Deck the halls with boughs of snot rags

I was sick the entire first half of 2017. It was a tour de force of ailments — sinus infections, ear infections, pink eye, strep throat — cycling through my body and returning at their leisure, like microbial timeshare owners trying to make their individual marriages work.

I remember two low moments in particular in that span of months:

1.

Sitting in the Walgreens well clinic exam room, my throat swollen painfully shut, unable to issue words louder than a short whisper, shoving my phone at the doctor so she could read the notes I’d written in the Notes app. I was unable to speak and in so much pain that I was sobbing. She told me unceremoniously that she could not look at my phone for information and that if I could not speak, she could not help me and would have to send me to the ER. I cried hot, desperate tears and felt so humiliated. I had been sick for weeks, inexplicably, and I was so tired of being sick. I could barely swallow the excess saliva that had been worked up in my mouth due to my crying, but she made me sit there and gulp it all down, painfully, until I was composed enough to hiss my phone notes to her rather than read them herself.

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2.

The second round of allergy testing at the allergist’s office. The first round of side-by-side pin pricks on my bicep looked gnarly and cruel enough with each pen mark accompanied by a bead of blood, in some places turning to a trickle. But none of the pin pricks swelled up much. That meant that I wasn’t allergic to any of the typical stuff that most people with allergies are triggered by. The allergist was puzzled and asked me for my other arm, so they could go to round two with different triggers. Those pricks barely swelled either. A little for dust, a little for mold and a little for horses. It was just exhausting to go through all that and not feel any closer to understanding what was making me sick all the time.

I was told to stay on a regimen of Zyrtec to control whatever allergic reactions I was having to my triggers, however small they might have been. And the allergist referred me to an ear, nose and throat doctor and for a CT scan, to see if there were physiological/structural issues inside my head.

And were there.

When my ENT doc showed me the scan images, I immediately thought of the outline of the state of Maryland. My septum, which had a bone spur, was all jacked up and impaling a turbinate. Apparently I had had some kind of injury when I was a wee one (my mother speculates that I got beat up on the way out of the birth canal) because so much of the injured area had ossified into bone. On my left side, there was very little opening to allow for air transfer, and my maxillary sinuses were opaque, which is not how they are supposed to look.

So the doctor said that he could do balloon sinuplasty to get in there and clean out the maxillaries, but that if I wanted long-term relief, it would be a good idea to fix the septum and the turbinates (septoplasty + turbinate reduction) so my shit would drain right again and I could breathe like a normal human being.

Which is how I got to looking like this.

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Just your standard-issue mustache bandage, that’s all.

Friday morning I reported bright and early to St. Thomas West and, after two or so hours of prep, I slipped into delicious unconsciousness and my doctor poked and prodded around in my nose endoscopically until he get things arranged in such a way that might lead to normal human functioning.

When I woke up in recovery, the inside of my nose burned and I had dry mouth like you wouldn’t believe. The nurse hustled to get me a Sprite but I kept having to give her the evil eye so she’d bring it over to me every time she placed it just out of reach. She was busy and I was very vocally grateful when she remembered me. They gave me a pain pill and I had been loaded up with anti-nausea meds, and sent me on my way. I felt pretty good the rest of the day and even for most of Saturday. My mom was there to help out (and bring medicine and Ginger ale and distilled water — my version of gold, frankincense and myrrh) and I felt chatty enough to be social for much of the time, as ridiculous as I looked.

It hasn’t been easy to sleep; you have to damn near sit up straight and breathe through your mouth. Mom got me some Biotene for my mouth so it wouldn’t dry out completely while I slept slack-jawed. And since you can’t blow your nose, all this junk gets caught up in the scaffolding (the stents) so it rattles around and feels heavy and pressurized and drives me nuts.

The pain wasn’t too bad until Sunday, when the soreness inside my nose really kicked in. And the sore throats from the drainage and the mouth-breathing while sleeping are pretty gross. And my skin itches from the dry air and the painkillers. So it’s a lot of annoying discomfort, interrupted by short and unfulfilling naps.

