He suffers from atypical trigeminal neuralgia, which is also known as the “suicide illness” because the pain can be so terrible that many patients end their lives. Miguel Álvarez says he has tried to do so four times since he began to suffer severe pain on the left side of his face and head eight years ago, after undergoing an endodontic procedure.
“I'm like this because the dentist went too far with the drill,” said this 38-year-old from Malaga, whose trigeminal, a craneal nerve, was damaged during the procedure. It has left him with episodes of intense pain over half his head and his eyes, ears, lips, nose, mouth... “They are like electric shocks; the pain is infernal, even the air which touches my face hurts,” he explained.
Five years ago, after several operations and numerous tests, he was diagnosed with the neuralgia which means he will suffer pain for the rest of his life. At present there is no cure, only medication and therapies to try to relieve the symptoms, for which he goes regularly to the pain unit at the Civil Hospital. He has also tried acupuncture, at his own expense, therapy with magnets and, in desperation, cannabis.
Miguel was a bricklayer but had to retire because of permanent disability at the age of 33. He takes morphine every day and other medications to try to relieve the symptoms as much as possible, although they make him very sleepy. “I'm like a zombie all day long, trying to stay awake and have some sort of a life,” he said. The neuralgia has ruined his life, he said. “I'm 38, I get a pension of 600 euros a month and that's my life. The future looks very black,” added Miguel, whose illness has also affected his family.
Despite all the medication he is taking, the pain never goes - “although I have got used to living with it” - and any movement such as laughing or picking up something heavy can cause a crisis because it puts pressure on the nerve. He suffers episodes like this every day, especially at night, and sometimes has to go to the hospital emergency department to relieve the pain.
“You end up taking two packs of pills because you can't stand it any more,” he said. He is seeing a psychologist in the hope of learning to deal with the problem, but says his greatest incentive is his three-month-old daughter. “I have to live, because of her,” he said.