I love doing crossword puzzles. But sometimes the clues are just so darn obvious.
Like the other day. The clue was “red and black” for Number 4 down. How easy is that? Of course the answer is “colors.”
But that’s not right. There are only four spaces for the answer. Hmmm. How about “hues”? Close, not quite synonymous, but still.
I lightly pen in the “H.” Nope, I’m wrong. An “H” has no business being in the answer, given the clue for number 4 across.
I was getting more and more frustrated. Red and black? For goodness sakes, what else can it be but “color”?
Finally, I give up, solve all the other clues and fill in the letters.
Oh man. The answer is “seas.” It never occurred to me. I was so sure my black and white interpretation was the only one possible.
Often we have experiences with doctors where the same thing happens.
You may have heard the phrase, “When you hear hoof beats think of horses, not zebras.” Doctors tell this to medical students. Think of the common, not the uncommon; of the known, not the farfetched.
I think for those of us with chronic pain it is easy for doctors to fall into the trap of diagnosing what they know — as opposed to actually hearing and interpreting the signs and symptoms being reported by the patient. Rare is the doctor who thinks outside the box.
Often tests, MRI’s and scans find nothing that gives a cause for pain.
How can a pain be real when there is no visible proof?
My experience is a good example of a doctor willing to see zebras.
Most birthmarks do not change color or hues, but I have one on my forehead that gets redder when I am emotional because it has an active blood flow. It used to embarrass me because I could not hide my feelings. I recall my sister once saying to me, “I know you’re mad because your birthmark is bright red.”
My ophthalmologist felt this was a sign of extra blood vessels throughout the left side of my brain and that these vessels were the cause of my trigeminal neuralgia.
But my neurosurgeon did not want to operate and remove them. All of my tests, including arteriograms and venograms, showed no abnormalities. Therefore there was nothing for him to “fix.”
Luckily the ophthalmologist won the day. He convinced the surgeon to operate. Once inside my brain, he found dozens of teeny tiny little blood vessels that should not have been there. He cleaned out as many as he could. When I awoke the pain was gone and 99.99% of the birthmark had disappeared.
Unfortunately, the little bit that was left grew back. When it did the birthmark and the pain returned.
I am forever grateful that my ophthalmologist convinced the surgeon to operate and that — despite his misgivings — he agreed.
I am also grateful that he saw beyond the black and white of x-rays and textbook descriptions. That he saw me in all my sometimes flaming redness and the surgeon was willing to take a risk on me.
It goes beyond red and black and how obvious a clue or symptom is. It is not always black and white.
Kudos to the doctors who are not color blind. And to all of us lucky enough to have found one or more of them.
Carol Jay Levy has lived with trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic facial pain disorder, for over 30 years. She is the author of “A Pained Life, A Chronic Pain Journey.” Carol was accredited to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, where she helped get chronic pain recognized as a disease.
The information in this column is not intended to be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Only your doctor can do that! It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s personal experiences and opinions alone. It does not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of National Pain Report or Microcast Media.