Still, it’s not the worst thing in the world. It’s certainly been a less painful recovery than having an ovary out. That hurt. And if all this discomfort leads eventually to being able to breathe normally without Afrin, it will be completely worth it.

I’ve been watching a lot of TV and doing Christmas shopping on the ol’ Amazon. And some wrapping! And I’ve made a bunch of stationery and done some laundry. You can’t keep this gal from doing laundry.

My post-op is Wednesday, when they are set to remove the stents. The stents are severely annoying. They hurt and there is gunk trapped up around them. I am constantly trying to flush it all out with my little sinus rinse kit, but the pressure from that hurts too, and frankly the stuff I am flushing out is VERY DISAPPOINTING compared to what I was reading about pre-surgery on the internet. Oh well. I’m not too torn up about it, I guess. There’s always the internet if I need disgusting photos of things that came out of people’s bodies.

UPDATE: Tuesday, 12:55 p.m. I got too cocky. I flew too close to the sun! I was feeling pretty good over the weekend but yesterday it hit me like a truck and I’ve been feeling horrible. I have a headache that won’t quit and nausea to boot. My doctor called in some Zofran that my lovely husband picked up for me. The mouthbreathing is getting to me. I am so tired but getting no good rest. The stents come out tomorrow so I’m hoping for some relief after that. The pressure inside my head is insane.

UPDATE: Friday, 9:38 a.m. Wednesday morning my dear and patient and lovely husband — who, the night before, endured a bona fide temper tantrum as I was lying in bed, unable to breathe through my nose at all but plenty able to yell at the ceiling — took me to the doc to have the stents taken out. I took a pain pill that morning in anticipation of the unpleasant experience, so I sat there in the waiting room, blissed out except for the moments when my reality was interrupted by the acute inanity of Pickler and Ben, which was on the waiting-room television, until we were called back.

First order of business was to weigh me, and I swear I had gained 10 pounds since they weighed me the day of the surgery (thanks, painkillers!). Then the nurse had me sit so she could snip the stitch at the inside of the tip of my nose. That took a few tries but wasn’t painful.

Then she removed the left stent — the side of my nose that had had the most surgical work and had been the most sore — and it was a surreal mix of pain and relief that was closer to childbirth than not.

It was like this thing bloomed out of my face. A disgusting flower, grown from just beneath my eyes.

Also, IT WAS HUGE. It was basically the size of two fingers, but flat. I had my glasses off so I couldn’t see it in all its glory for very long, but here’s what we were dealing with.

She then removed the stent from the right side, and I had the same nose-giving-birth-to-a-giant-plastic-flower sensation. The nurse complimented me on my nasal rinsing, which I had done religiously, as what she pulled out of me was not nearly as disgusting as what she probably pulls out of some less meticulous rinsers. In fact, they pulled out almost entirely clean. (So if you ever get this done, rinse every two to three hours, no joke. It makes a difference.)

As soon as those things were out, I COULD BREATHE. I could feel air entering my head and hitting the back of my skull. Sort of. It felt that way, at least. I had never realized that this is how we are meant to breathe. That oxygen can just waltz into your head so effortlessly. It was a revelation.

The doctor came in to look at things and declared everything to be looking nice and clear. He used an analogy to explain what had been going on in my head. Let me see if I can relay it:

If you’re sitting in a small room and there’s a wall, a door and a cabinet with a drawer, and the drawer works fine, but the wall is bowed in to the point where it’s forced the door open and the wall and the door are blocking the drawer, the drawer won’t open. The drawer works fine in theory but all the other stuff is making its job impossible. So you have to fix the wall, move the door back in place and then the drawer will be able to open.

The wall is my septum, the door is my turbinate(s), and the drawer is the opening of my maxillary sinus.

He also explained some things about my particular allergy triggers — dust and mold — that made them seem a lot more serious and in need of active management than I had realized. So I need to probably do more proactive management than pop Zyrtec in the near future. Like, say, fast-track the plan to rip up the carpet in the den. Just throwing that out there, in case anyone I am married to reads this blog.

Anyway, I felt like I was on top of the world and able to conquer anything, so I set out to run errands that afternoon. But, again I was being too cocky. I got one errand done and ended up going right back home, as motion sickness and fatigue kicked in.

