Last spring, I ended up getting a bizarre ear ache which prompted me to find an Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor. As he examined my many face holes, he asked if I knew that my septum (thin cartilage that divides the left and right chambers of the nose from each other) was crooked. This was, in fact, brand new information to me. I knew I had a hard time breathing through my nose, but I just thought that was normal for everyone.
“There’s a really simple procedure to fix it,” the doctor said. “It’s called a ‘Septoplasty.’ You don’t even have to do the gauze packing like your uncle might tell you about.”
I didn’t know what he was talking about with this “gauze packing.” I never had an uncle who sat me down to talk about such things. However, the idea of not being a total mouth breather anymore did feel rather appealing.
The doctor himself seemed like a weird uncle who’d tell me about such things. He acted awkward and disheveled, like he might want to start wearing velcro shoes because, at any minute, he could forget how to tie his regular ones. He certainly didn’t seem like the kind of doctor who'd you want doing surgery on you. But a simple procedure? Maybe.
Each time I visited for follow ups, I asked him more about this simple procedure. Could it help me stop sounding all nasally when I talked? Would I stop waking up in the middle of the night with terrible dry mouth? Could I stop struggling to close my mouth when I chew my food? Yes, yes, and… well, maybe. My oversized teeth can take part of the blame for that last one.
This procedure sounded like it really could help me. I called up his assistant and got it scheduled for the beginning of August. She emailed me the paperwork that would tell me everything I needed to know.
Meanwhile, my parents had been wanting to come visit Luke and me sometime soon. I figured this timing would work perfectly. I would have a little downtime after the procedure which meant more time to visit with them.
As that week approached, I began to read the paperwork more closely, and my parents (retired medical professionals) started filling me in on the reality. I wouldn't just receive some local anesthetic. I’d have to go completely under. I wouldn’t be able to work for a week. I wouldn’t be able to workout or travel for two weeks! This Septoplasty sounded more like full on surgery rather than a simple procedure. Wait! Are “surgery” and “procedure” actually synonyms?!
To me, a procedure is more like a diabetic going to a podiatrist to get their toe nails cut. This sounded way more invasive. When it comes to full anesthesia, I am terrified. What if the anesthesiologist dozes off in the middle of the surgery and accidentally kills me?
This might sound like the thoughts of a hypochondriac, but really, I am more of a “worst-case-scenario-er.” And it’s not so irrational when you take into account that one of my father’s colleagues did this very thing. I called my dad in a nervous panic.
“Scottie, the chances of something like that are 1 in 400,000,” my father tried offering some logic (how dare he!).
What my father didn’t understand was that, to a worst-case-scenario-er, the statistics don’t matter. I WILL be that 1 in 400,000 case. Thus in the nights leading up to the surgery, I’d snuggle up to Luke and our dog in bed and tell them goodnight as if it would be my last. Suddenly I felt vain and silly for even wanting this “procedure.”
The morning of the now “surgery” arrived and both of my parents, plus Luke, came with me. Things started rather quickly as the nurse took me back, stabbed the IV on my wrist, and began asking medical questions. They let Luke come back to help ease my nerves.
Dr. Disheveled ventured over to talk us through everything and the anesthesiologist quickly followed. He informed us that, while under the anesthesia, he’d be taking a tube and sticking it down my throat in order to do the breathing for me. I was not at all pleased with this information.
As the time drew near, the nurse got ready to administer Versed into my IV. THIS I was excited for. I remembered it from when I had my tonsils out as a teenager. Approximately 4.2 seconds after she injected it, I began giggling relentlessly.
“You seriously felt it THAT fast?!” Luke said, not quite believing my new state of bliss.
I nodded that it was indeed fantastic and wondered why I couldn’t just take some home with me. As someone who is somewhat struggling with his sobriety, I could seriously use it when going out to the bar.
The nurse asked questions. I made jokes. Luke laughed. I laughed. We had tears coming down our faces. We were all having fun. Well, except for the nurse.
Then they started rolling me back. I said goodbye to Luke and entered a white round room with medical professionals buzzing all around me. The anesthesiologist put a mask over my nose and mouth and told me to breath normally. The room turned dark. And then I died.
Just kidding. I lived. However I woke up feeling like I had just died. Luke and my parents were already sitting by my side, offering me ice chips. I absolutely wanted them and, as Luke scooped them into my mouth, I nearly gagged due to my throat being so wickedly sore.
Dr. Disheveled came by and described the surgery as “very boring.” I guess this was his way of saying it went routine. However he did inform us that the septum had been worse off than he expected. Both airways were fairly blocked.
The nurse came by and began giving the discharge instructions. For three days, I’d have to “park it” and do absolutely nothing for myself. For two weeks, I’d have to sleep with my head elevated to the same degree as the hospital bed. It felt a solid 45 degrees upright. How on earth would I sleep like that? The nurse asked if I had a recliner. Who was I? Babe Ruth?
