The earliest I remember it was in high school. Once every few months, sometimes as often as once a month, the soft tissue underneath my jaw would sting. It would hurt to swallow, along with a dull pressure, and the pain would ride up my jaw line and all the way through to underneath my tongue. It would last anywhere from ten seconds to two or three minutes, and then it’d go away. I eventually got so used to it that, when it would happen, I’d just stand back from whatever I was doing, wait a short while for it to end, and go back to the tasks at hand.
I don’t remember what led me to discover the next part of it, but I remember I was already in my twenties, possibly already living in Carbondale (which means I was at least 22). For some reason I turned my tongue down and felt underneath it as the stinging was happening, and I felt some kind of a vein that had swelled up and was very firm. When the stinging went away, as it always did, the swelled vein went away, too. Every time after that, I’d always check under my tongue, and every time this vein was swollen. Sometimes I’d check in the mirror, and as you’d imagine I could see something there. It wasn’t blue like a vein, but was the same pink color as the rest of the tissue under my tongue. I’d estimate that it was three to four millimeters in diameter, and it ran from the back under-side of my tongue, along the inner right side of my mouth, to front and center, right next to that webby thing, and stopped.
It wasn’t until the spring of 2004 that I had any new problems. I had just finished working one night, I think I had something to eat, and the stinging started, complete with all the other normal symptoms: the swollen vein, painful swallowing, a kind of achy pressure through the soft tissue under my jaw. Except this time it did not go away. Ten minutes went by, thirty minutes, an hour. It was getting a little old. By this time I was hanging out with some friends at their house, and I mentioned to them what was going on and how it was pretty painful. I kept checking in a mirror to see what the issue was. It wasn’t until checking several times that I noticed a small, white speck at the end of that vein. I looked as close as I could and decided to to what any other sensible 24-year-old bachelor would; I picked at it. Well, one flick, and whatever that white speck was disappeared and saliva shot out of that “vein” like it was a miniature, biological Super-Soaker. I’m willing to bet I would have gotten a good six to seven inches of distance if the mirror hadn’t been in the way. Well, the pain and pressure stopped, and I was completely fascinated. What I concluded was that somehow I had gotten a small food particle stuck in one of my saliva ducts, which blocked the flow of saliva, causing the swelling of the duct, painful swallowing, a stinging sensation, etc. Every time after that when this happened, I found myself excited rather than distressed, since I knew how to fix it. I found it fun. I would run to a mirror if I could get to one to watch the spit-fountain happen again (and it was happening once every week to three weeks at this point). It usually happened after I’d eat, though not always, so I concluded that I must have a weird opening at that saliva duct that’s just a little too big and allows small food particles to get stuck in it often. It was always, always, always on the right side of my mouth. Sometimes I’d have to pick at it to get it to “open up,” sometimes just stretching my tongue out in my mouth would put enough pressure on the blockage to free it, and other times it’d just quickly go away on its own like it had years before. This continued for nearly three years.
January 2007, I went to eat a late Sunday-night dinner with my didn’t-yet-know-he-would-be-my-roommate, Ben Cole. As we finished eating, the stinging began, and like nearly 3 years prior, it wasn’t going away. I tried to pick at it a little to free whatever food was blocking it, but it wasn’t happening this time. We ended up driving to the CLAM (now D’CLAM) to hang out with some people, and I couldn’t relax because my mouth was hurting me so bad. I kept going to the bathroom to try to get whatever-it-was out, but with no success. I decided to take extreme measures, and took the open end of a sewing needle, sterilized it, and used this tool to try to dig this object out, but it seemed to be slightly bigger than the opening. So how did it get in there? I worked on it on and off for about an hour to an hour and a half, and finally got it to where I was able to pick it out with my fingernail, and my mouth had never felt more relieved. This was the first time that I actually still had the blocking object after freeing it . . . and it wasn’t food. It was a small, white, rock-hard something. I examined it for a long time that night, much to the disgust of my friends, until it fell of my finger and was lost in the endless forest of carpet (you’re welcome, girls).
Well, the next day I had a different pressure: my right lymph node was swelled to the size of a golf ball. Yeah, it hurt. Constant pressure, it hurt to swallow, to laugh, to chew. It stayed that bad for at least a week, maybe longer. I know that it was a while before it started to go away, but it did. And I have not had a problem with it, nor a problem with blocked saliva ducts since, and it’s been well over a year now. I came to the conclusion after my lymph node returned to normal that what was happening wasn’t me getting food particles stuck in my saliva duct. Somehow, way back in high school (the mid-nineties), something must have calcified somewhere in my salivary duct-work and slowly broke apart, small pieces at first, eventually getting bigger to the point that they needed assistance to fully exit the system. I don’t know how it happened, or what it technically really was . . . but I do know that I’m glad I never bothered a doctor with it.
UPDATE: I learned not long after writing this that it’s called “Salivary Gland Stones.” Here is some information on them. Be sure to evaluate whether this an annoyance to you, or something much more serious. As you can see in my account, I never spoke to any “professional” about this and I came out just fine, but I would not say that to someone who, say, had a blocked salivary duct for several days.