Chapter 1: Nose Telegram
In the fall of 2016, I came down with a wicked sinus infection. I had cycled through sinus issues before, but I hadn’t ever had such a persistently congested snout. My awesome ENT doctor put me on two courses of steroids and two antibiotics with zero improvement.
Acupuncture and neti pot rinsing weren’t doing the trick either. I finally had a CT scan in January of 2017 which revealed the problem: my sinus cavities were fused shut. The sinus cavities are usually dainty, maze-like whorls. Mine were closed off, individual ponds with no drainage capabilities anywhere. Essentially, I was brewing years-old, cave-aged, artisnal snot.
Sinus surgery would the only treatment that’d work and, frankly, after a persistent sinus headache that was well into its third month, I would have agreed to anything at that point.
One of the stranger DIY remedies I tried was adding three drops of Johnson & Johnson’s baby shampoo to the neti pot. It felt amazing and soothing, more so than you’d think. Shout out to Baylor College of Medicine’s Sinus Center for such a brilliant plan. Once I realized surgery was the only choice, oh, how I fretted. I asked the doctor if there were any risks to the surgery. He quipped “Well, I’m up there playing around close to your brain and optic nerves, so, yes, there are risks.”
There was about a three-week wait to get the surgery booked and that entire time I kept thinking about how very serious this felt. This was no ingrown toenail drive-by surgery. Okay, maybe easier than a c-section. ? On the day of the surgery, when the anesthesiologist informed me that I’d be on a respirator for over three hours, that hit me hard. Thankfully, the surgery is a rousing success and I’m sent home with instructions to not sneeze or vomit. I return to the doctor’s office three days later to remove the stents he had placed in my nose to assist with healing. When the surgeon first explained that he'd prop open my nasal passages with stents, I had imagined something along the lines of a dainty coffee stirrer. I’m fascinated to see that the stents coming out of my delicate schnozz were not coffee stirrers at all, but were plastic and biscotti-shaped, about three inches long and two inches tall. I sincerely regret not taking them home as a souvenir, proof I had survived a major surgery. When I asked to see the stents, Dr. Truong said that at least one third of his patients either throw up or faint when the stents come out. (There are quite a few stent removal videos on YouTube, if that floats your boat.) The doctor then sprayed my nose with some horrible numbing spray that tasted like burnt tar, cigar ashes and cricket poop. This was to numb the area so that the doctor could toss a very long endoscope into my nose to remove post-surgical debris. I didn't feel any pain really, just a little nausea, which I blamed on the numbing spray. Then in a blink of an eye, I felt clammy and on the cusp of vomiting. Ever the polite Lutheran, I thought “Hmm, wonder what's the etiquette here? Should I ask for the thing to be removed from my nose first? If I turn towards the direction of the yardstick in my nose, I’ll ack on the doctor’s nice white jacket. If I turn away, what happens to the pole in my nose?” Everything feels furry, like smearing Vaseline on a camera lens. I’m able to squeak out “I feel sort of faint.” The doctor replies "That’s normal. Just faint then? Anything else?” And I think “I wish I had the energy to flip you off. What do you mean anything else? Normal, schnormal, this is horrible! Also, the very fact that I cannot scold you or move my fingers is alarming.” I believe I say “I do not like this feeling.” And then, blam! My brain gets squished into a weird spaceship. I cannot find my lungs. I, hot yoga goddess, queen of pranayama deep breathing, I cannot bring in a thimble of air. I think “Jeez. Really? Is this death? That’s it? My life is ending right here, right now, in sensible pants, arch support shoes, with a scalpel thing up my nose? Damn. What a plain, safe, silly way to die. Shoulda tried cocaine when I had the chance.” Blinding white everywhere. Not in the “go to the light” or “look for Jesus, grandma and your dog Millie at the end of the tunnel” kind of light. Just like the most pristine dry erase board ever. Then, ZINK, I see a very large image of a pillow. SWICK, an image of a suitcase. LORK! Next up, an image of a palm tree. ZARKY! There’s Tori Spelling. Tori Spelling? What the …? Haven’t I read about people having their life flash before their eyes? I mean, sure, I was a Beverly Hills, 90210 fan. And, yes, I have admired her pluckiness in the wake of parental estrangement, cheating husbands and frisky children. But wouldn’t someone more profound, say Princess Di, Joyce Carol Oates or Barbara Walters be more apropos in my death slide show? I don’t know how long I circled through the pillow, suitcase, palm tree, Tori Spelling diorama. Then blank whiteness. Then a very slow awareness of rejoining my sensibly-shod body in the doctor’s office. I’m surrounded by ice packs behind my neck and on my chest and, oh!, they were welcome as a cool breeze in the midst of a blistering 110-degree hot yoga class. My confident young surgeon looks haggard and, well, worried. Somewhere between fright and relief. The surgeon asks, "Do you have a heart condition?" And I reply "Pffft. Hot yoga. Heart problems for me? Do I? Should I?" Dr. Truong says that in all his years of having people faint in his office, he has never seen someone go down as hard and as fast as I did. I ask if he thinks I should just go and check in with a cardiologist, just for sport. "No, it was likely a vasovagal episode. But, if it happens again, then yes, that would warrant a check-in with a cardiologist.” * * * While I was glad that this vasovagal thing was considered benign, I was a little freaked out how quickly I lost consciousness. I had seizures as a child and had my fair share of losing consciousness, but none had ever felt like a near death experience. And the images were so vibrant and alive and, seriously, Tori Spelling? (No offense, Tori.) When I lived back east, I had a good friend, Tom, who loved dream analysis. He was always able to draw out a missed detail or find hidden clues in words. I didn’t want to just bolt into his life for such a pointed need. So did the next best thing. Shout out to Wordsmith.org’s Internet Anagram Server, every word girl’s online fantasy. I didn’t mind the pillow, as I felt suffocated. And the suitcase made some sense, in that my brain was taking me on a journey. So that left palm tree and Tori Spelling as the great mysteries. The anagram of palm tree + Tori Spelling: <drum roll, please>
**** Nose Telegram Pill Trip ****