Slide3-001It started Monday and it has happened before so I should have known what was coming, but all I noticed Monday was that I seemed to be developing a toothache. I couldn’t even determine which tooth was hurting, but that dull ache and the sensitivity to hot and cold were definite signs something wasn’t quite right. By Tuesday morning my lower jaw was beginning to throb, but I was scheduled to work, so I took some ibuprofen, stuck a few more in my lunch sack and headed out the door. Tuesday night I no longer had any doubts – my tooth was abscessed and I was in pain.

However, as a substitute mail carrier I felt I needed to work when the work was available; as my Dad used say, “You make hay while the sun shines.” Besides there’s no substitute for the substitute – you’re it. So despite a low grade fever and a throbbing, swollen, jaw, Wednesday morning I took three ibuprofen, packed the bottle, and once again headed off to work.

I don’t like others to know when I am hurting, but I didn’t want anyone to take offense if I wasn’t my usual talkative self, so I told a few co-workers about my tooth. I soon had a wealth of advice and tips on how to reduce the pain – everything from swishing whisky, lukewarm water, or salt water around in my mouth to pricking the abscess on my gum to relieve the pressure. I was surprised at how many people had experienced the pain of an abscessed tooth and although every experience was different, everyone was very empathic.

The dentist I last used was in a town more than 80 miles from where I was working and since I hadn’t seen him in over a year, he would not call in a prescription for antibiotics until after an initial visit. I understood, but I there was no way I could get to his office before closing. A co-worker suggested a new dental clinic that accepted walk-ins and kept later hours. As I left work and headed towards the dental clinic and home I was suddenly acutely aware of how bad I really felt. Driving to work that morning I had prayed for strength to get through the day, and while I focused on doing my job and doing it well I was able to endure the pain. Driving back I could barely concentrate on prayer and I was simply praying I would have the strength to make it home. Two hours later I arrived home with a prescription in hand and was soon wrapped in a quilt on the couch unable to go any further or do any more. My sleep was restless, but sleep was what I needed.

I would like to say I was much better the next morning, but it was another 24 hours before the pain really began to subside. Today as I once more head to work, I feel much better; however, I know that next week I’ll have to endure a little more pain for a short time before it will really begin to heal as the dentist gets down to the ‘root’ of the problem. It was a difficult week, but I was reminded of some valuable lessons that are helpful to remember when we are hurting:

  • Life does not always stop when we’re hurting and sometimes we just have to do what must be done. We may be surprised at what we can do when we ask Christ to strengthen us.
  •  Focusing on our service to others may not alleviate the pain but it helps pass the time while we’re waiting for help and healing.
  • Honestly talking about our pain and letting others know we’re hurting may provide us with some helpful advice.
  • Sometimes what we really need the most is sleep.
  • We usually need someone to help us when we’re in pain. Sometimes we need professional help because we cannot mend or resolve the problem ourselves. Sometimes we just need a wise and compassionate friend. Often we need both.
  • Very few problems have a ‘quick fix’; most of the time we must get to the root of the problem before true healing starts.

I would like to be able to avoid all pain in my life, but unfortunately sometimes pain is unavoidable. However, I know that if I never experienced pain I would have no compassion for those who are hurting. I pray that I do not forget what it feels like to hurt.