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:
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.
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.
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.