Nausea and fatigue were the name of the game the rest of that evening and all of Thursday. (I’m now wondering if it’s the antibiotics, since I’ve had a fair amount of gastrointestinal distress.) Thursday I stayed glued to the couch the entire day, unable to do much more than load the dishwasher. My left nostril started acting really weird when I tried to blow it. It was obstructed with something that made a loud and uncomfortable flapping noise and sensation (a nose trumpet). It wouldn’t budge with gentle-to-medium-pressure blowing so I assumed that I had broken something in there with my vigorous blowing from the day before.

I envisioned my septum, unmoored, flapping around in there. I know that’s not how it works; I have an active and neurotic imagination.

All day Thursday I was convinced I was going to have to go back under the knife. I laid there, seething with every breath I took where I could feel something rattling around in there.

It wasn’t until my gentle, patient, humble, loving, long-suffering husband came home from working while I watched cartoons all day that he reminded me it was probably just a giant scab booger that had gotten loose. So I steeled my jaw and gathered my petticoats and abandoned my fainting couch and retired to the bathroom to do a sinus rinse. And lo and behold what broke free and exited my face was cathartic. And horrible.

Husband really wanted to see it but I am just not ready to enter that phase of our marriage. I want there to be some mystery about my secretions for at least a year.

Anyway, I could breathe again, air-to-the-back-of-my-skull breathe again. Nothing was broken. Septum wasn’t flapping. Everything was clear. It was amazing. Life affirming.

So the moral of the story is keep doing those rinses. They help.

It’s now Friday and I am feeling the best I have yet. I went to sleep able to breathe and woke up able to breathe. No nose spray required. I have not been able to go to sleep, sleep all night or wake up without a spritz (or five) of nose spray since I was in sixth grade.

I’m feeling less nauseated than I have in several days, which is good because school lets out for winter break at 11:30 and I’ve got to go get the boy. I am hoping to be able to get out and about with him this weekend. We’re going to pick out a real Christmas tree — the first of my adult (and most of my) life.

I cannot wait to smell it.

Neti pot head

The CT scan showed that I’ve got chronic sinusitis plus a nasal septal spur on my right side, and that thing is keeping stuff trapped in my head that just keeps festering and perpetuating the gross cycle of crud in my skull. So I’ve got an appointment with an ENT to talk about my options. I’ve been doing nasal irrigation daily for a week or so and it seems to be working. In fact, I skipped it last night and woke up with a sore throat. INTRIGUE!

And then there was one … ovary

Well, that was interesting.

This whole thing ended up with me getting a referral to a gynecologic oncologist, who examined me and recommended that I get surgery to remove the endometrioma, which had grown to 10 centimeters by the time I met with him. He did not feel strongly that the uterine fibroids had to go too, but he was fairly adamant that the cyst needed to go quickly, or else I’d risk it rupturing.

So, I scheduled a laparoscopic procedure for the end of August.

I bathed in antibacterial shower scrub the night before and the morning of surgery, donned brand new fat pants, wore my glasses (no contacts allowed), had Richard be my chauffeur, met my parents at the hospital, forked over a grand to get through the doors, and waited for them to call me back.

They did pretty much right on time, and my crew and I trekked to the surgical waiting room, where I gave out hugs and goodbyes and wished Richard well, as he and my parents were going to be hanging out for a few hours together.

Back in the first waiting area, I stripped down and put on a paper gown that was lined with little places that would balloon up with warm air. I laid on a gurney and waited while the surgical prep folks got ready for me. They started giving me medications — antibiotics, anti-nausea, etc. — and asked me to lie down and relax. Finally it was time to take me back to the pre-op area. I had to hand over my glasses, so from that point on I couldn’t really see anything, which is a super bummer, because the whole process is completely fascinating.