We would have to change the gauze pads under my nose as needed. And by “as needed,” they meant whenever it got soaked from the bloody drainage that would come from my nose. I’d need to take pain meds, antibiotics, and more pain meds for swelling.
Upon getting home, Luke bolted to go fill all the prescriptions and I had to pee. My father helped me up, walked me to the bathroom, and warned me that it might be difficult after all that anesthesia. The fact that he stayed in the bathroom and kept his hand on my back to keep me stable didn’t help. I’m pee shy enough as it is.
I hadn’t intended on taking the pain meds. I wanted to go it au naturale. However Luke got stuck in traffic and the anesthesia really began to wear off. The moment he got home, I threw my crunchy granola desires down the drain an opted for the Oxycodone. My face freakin hurt.
The drainage from my nose filled up the gauze pads faster than I expected. And to make matters worse, some of the drainage would slip past that gauze and go underneath my beard, making it incredibly difficult to “gently wipe away” from my face. It was wet and disgusting.
While my parents went off to go get the delicious pizza that everyone would be eating except for me, I freaked out and begged Luke to shave my beard. This proved to be no easy task either. I cried as he tried to be gentle with buzzing along my cheeks. He decided it best to not use the razor on top of that. Our dog, Steuben, couldn't stop smelling my wounded nose and newly trimmed face.
That night, my mother built a ramp of pillows on the bed so that I could sleep elevated like in the hospital bed. She was quite impressed by her comfy handy work, but I couldn’t appreciate it. I kept waking up in the middle of the night in pain because I couldn’t switch sides like I usually do.
What had I done to myself? Was this even going to be worth it? As a worst-case-scenario-er, I truly imagined I would somehow permanently stay like this. I get that way when I have colds too. It’s totally irrational, but when you feel like hell, you feel like it’ll never end.
Of course in three days, I could walk around the house by myself again. In five days, my appetite returned back to normal. And in seven days, I had no more excuses to not do my work. Of course, my face still hurt and my energy levels were low. Nevertheless, I could potentially see a light at the end of this pitiful tunnel.
Eleven days after the surgery I went back to Dr. Disheveled to have the stints in my nose removed. It immediately relieved the pressure in my face and FINALLY… I could breathe! It was strange and wonderful and a tad cold. However I wasn’t out of the woods just yet. For the next month, I still couldn’t blow my nose and/or pick it (as if I would ever). Instead, I would have to use a Neti pot a couple of times a day to rinse it out. Thank God I already kinda conquered my Neti fears (essay & video here).
I didn’t keep up with my Netti pottings though. I just didn’t seem to have all that much snot to begin with. But the snot I did have seemed different from before. Maybe those with normal nose breath have a different color and consistency. I didn’t think much of it because it’s gross and who thinks about such things all day long?
When I returned to his office a few weeks later, Dr. Disheveled asked about the quality of my nasal mucus. “Has it been yellow or green?”
“Yes,” I replied.
He did a double take. “It has?”
“Well, that could be a sign of a staph infection.”
“WHAT?!” I have a fucking staph infection!
I immediately confused staph with MRSA and thought I was going to die. Staphylococcus is a type of bacteria that lives on the skin of even healthy folks. Though when it works its way into a wound and goes untreated, it can get serious. MRSA is an antibiotic resistant version of staph and it had now invaded my body.
The doctor took a look and confirmed that MRSA had NOT invaded my body, but that it was indeed a standard staph infection. He prescribed even more antibiotics that I dreaded taking and a topical ointment that I’d have to swirl up in each nostril with a q-tip three to four times a day.
The ointment often gave the illusion of boogers in my nose and people kindly pointed it out on a daily basis. It did not boast well for my ego. As I got back to pouring the saline solution through my nose, something occurred to me: the Neti Pot was to remove and keep the nose clean of bacteria, not to just simply remove snot. I completely messed up my own treatment.
Then I realized something else. As a worst-case-scenario-er, I got so pre-occupied with the big (unlikely) stuff, that I hardly paid attention to the small (and likelier) stuff. Freaking out over the worst case scenario didn’t do me any good. It had, in fact, totally backfired on me. My own irrational fears ended up prolonging my recovery.
Being a worst-case-scenario-er obviously didn’t any kind of benefit to the experience. When we perseverate over these things, it just creates a ton of tension and sadness which then leads to stress and fatigue. Plus, as I clearly demonstrated, when we get so absorbed by the things that aren’t within our power, we might be prone to overlooking the things that ARE within our power. And that could ironically lead to a situation actually worth worrying about.
It has now been three months since my Septoplasty and my staph infection is long gone. For the most part, I’m pretty sure that the surgery was worth it. Breathing through my nose does seem better - although not quite as much as I had hoped. Still, I catch myself being less of a mouth breather than before. So that’s good. And if nothing else, it taught me to try (emphasis on “try”) and be more mindful about the things I can change vs the things I can’t.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go use my Neti Pot.
Edited by Glen Trupp
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