Jessica Gleim: Trigeminal and Occipital Neuralgia

 

In 2010, just five years after graduating from the University of Utah and just three years into her marriage, Jessica Gleim started to experience pain across the left side of her jaw and teeth. And this after a lifetime of dentists raving about her “great teeth.” At her dentist’s firm suggestion, she went to see an endodontist, a doctor who specializes in root canals. 

“I finally couldn’t take it anymore. They told me to pick a tooth and they drilled. It ended up being an unnecessary root canal.” 

Even after that excruciating yet avoidable procedure, the pain remained. In fact, in a shocking turn of events, her localized pain evolved. It moved from her teeth and jaw to shooting pain radiating up into her eye socket, temple, cheek. Within 10 days of her root canal, the tooth pain was back, and coming from the exact same tooth! Jessica promptly returned to the endodontist, and was told she was instead experiencing phantom tooth pain. A diagnosis that did nothing to help her address her suffering. And like most patients struggling with pain, with no relief in sight, she took her health into her own hands.  

“I had been doing research and discovered a condition called trigeminal neuralgia. I finally went to see my general practitioner. She said it was a 'possibility' and sent me to see a neurologist and to get an MRI.”

Finally, after much waiting, Jessica was able to set up an appointment with a neurologist. She was immediately put on anti-seizure medication and told that if her pain lessened she had Trigeminal Neuralgia. The widespread theory is that people who suffer from Trigeminal Neuralgia have a compression between their trigeminal nerve and the nearby blood vessel or artery. After researching her new medications and possible diagnosis, Jessica learned that the anti-seizure and anti-migraine medications prescribed for Trigeminal Neuralgia were not specifically created for her illness, but instead for wide-ranging seizure disorders, bi-polar disorder, or neuropathy associated with shingles or diabetes.  The cocktail of medications could only treat the symptoms of her facial pain, never cure it. 

To make matters worse, the side effects of these medications had a huge, negative impact on Jessica’s quality of life. Increased drug dosages and additional medications added to the mix in an attempt to address her worsening symptoms, led to an increase in those side effects. Severe nausea, extreme exhaustion and fatigue, unsteadiness, memory problems, confusion, muscle spasms, twitching, and suicidal thoughts became commonplace in Jessica's day-to-day existence.

“There have been times where I’ve had to call my husband or call my dad because I was at a point where the pain was just too much — it's scary. You don't even know what to do. The pain, the migraines, and the general sense that this how my life is going to be forever has left me hopeless. I’m lucky that I’m married to my husband because there is no way I could get through all of this alone.”   

In 2012 Jessica decided, that after much research and thought, she wanted to move forward with the only 'cure' for Trigeminal Neuralgia — a brain surgery called Microvascular Decompression. 

In January of that year Jessica underwent this invasive procedure, but while the neurosurgeon was operating he found that there was, in fact, no compression and that her trigeminal nerve along with the rest of cranial nerves were perfectly healthy. After 6 weeks of difficult recovery, at home in bed, Jessica was able being to wean herself off of her medications and managed to live pain-free for 13 months.

“On Valentine’s Day in 2013 my pain came back — WORSE. Not only was I experiencing typical (type 1) Trigeminal Neualgia, I experienced atypical (type 2). It was then that I started to experience severe, chronic migraines and was also diagnosed with Occipital Neuralgia. The new cocktail of medications, and their accompanying side effects, I needed to take in order to simply function and survive increased and increased.”

Jessica came to the realization that in order to live a normal life and try to be healthy, she could no longer work full time. When she made the decision to quit working, she immediately began looking for something to help manage the worst of her symptoms. Currently, there is growing body of evidence to suggest that the THC and other cannabinoids in cannabis may be an effective therapy in addressing Jessica's neuropathic pain.

“I've done it all. I've tried ALL of the medications, acupuncture, massage, I eat a plant-based diet, mediation, mindfulness, therapy, botox, nerve blocks, physical therapy and brain surgery. I an ready, I need another option.”

Jessica volunteers as the Vice President of the Drug Policy Project of Utah and wants to help convince lawmakers to establish a safe, regulated medical cannabis program in Utah. Jessica is sharing her story because having this type of access to cannabis will provide her, and countless others, an additional means to treat their painful conditions.