Adventure #17–Septoplasty, Part 1

I’ve had mono since July (http://nerdseye.com/2015/12/27/mono-log/), which has been the pits. Mono can take months to get over sometimes, with lovely side effects like exhaustion, body aches, and a bad sore throat.

My doctor told me that it might be December before I really started feeling better, so I wasn’t particularly worried that my sore throat wasn’t going away. I just thought it was part of the enormous suckage that is mono, and I tried to resign myself to it, like I was resigned to sudden urges to curl up on the floor and go to sleep.

However, when I went in for a checkup in early November, my doctor told me that my sore throat should have cleared up by then. She was concerned that the pain was being caused by something else, so she asked me to go see an ear, nose, and throat specialist (usually called an ENT, because no one knows how to pronounce “otolaryngologist”).

“It’s probably nothing,” she said, writing down the name of the ENT she wanted me to see, “but better to scope your throat and make sure.”

Well, the “it’s probably nothing” made me feel like it wasn’t urgent, and I was getting ready for the big Regional Championships, and I didn’t really feel like seeing ANOTHER doctor (http://nerdseye.com/2015/12/27/mono-log/), and between one thing and another I didn’t call the ENT office until the week of Thanksgiving. By then, my sore throat was getting worse, not better, and I was starting to feel like maybe it was a bit more urgent than I’d thought.

I finally made it in to see the ENT during the second week of December. The doctor, a friendly man in his forties, listened to my story and made me say “ah” while he looked in my mouth with a little flashlight.

“I think your sore throat is probably caused by acid reflux,” he said. “You say that you have problems with heartburn anyway, and the mono seems to have made it worse. Heartburn is caused by stomach acid moving up into the esophagus, and if the acid moves high enough, it can cause a sore throat as well.”

UGH! It was like a horror movie. My stomach was eating my esophagus.

“I’ll go ahead and check out your throat with the scope just to make sure,” he continued, apparently oblivious to the look of dismay on my face. “My assistant will be in momentarily to give you an anesthetic, and then I’ll be back.”

His assistant, a woman in her twenties or thirties with the harassed look of someone with more work than time, came in and thrust a clipboard with a consent form at me and told me to sign the bottom. I did so, catching some disturbing words higher up on the page, like “swelling,” “vomiting,” and “spinal fluid leak.”

Spinal fluid leak? Uh…wait a second…maybe I didn’t want to do this…

But by then she had pulled the clipboard away and was instructing me to look at the ceiling. She sprayed something up each of my nostrils with two efficient squirts, and then she told me to sniff.

“Keep sniffing,” she said, handing me a Kleenex, and then she whirled out of the room on the way to her next patient.

At first, I couldn’t feel anything when I sniffed. Had the spray even worked? But then the spray reached the back of my throat and I wished—oh, how I wished!—that I could go back to that beautiful time when I hadn’t been able to tell that the spray was there. That liquid anesthetic was one of the worst-tasting things I had ever experienced. I could feel it rolling down the back of my throat like some kind of terrible chemical weapon, numbing my nerve endings but leaving my taste buds tragically intact.

When the doctor came back several minutes later, the awful taste had receded somewhat and I’d stopped making horrible faces. Thank goodness.

The scope the doctor had with him (called a laryngoscope) looked something like a black high-tech turkey baster with a flexible rubber straw at the bottom. He had me sit in the exam chair, a stiff, high-backed chair that would have been perfectly at home in a torture scene from a spy movie, and then he started threading the black rubber straw through my right nostril. After a moment, he stopped and switched the straw to my left nostril instead. The tube went up my nose and then down the back of my throat, but, fortunately, I did not feel a thing. For the first time, I felt thankful for the disgusting anesthetic.

“Do you have trouble breathing through your nose?” the doctor asked casually, peering through the eyepiece on the top of the scope.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Do you have more trouble with one side than the other?”

“Yeah.”

He pulled the tube back out. “You have a deviated septum.”

