Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Last Night A Website Saved My Life

Whaddaya mean, you didn't read my column in last Sunday's Telegraph? Gah! Here it is again then....

Last Night A Website Saved My Life

It's not often a strange facial bloating tells you something important about the world. But that's what recently happened to me.

About a month ago I suddenly developed a weird swelling under my jaw. And I mean suddenly. In a matter of hours I went from looking perfectly normal - to looking like a mating canetoad, with a mammoth bulging on the lower right side of my face.

I was about to call the doctor, and declare my imminent doom, or at least a spectacularly aggressive tumour, when, just as quickly, the swelling subsided. It just deflated. Wow. For an hour I tried to work out the correct response. I decided to ignore the entire event, as you do when something sinister but inexplicable happens.

But then, a fortnight ago, it happened again. Up came the swelling, just as quickly - and down it went again. This time however, my bullfrog impression was the precursor of a whole series of swellings. One moment I'd be staring happily out of the window, the next - Hello Bulge. And so it continued. I noticed that the swelling seemed particularly urgent whenever I was about to eat.

Disturbed, I started Googling. Within a few hours I had self-diagnosed. What I had, it turned out, was a salivary calculus, or sialolith, a stone in the salivary duct running from the submandibular gland (under my jaw) to my mouth. The swelling was saliva backing up, unable to drain into the mouth. It happened during mealtimes because that's when I most needed to salivate.


The website that gave me my diagnosis also told me some palliative treatments. Every time I ate, I had to massage the gland under my jaw, by hand, to prevent the swelling. And so for a week I sat there, in restaurants, vigorously rubbing my jaw - while people stared over. Sometimes my embarrassed fiancee tried to explain my weird behaviour: Oh don't mind him, he's just massaging his glands.

Obviously this couldn't go on. Last Sunday, as the pain worsened, I went to A&E. The doctor was impressed by my self diagnosis - spot on! - but she refused to refer me to maxillofacial, who could apparently cut the stone out, because I needed my GP to give the nod. So I went to my doctor the next day - and she was equally useless. Yes my diagnosis was right, no she wouldn't do anything about it.

This was particularly frustrating because, by this time I had worked out - through Googling - where the stone was and how it could be treated. I told the doctor that I was sure the stone was right under my tongue. Because I could feel it. I then told her that some stones, ones that could be felt orally - i.e. like mine - were said to be easily removable by a doctor. Just using forceps. It turned out my doctor didn't know this, and she refused to do get busy with her forceps, anyway. Finally she said she'd refer me to maxillofacial. And I'd be treated 'within a month or two'.

A month or two? Sod that. Five days ago I summoned up the courage and I attacked what I thought was my stone with two matchsticks and a plastic fork from Pret a Manger. Slowly I squeezed the blob along the duct. At 4pm it finally popped out in a squidge of blood and lots of spittle. 2mm wide, it was. All that misery for a 2mm wide stone.

So that's what happened. I self diagnosed, and then I self operated.

And the moral of the story? I think this is yet another situation where the Internet is revolutionising things - in this case, medicine. Previously, medicine was a closed book, a hermetic science. Only doctors knew all its secrets and mysteries. Now anyone with a brain can go online and get a good idea just what is wrong with them, and how to treat it.

And if they want, they can damn well treat themselves, if NHS doctors are less well-informed, or too cowardly. To me, this seems a real watershed. It's like the translation of the Bible from Latin into the vernacular. Now we all know how the magic works.

That said, I don't necessarily recommend using two matches and a plastic fork.


David Duff said...

Thanks for that. My son has suffered similar resentment and refusal to treat a medical condition which, thanks to Google, he now knows more about than any GP. I shall pass your post on to him.

Lawrence Duff said...

And now - drum roll crescendo - for the punchline!...

...NHS GP's earn £127,000 for a 4 1/2 day week.

I'm off to A&E - I've just started to feel rather nauseous,

Son of Duff

shandy p said...

As someone who had an identical condition, and ended up having to have their saliva gland removed (Google! It seems so obvious now...), I salute you.