fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

Close this search box.

fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

Close this search box.

Often Described As

the most terrible pain known to man,
trigeminal neuralgia
ricochets around my face, pulsing
electric-shocks. My doctor advises

cutting the nerve in my cheek, the only hope
of stopping the torture. He mentions
some patients consider
suicide. My husband has just revealed

he’s moving to Ohio for a better
job and another woman.
In fear’s fast-flowing river, I yearn
to believe some god might intervene.

Agony catches in my jaw, throbs
down the right side of my neck,
renders me paralytic. Medical websites
recount horrors worse than those I heard

as a young girl over campfires.
Like the one where a girl with a red ribbon
around her neck loses her head
when the bow is untied. The knife,

my cheek, the belligerent nerve
destined to meet. I try bargaining
with the Divine. Then, the final insult: I bite
through a tooth as though it were

a dinner roll. The dentist laughs
at the doctor’s misdiagnosis.
“You have TMJ, temporo-
mandibular joint. A simple night guard

will alleviate the pain,” he says,
then describes the machinery
of my mouth. How the hinge connecting
jawbone and skull rotates like a waterwheel

when I sleep—my teeth
grinding the grist of my life.

Call for Entries​

Pulse Writing Contest​​

"On Being Different"

Sandi Stromberg arrived in Houston after twenty years as an expatriate in Switzerland, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. Since then, she has spent thirteen years as a writer-editor at MD Anderson Cancer Center and has edited two poetry anthologies: Untameable City: Poems on the Nature of Houston and Echoes of the Cordillera, ekphrastic poems written in response to the photography of Jim Bones and published by Museum of the Big Bend. She has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize and twice for Best of the Net. Her poetry has been published in many literary journals and has been translated into Dutch and published in the Netherlands. She is an editor at The Ekphrastic Review and is the author of the poetry collection Frogs Don’t Sing Red

About the Poem

“Two years after I arrived in Houston, my then husband decided to move on, leaving me with two teenage sons. He came back five months later to say the marriage was over. The next morning, I woke up with a pain that started on the right side of my face and descended into my right shoulder. I lived with this pain for several debilitating weeks before the cause was correctly diagnosed. The poem describes this journey.”


3 thoughts on “Often Described As”

  1. Potent writing – life journeys are often painful
    We do meet the Divine through these experiences – and strengthen the divine within
    There are mouth/jaw exercises to help retrain a clenching jaw – in addition to a night guard.
    Consciously relaxing your jaw when driving, working intensely on the computer etc are all helpful! Blessings

  2. Ronna Edelstein

    Your poem is excruciatingly wonderful. I am so sorry for the physical and emotional pain you have endured. I had a similar issue and diagnosis. However, my problem was not resolved by a night guard. Instead, I have had five jaw surgeries and a prosthetic device put in my jaw—and I still suffer. I am glad you did not have to experience that at least. Be well.

    1. Sandi Stromberg

      Ronna~~I’m so sorry that your problem was not resolved by a night guard and that you’ve had five jaw surgeries, a prosthetic device—and still suffer. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make it all go away! Alas! I’m sending my best wishes your way. Sandi

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More Poems

Popular Tags
Scroll to Top