The septum (I found out later) is the bone and cartilage that divide your nose into two nostrils. A deviated septum is when this bone and cartilage are crooked, making one nasal passage smaller than the other.

“Oh,” I said.

“That has nothing to do with your sore throat, though. Your sore throat is caused by acid reflux. I’m going to give you directions for some medication and dietary changes that will help, and I want you to make the changes and then come see me again in six weeks.”

He sat down and started making notes in my chart. “You might also think about having surgery to correct the deviated septum. I do two or three of the surgeries a week in an outpatient facility, and the surgery is 99% effective. A few days for recovery, and then you’d be able to breathe better. If you’re having a lot of trouble, it might be worth it for you.”

I laughed. “Well, I’ve gone forty years without even knowing that I had a deviated septum, so I think I’m probably okay.”

But on my way home, I gradually started realizing that I WASN’T okay, not really. My nose had never worked right. I’d always had a hard time breathing through my nose, and it always felt both stuffed up and runny. Once or twice, I’d mentioned my nose issues to my various doctors, and we’d tried allergy medicine and nasal sprays and even snorting water up my nose (THAT was fun), but nothing had made a difference. I’d just figured that my nose was kind of quirky and left it at that.

Now, I wondered whether this “quirkiness” was caused by the deviated septum.

I looked up “deviated septum” online and found some lists of symptoms caused by the condition:

* Nasal congestion (check; I had that, pretty much all the time)

* Frequent nosebleeds (check; I didn’t have them much anymore, but as a kid I got nosebleeds several times a month)

*Postnasal drip (check! It didn’t seem right to have both nasal congestion AND postnasal drip at the same time, but I did!)

*Dry mouth (check!)

*Difficulty breathing through the nose (check!)

*Loud breathing and/or snoring (have to ask Ray about that one…)

 

I stared at the computer screen. Oh, man. I DID have a deviated septum!

When Ray got home that night, I told him about my visit to the ENT. “The doctor said that I should think about having corrective surgery,” I said, “but I don’t know. It’s scary. And I’d have to miss a week of work. And it would be expensive. Plus, I’ve gotten along fine for forty years.”

“Kind of,” said Ray. “Remember that time in Ireland when we got separated in the big book store and I found you by your sniffling? Your nose doesn’t really work. The surgery might help! And if you could schedule it before the end of the year, you not only have time off coming up anyway, but we’ve reached our insurance deductible—it would probably be close to free.”

Oh, geez. I’m a cautious soul at heart, and I like time to think about decisions and all the possible consequences that go with them—A LOT of time. Deciding to have an elective surgery and trying to schedule it sometime in the next three weeks?

EEK!

Well, it wouldn’t hurt to at least call the doctor’s office and see if it was even possible to fit me in before December 31. By 9:00 the next morning, when I picked up the phone, I’d decided that doctor’s offices and insurance companies were always slow about everything, and they’d never be able to get the approval and schedule a surgery in time. Then I wouldn’t be able to get a week off again until July, so I’d have lots and lots of time to think it over and get used to the idea.

The receptionist I talked to agreed with me. “It usually takes the insurance company longer than three weeks to approve the surgery, so we probably can’t get you in. But I’ll talk to the doctor and call your insurance, and we’ll see what they say.”

Part of me was relieved. If the insurance company took a month to approve the surgery, than the scary decision was out of my hands. Gee, too bad, I couldn’t have the surgery right now after all.

However, through some alignment of the stars, the insurance company got back to the doctor’s office in THREE DAYS and approved everything, confirming that there would be no out-of-pocket expense for me. And the doctor happened to have one surgery slot still available during the last week of December.

It seemed like fate.

And that’s how I find myself getting ready to have surgery tomorrow morning to correct my deviated septum. Ray keeps telling people that he’s giving me a nose job for Christmas. Ha ha ha. I have reached the panicky “I am out of my mind oh why oh why am I doing this” stage, and the only thing that’s keeping me even slightly calm is the thought that at least I can get a funny blog post out of it.

So stay tuned!