Lost Journal: On Second Thought, Leave the Septum Deviated

Journal entry: October 18, 2001 (age 32) — Septum

“I’ve seen thousands of deviated septums, and yours is one of the worst I’ve ever seen.”

I blushed a bit and said, “You otolaryngologists say the sweetest things.”

That was several months ago, at my first visit to “Dr. O,” an ear, nose, and throat specialist in Washington, D.C.  Since then, I have undergone surgery to rearrange the interior architecture of my nose and sinuses.  The procedure is called septoplasty, and its purpose in my case was to prevent the frequent sinus infections I’d been getting.

I looked into the procedure after my older brother, Bob, had it done and said that it did wonders for him.  His recovery didn’t take long, and he denied experiencing any significant pain.  But that’s Bob.  Bob is tough.  He has the pain threshold of an anvil.  I, on the other nose, react to pain and sickness with a loud and sustained ferocity.  If an infant could perform a Wagner aria, it would sound a lot like me with the sniffles.

So in the 10 days since my surgery, I have been lying on my couch and moaning.  Amanda’s “in sickness” vow has been put to the test, as she has waited on me hand and foot.  We had been looking forward to today, when I returned to Dr. O’s office to have the gauze packing removed from my nose.  That meant that the healing was well underway, the bleeding had subsided, and I would once again be able to breathe through my nose.

For those who are squeamish or faint of heart, you may want to skip the next few paragraphs.  Come back next week, and I’ll talk about bunny rabbits or something.

I was completely unaware that the removal of the gauze would be one of the most painful experiences of my life.  The material had been wadded up in my nasal cavity until it was as big as a rolled-up pair of tube socks.  The wad of gauze had also become attached to the surrounding nasal membranes.  Today’s mission was to yank the whole thing out through a nostril.  Why general anesthesia isn’t used for this procedure is a question that will haunt me for the rest of my days.

When the doctor was done, he and his assistant left me alone for a few minutes, reeling and lightheaded.  Soon after they left the room, I passed out and began to fall out of the chair.  The only thing that prevented my head from cracking open on the floor was the sudden appearance of my wife, who caught me and guided me gently to the floor.  At just the right moment, her miraculous intuition had brought her into the room uninvited but extremely welcome.

Amanda called out for help, and the doctor and his assistant rushed back in.  They used smelling salts to revive me, and helped me back into the chair.  Just as the color was starting to return to my face, Dr. O said something that chased it away again.

“Well, we’ve removed the packing from one side of your nose.  Are you ready to do the other side?”

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