Personal and Expert Care and Patient Choice in Trigeminal Neuralgia

I had been troubled with trigeminal neuralgia for more than five years. But because I did not want to face up to the fact that surgery was really the best solution, I went the route of drugs and denial. Finally, though, reality set in. I had some work done on my teeth in an effort to relieve the pain, and then gum surgery. Afterwards, the pain was even more intense and unbearable. I was forced to take full doses of Trileptal to relieve the pain. It was then that I admitted I needed surgery and began the search which ultimately led to Dr. McLaughlin.

I decided to go on the internet and I first I discovered a practice in Los Angeles. There were all kinds of bells and whistles on their promotional website, but when I followed up on some of their information it just didn’t jibe with other research I had done. I kept digging deeper, and even went to the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Medical library in Newark, New Jersey spending several hours in the stacks researching trigeminal neuralgia.

I kept coming up with the name of Dr. Peter Jannetta. It was evident that this physician was the gold standard of trigeminal neuralgia treatment. So I decided to find a physician who had trained under Dr. Jannetta. I started to narrow the field and located one who practices at Johns Hopkins. I went to see him in his office in Baltimore. I was impressed with his demeanor and knowledge and began to consider having my surgery under his care.

Then through some additional research, I discovered a local neurosurgeon, Dr. Mark McLaughlin, who also trained under Dr Jannetta and wrote a number of research articles with him. I saw Dr. McLaughlin in his office in Flemington, NJ, and was just as impressed.

Then came the dilemma: I had to decide between Johns Hopkins or Dr. McLaughlin. I struggled with this because I liked them both and thought they were equally qualified. So I turned to my close personal friend who is a physician and asked him what he would do. His response surprised me: he said it was a no- brainer. He strongly preferred Dr. McLaughlin because he knew his reputation and because this was something that Dr McLaughlin specialized in. He also said that at major university hospitals residents often do most of the surgery rather than the doctor you meet with in the office. I was surprised by this disclosure so I decided to call the Hopkins doctor. I asked him: will you personally be performing my surgery? He answered that he would participate as a surgeon, but would not be personally present during the entire operation because he would be supervising other ongoing surgical procedures at the same time.

I was uncomfortable with his answer, so I went back to Dr. McLaughlin. At my second visit we forged a relationship that I will always cherish. From that appointment on it’s hard to find the words to describe my relationship with Dr. McLaughlin. When I walked into his office that day I felt helpless and totally vulnerable, wondering when the next horrific jolt of pain was going to fire into my face. I was desperate.

My fears began to dissipate immediately. Dr. McLaughlin has a reassuring quality about him that convinced me that I was in good hands. With his words and body language he made me feel that this was going to turn out okay. Still, I had one major fear -- what would I do if I had a flare up before the surgery date? That’s how awful this pain is. You almost fear the possibility of the pain more than the actual pain.

I’ll never forget the feeling of relief and reassurance after I asked Dr. McLaughlin how I would manage if the pain came back before the operation. He took out his business card, flipped it over, and wrote his cell phone number on the back. Handing it to me he said: “If you ever feel that you are that frightened or the pain is going in that direction and the surgery is not scheduled soon enough, call me -- day or night -- and I’ll see to it that we get a surgical suite the next day.” I knew at that moment that I had chosen the right doctor, someone who really cared about me.

The surgery, two pain-free years ago, turned out spectacularly well. I am just so happy I did that research and profoundly thankful that I found Dr McLaughlin and his wonderful team of professionals at Princeton Brain and Spine Care. I have my life back. And I owe it all to them.

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