I’m spending my vacation week recovering at home from rhinoplasty. That’s the word on the discharge papers. It’s not easy to admit that I needed a surgery by that name. I suspect the word has a common root to ‘rhinoceros’ whose striking feature is their horn. So my horn had some tweaking. Not plastic surgery, as the official name suggests. Restoration of the functional capacity was the goal.
It’s hardly a way to spend a week off but I’m thankful for the respite. I learned more than a year ago that I had a infection in the upper region of my sinuses. Antibiotics were prescribed. That worked for awhile but then the headaches started up again and the “clouded” head symptoms returned, not unlike a head cold. I often felt sub-par with less energy than usual. I forget if it was two or three rounds of antibiotics that drove my PCP to send me off to a specialist. I love specialists. They pinpoint the problem pronto and speak with confidence about the solution. My ENT doc walked me over to a computer screen where he pulled up images of my head from the vast abyss on on-line medical records.
“So, you’ve got chronic sinusitis. There are signs of it in the images from 18 months ago and even more severe in the pictures from 7 months ago.”
Chronic. So I’ve been fighting this for much longer than I realized.
Sinusitis. My problem is all in my head!
Finally someone was going to deal with it! The solution? A kick-butt round of antibiotics. They were touted as stronger than the other rounds I had already tried. I headed off for my week on the lakefront in August with a green plastic bottle of prescription pills.
I always felt better after treatment. But then, after a month or so, I could feel the symptoms creeping back. I got to take another round of antibiotics on a trip to Texas in the fall. (Remembering to do anything on a regular basis while on the road is a challenge!) Another set of images in November and visit to the specialist revealed that all the drugs I had faithfully taken that year had not conquered this bacteria. It was thriving in my head. The last ditch effort before surgery was to take steroids. Maybe that would blow open the cranial passageways and prove to be the miracle cure. If not, I could meet with his associate to talk about surgery because he was retiring at the end of the month.
The timing of a hefty prednisone regimen in early December is not all bad! My husband and I returned from a vacation in Texas days before Thanksgiving and then the mountain climb to Christmas began. I had energy! Even in the middle of the night… (reference “Roid Rush” post from earlier!) The long and short of it is that I needed surgery. I spent 15 minutes with my new ENT doc who said he could do it as an office procedure but the soonest date was the very end of January. That gave plenty of time for the production of grossness in my head to continue its admirable work so that the surgery would be a welcome relief!
My husband drove me to my 8AM surgical appointment the morning of January 31. I had picked up my own anesthesia at the pharmacy. Two tablets of Xanax and I didn’t care what was done to me! I do remember seeing a needle about 4 inches long he was getting ready to stick into the depths of my nostrils to numb them. I do remember that. I do remember a voice cutting through the fog, saying, “Now you may feel some pressure.” Sure enough, I felt it (no pain however). I heard it, too, something like cartilage-crushing sounds. I was warned that the roadways in my sinuses might need some widening so that was being done while I hadn’t a care in the world. My doc could easily get a side job as a household duct-cleaner or jack-hammerer of roadways. An hour or so later my husband was called into the room. I remember him coming in but nothing else. He took pictures of me in varied poses of incoherence during the post-op “consult” thinking I would be interested in them. We did not post them. I was pushed out of the office in a wheelchair clutching a sick tray. People entering the building for their 10AM allergy check may have turned tail when they saw the likes of me emerging from their doctor’s office!
I hadn’t asked much about how I would feel afterwards. Would I have packing that would occlude my breathing and would I have to have packing removed? No and no. So that’s good. No other questions. But, like most medical procedures, it’s when you’re in the morass of post-surgical misery that you turn to Dr. Wikipedia. What are normative recovery symptoms? I learned that significant congestion from freaked-out nasal passages is normal—for a week or more! I also learned that I was forbidden from blowing my nose (to deal with said congestion) for at least a week. Though I was very uncomfortable, I certainly didn’t want to blow out of my head any hard work the doctor had accomplished. I didn’t want to have to “feel pressure” again as a corrective procedure. So no blowing. For the same reason, DO NOT SNEEZE! Hmmm. Significant fatigue for a week is normal. Check. With blocked nostrils I had an impeded sense of taste so it has been a week of dieting too.
I didn’t know what to expect so I didn’t know what to ask. The surgery was Friday morning. My Alma Mater’s choir was in town for a concert on Saturday evening (St. Olaf College). Garrett asked a few days before the surgery if I would like to go—Yes!–but we would have to play it by ear. Actually, we had to play it by nose. And the answer was obvious on Saturday. Ain’t no way I can go anywhere and even less chance that I will enjoy even the best music given my condition. Plus, I tend to get emotional when I hear them sing both out of nostalgia and an appreciation for their rich tones. The last thing I needed was to turn into a sniveling mess recovering from sinus surgery at a public concert!
Looking at my nose for external signs of the violation (there are none!), I see my dad’s nose. I have his build, his blood pressure, his profession and, I realized recently, his nose. A female version of it fortunately, but it’s familiar. As a preacher my dad had great language skills. He had words that became standard for us kids to hear. Schnoz was part of his vocabulary. In the 1940’s it surfaced with Yiddish roots: shnoytz. Our Jewish friends borrowed it from the German word, schnauze or ‘snout.’ So my rhinoceros horn or pig snout still looks like my dad’s even after the surgical attack. As I battle my congestion I remember how he always carried with him his “sniffer.” It was a small canister a little bigger than a tube of ChapStick. He unscrewed a white lid and a rounded form smelling of Vic’s VapoRub appeared. He would stick that up both sides of his nose with some regularity and inhale deeply to keep things open. Maybe there’s more of my dad’s nose I inherited than I realized!
So the week I took off to do some writing has turned into a time of convalescing. I greatly underestimated the recovery process. Isn’t it just like us to take our healthy bodies for granted, never slowing down to thank God for the ease of movement until something happens? Fortunately, I hadn’t made plans to use my vacation week to do some hiking. In spite of my initial protestations, gracious church folks have brought in meals. Tomorrow will be the first time I foray out into the world and I think I can do it. My congestion is clearing, my taste buds are reawakening and my energy is on the rise. And my dog and I have done some writing together!
So I’m trusting that my Chronic Sinusitis has been defeated. I go back into the war zone on Friday for the post-op appointment. I’ll return the metal tray I borrowed and ask them to confirm that the gentle pace of my recovery is normal. Good members of the church will bring us our dinner. And I’ll gear up for Sunday in the pulpit, schnoz intact, flavor of life restored! Thanks be to God!