Contemplating Tongue Amputation

“Do we have anything to drink in this car,” my almost five-year old, Josh, asks from his car seat as we pass by shoulder-high cornfields.

“Nope,” I answer loudly because my son is hearing impaired and it’s difficult for him to hear my voice in the car.

“Huh?” he says.

“No, we don’t,” I say, taking care to enunciate my words. We’re on our way home from the grocery store. I am hoping he doesn’t remember that we bought him strawberry kefir. I don’t want to pull over by the side of the road to access the back of my Subaru wagon.

Instead he tells me, “Only one other option then, which is to cut off my tongue.” Yes, he has hearing loss, but thanks to lots of early intervention and a vault-like memory, he is also highly verbal.

“Oh,” I say. “Trust me. I’ve considered that option . . . but I’ve decided that I need my tongue.”

Recently, I have given serious contemplation to tongue amputation because, two weeks ago, my dentist was prepping the last molar on my lower right for a crown. She shot Septocaine directly into my trigeminal nerve. No stranger to dental work, I managed to breathe through it. With the second injection, however, a mild electrical current reverberated across the right side of my tongue. I told the dentist, “I felt the anesthesia go into my tongue. I’ve never felt that before.” She assured me this was normal. She waited another minute or two before attempting another injection, which my hand reflexively swatted away as soon as the tip of the needle penetrated my skin.

I put my hand on the lower right side of my face. “It felt like you just dropped acid across my face.” She assured me that nothing hit my face, showing me that only the tiniest bit of solution had been released from her injection gun. She suggested that we delay the crown prep for another day. Eager to escape her office, I agreed.

Six hours later, when the rest of the anesthesia had worn off, my tongue remained numb. I called my dentist who suggested we give it more time. Forty-eight hours later, and still numb, my dentist finally admitted my nerve had sustained damaged but that, sometimes, it will repair itself. Sometimes? Sometimes?

It’s now been 238 hours and I still can’t feel my tongue. I’ve learned that the tip of my tongue no longer feels the food stuck between my teeth, so I walk around with leafy greens brightening my smile. But even though it doesn’t work as well as it used to, I still need my previously underappreciated, now defective, tongue to help me chew food and talk properly.

I look into the rearview mirror, so he can read my lips as I speak, and say, “Without your tongue you could only say, ‘I wuv you mom.’ You need your tongue to pronounce the ‘L’ sound.” And that’s good enough for him. He decides to keep his tongue as I have decided to keep mine, even if it is far less operational than 244 hours ago.

A recent self-portrait

A recent self-portrait

  1. Laura said:

    It happened to me. It took about 3 months but slowly by little parts of the tounge the effects of The anestesia passed and I recovered my tounge. Hope that happens to you too.

    • hmfhp said:

      Thanks Laura. It is so encouraging to hear that others have recovered from this affliction. I am just over the three-month point. I think I can finally affirmatively say that it is better, although not normal yet. I still especially notice it after I’ve had coffee and citrus (for some odd reason). I’ve been told that this condition may take up to two years to heal (and if it hasn’t healed by then, it won’t). Since I’ve noted some forward progress with healing, I am yet hoping for a full recovery.

    • No, I didn’t. Medical malpractice is difficult to prove. Because this kind of tongue numbness happens in a certain percentage of all such procedures, even when a standard of care isn’t breached, there wasn’t a strong (or easy to prove) standard of action here. It would likely have been thrown out on a summary judgment. Also, sometimes, I think law suits actually prolong a patients pain and suffering.

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