I took a trip down some twisting hallways on the gurney, still totally awake and aware. They parked me in some kind of staging area, where there were several other people parked, too, waiting on their number to be called. A team of people descended on me, one or two at a time, and hooked me up to an IV. The anesthesiologist’s assistant guy wore a big gold watch and was cracking wise with me. I couldn’t see anyone’s face, which was disorienting. Watch guy asked me if I was freaking out, and whether I was ready for the relaxation drugs. I said sure, whatever. I had a pretty calm head about me at the time because I felt like I was in pretty good hands, but I didn’t put up a fight about the drugs either. So he pushed something through my IV and in a few seconds I definitely felt it. I was suddenly super chill, and they were pumping warm air into my weird puffed-up gown. There was a lot happening around me with four or so people doing stuff on either side of me and me just sort of lying there, unable to see anything. (Being very near-sighted sucks for lots of reasons, but it’s an extra kick in the groin to not be able to watch what’s happening around you in this setting.)

Then it was go time. They wheeled me into the operating room, and I was feeling pretty good from the drugs. I remember it being so cold in there. The crew loading me into the room asked me to help scoot myself from the gurney onto the operating table, and I complied as best I could, even though maneuvering in my weird puffy gown with my IV dangling around my arm was awkward. I remember getting onto the operating table and looking up and trying to make out the huge and complex lights above the table. And then I was out. I don’t remember counting.

When I woke up I was in recovery. Someone was speaking to me and I don’t remember what they said. I remember being in a room with many other beds. I remember waking up and feeling pain and not realizing it was pain at first. It took me a few minutes for my brain to understand how intense the pain was. I was in a fog and it hurt so bad to breathe. I remember hearing someone moaning in pain. Maybe it was me, maybe not. I remember lying there for a while in pain, thinking it would go away on its own, but every time I breathed or moved or coughed, which I felt the need to do (having been intubated), there was this searing abdominal pain across the middle of my torso, just under my lungs. I recall having to work up the strength and stamina to summon someone to tell them I was in pain. They must have upped my medicine then because I relaxed and it didn’t hurt so badly to breathe, although I was careful to not move too much.

They let me lie there for what seemed like a long time, until finally Richard got to come back to bring me my clothes. I reached down and realized my gown was hiked all the way up to my armpits. I had been lying there thinking I was naked. Weird. Richard’s task was to get me to the bathroom and make sure I peed before I could get dressed and go home. I was totally out of it but I peed and I think he let me have a drink of his soda or something.

They put me in a wheelchair and wheeled me to the curb while Richard went to get the car to retrieve me. The ride home I felt pukey and sleepy.

I went straight to bed and stayed there with intermittent breaks for a few days. Breathing was excruciating. It felt like someone had gone in and pummeled my diaphragm and lungs and for about two or three days, taking in air was so painful and I was hoarse and could barely talk from the intubation.

So, what they did:

They went in through my belly button and puffed my belly up full of gas to get my skin away from my organs. A robot, controlled by my surgeon, put a bag around the endometrioma and proceeded to drain it. Then they extracted it through my belly button.

A ROBOT, Y’ALL.

They tested the tissue for cancer during the surgery and came up negative. (An in-depth lab showed negative later as well.)

Then the doc zapped a few spots of endometriosis for good measure.

They stitched up my belly button from the inside and then glued my belly button together on the outside.

For a week I just wanted to sleep. Getting up out of bed and going from lying to sitting to standing was painful. I haven’t been able to lift things. But I feel good now. It’s incredible how they were able to do the procedure through one incision that you can’t really even see (although my belly button is all bruised to hell and weird looking right now).

My follow-up appointment went well and I seem to be making a full recovery.

Having one ovary shouldn’t really adversely affect my fertility or hormones, which is pretty amazing.

I’m so grateful everything went well and I’ve had such a good recovery.

It’s what’s inside that counts

Since March, I have now had four or five pelvic ultrasounds (yes, both the external and the internal probe Congress loves so much) and a pelvic MRI.

Here is what we know:

There are masses inside of me and they are growing, and they need to be removed.

Here is what we think we know:

One of the masses is an ovarian endometrioma the size of a tennis ball (and growing). Until late June I’d never heard of such a thing but turns out I’m intimately acquainted and just didn’t know it. Essentially, I have endometriosis that has invaded my left ovary and taken over to the point that it likely cannot be extracted and removed; the whole ovary has got to go.

