between the sides of science a requirement for any good science fiction story? All I know is I’m tired of being the protagonist in this science fiction story.

Maybe, with the right balance of science and just a little luck, all this will pass—and then I’ll just be left with a really good “can you believe it?” story to tell.

“You should have seen my ear—it looked as if it were going to give birth to an alien—or maybe to Rosemary’s baby. One night I went to sleep and the next morning it was just there. Whatever it was, it didn’t care if this host survived its birth or not. It was alive, I tell you—alive!”

But, hey—thank goodness for a truly boring and pretty much happy ending.

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