I have other masses in my uterus that are fibroid tumors. At least one of them is also the size of a tennis ball. I was sent to have an MRI this past week to find out the number and size and placement of them all, since apparently, from the expression on my specialist’s face, there’s a bunch of crazy shit happening in there, all together, that has her thinking I should get a hysterectomy, STAT.

My specialist asked me, while prodding around my guts with her fingers, if I was done having children. Well, I said, I didn’t think I was. She pressed her hand down on my lower stomach from the outside and pressed her fingers inside of me upward, so her hands met around the parts inside of me that are swollen and cramped, and I felt a pain so deep it didn’t register in my body but it registered deep in my emotions and I began crying.

I am 34. I have always had regular periods that last three to five days and that come with minimal discomfort. I’ve never been on hormonal birth control and I had a quick and lovely eight-hour natural labor and delivery. I have always joked about being built for breeding, with my wide hips. I have had friends and family who’ve fought with period pain, endometriosis, cysts, fibroids and excessive bleeding and have always counted myself as being very fortunate to have a system that seemed, more or less, to do its thing and keep the peace.

I have finally met the man I want to spend the rest of my life and have a family with, and, in my more selfish moments, it’s a little like a cosmic middle finger in the face to think that that might not even be on the table for us.

My gynecologist asked me if I have a high pain tolerance. On the one hand, how great to have not suffered from the discomfort of my insides twisting and growing and crowding my organs. On the other hand, the lack of pain means I didn’t even realize what was happening for so long, and now it’s likely too late to really fix it and keep it functional.

I go back to the doctor Thursday to find out exactly what the MRI shows and what’s next. I know it will not be great news because they called and moved my follow-up appointment up a week. They told me come by whenever; they will work me in. That only happens if something is concerning enough to need action.

My family and friends are of course being supportive and wonderful in every way. My mom had a major bout of fibroids in her 40s and ended up with a hysterectomy. But she’d already had three kids and had her tubes tied; she knew she was done adding to her family. But she knows what a tough row to hoe this can be for the brain and body when it happens.

I had hoped I was finally getting to start a family in earnest, with someone who loves me and my son. It will be difficult to let that dream die before it even had a chance, if that’s what it comes to.

I know I will need surgery. I just don’t know how much and how soon and how serious.

I know I can feel a dull thud of pain on my left side where the ovary continues to grow larger each menstrual cycle. That pain wasn’t there four months ago.

I know sitting up from lying down is increasingly uncomfortable.

I know I can feel tenderness all across my belly, and sharp pain whenever a not-to-be-named 4-year-old gut-checks me while wrestling.

I know I am scared.

The lost July

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I’ve not been well since July 2. I don’t know what specifically is ailing me but it’s a little like the mystery bug that got me in 2009 that no one ever could diagnose. (Sans hives. So far.) I’m on a second round of antibiotics and I’m still prone to coughing fits. And headaches. It took Holden down too, and his teacher and some classmates. Whatever it is is no joke and has been hanging around for a long time. I heard that we had unseasonably lovely weather, though, while I was quarantined. Neat.

I nearly missed the crape myrtles at their prettiest. Nearly.

I love you, Slate, but sometimes you publish some dumb ish

Like this screed about the “fringe” element of our society known as intactivists and how they have taken over the internet to the degree that you can’t find good pro-circ science online anymore without doing some digging.

Are you kidding me?

Lumping people who don’t see a need for compulsory infant circumcision in with people who are anti-vax? Dude. Just … no.

And this:

To intactivists, mutilation is mutilation; what does it matter if it’s for the greater good?

Sorry, is that supposed to read like parody? I can’t even tell anymore.

So here’s a thought: If circumcision is so good for men, then let men decide for themselves when to get it done. No need to decide for your brand new baby boy that he needs to get that chop made well before the time when that chop would help him avoid getting STDs, right? Let that boy grow up and then decide when it’s a good time to get the knife near his wang.

Day 48/365: Dental Damns

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My dentist’s office has the best waiting room ever. It’s … cozy.

My checkup went pretty well, except for the scolding I got for my lack of flossing. God, I hate flossing.

The hygienist said that my teeth were like Chiclets, meaning small but I also suspect full of sugar.

[Project 365]