I don’t like going to the doctor—not unless I’m dying, and even then, I’m pretty pissy about it. But there I was, sitting in a chair, looking at charts of the intimate parts of ears, waiting for the specialist to come in and assess my nose and what I needed to do with it.
About eight years ago, my hearing started going. You know that sound you hear when you put a seashell up to your ear? That rushing white noise? I heard that sound all the time. My ears crackled, and popped upwards of 30 times a day. Without health insurance for years, it was just tough titties, and I learned to deal. I told people I was hard of hearing and made some cracks about all the loud music of my misspent youth.
I was actually kind of worried; I’d researched my issues and tried everything, including putting chunks of raw garlic in my ears overnight to see if it would do something. I looked at my diet for a cause of inflammation or mucus production, cut out wheat, dairy, alcohol—and nothing changed. Maybe it was an allergy to my horrible old cats, or black mold lurking somewhere?
I changed my environment, and again, no difference. I got ear candles before I realized they were a sham. I went to a masseuse and had her manipulate (painfully, I might add) my soft tissue, and while I got a bit of relief, two days later, it was the same. I was Valsalva-ing a hundred times a day and asking people to “Come again?” so much, that it was easier just not to put myself into situations where talking over loud noises was required.
Finally, I had reached my limit, both for not knowing what was going on inside my head AND for the out-of-pocket deductible on my insurance.
I was taken for a quick CT scan, so the doctor could see the inside of my face. I was running over worst-case-scenarios involving tumors or irreparably damaged eardrums, but as soon as the nurse slapped a cross-section of my head onto the light box, even I could see what was wrong.
That, friends, is a severely deviated septum.
As the doctor traveled in and out of my face using a rad 3D rendering, he explained how my crumpled septum was blocking the entire right side of my sinuses. The reason why I didn’t feel it was that the mixing chamber in the back of my sinuses supplied my right nostril with air. My ears crackled because they were full of mucus; because of my effed-up septum, my turbinates were slumped down, and one mucus membrane against another will produce a glut of mucus. Sexy, right?
“I can get you on some strong anti-inflammatories and some nasal sprays and Mucinex, or we can go in and fix it.” He looked me over, taking in my tatty work clothes, and started writing a prescription.
“I might as well get the surgery. I have full coverage right now,” I said, watching him blink a few times.
“Oh, in that case, how’s next week?”
When I signed up to get the surgery, the nurse hefted a packet of information regarding the procedure and the aftermath into a folder for me. She really could have skipped it; reading about the procedure skeeved me out heavily. I figured the entire thing was on a need-to-know basis, and I used the papers to line the chicken pen. Having gone through it, now I know, and I don’t think most of the gritty details were covered.
Therefore, I give you my...
So, how'd you bust your face?
Though I've never been a careful person, three events come to mind: swinging full-force into a metal bar, face first, when I was seven; then a big dingus that I dated kneed me in the face on a trampoline; and then I lost an indoor water fight (this is why they don't rent to teenagers) by getting real-life face-palmed very hard by my enthusiastic opponent. I get it—death before dishonor and all that.
Is this procedure the same as a rhinoplasty?
Nope. A rhinoplasty—what most people are talking about when they talk about a nose job—is a whole ‘nother procedure, wherein your nasal bone might be chiseled down, and your lateral cartilage and possibly the soft tissue around your nostrils is reshaped. A septoplasty is all internal; it’s simply reshaping your septum. But I also had a turbinoplasty, where they hit your turbinates with lasers, because this is the future and that’s what we do now.
A lot of people—notably, celebrities—have used their deviated septums as an excuse to get rhinoplasty. If they’re already in there, might as well, right? I asked my doctor: while it can be a package deal, the healing time for a rhino is almost double: a month or two. A month of having a bruised up face, with no guarantee I’d even like the nose I end up with? Hard pass. No shade, but I just I don’t have the stones for it.
What was surgery like?
The day before surgery, I had an extremely weird pre-op session with a wild-eyed nurse who inexplicably showed me photos of nurses and hospital rooms, walked me through post-surgery exercises for seniors, then slipped a Chick tract into my paperwork, but not before she ordered a chaplain to come visit me when I woke up. Oh thanks, you’re a peach.
The day of surgery, I had to wipe my whole body with germicide and put on sexy compression leggings. After being wheeled into the OR, the last thing I remember was the nurse saying, “We’re just giving you something to relax…”
Surgery wasn’t like much, being asleep and all. I woke up to the sound of shuffling feet and machines that go ping in the recovery room. My face felt like it wasn’t necessarily attached to my head, but I wasn’t in pain. The best part was being wheeled to a room; it was strangely thrilling, seeing the ceiling tiles go by.
After being given a few cups of pills, some warm jello, and hanging out with the (surprisingly chill) chaplain for awhile, they decided to let me go home. If your vitals dip or you’re not doing well, they can decide to keep you overnight.
Did it hurt like the dickens?
The first day went by in a blur. I basically lay on the floor in a stupor, sucking on ice and sniveling about things. I’d never really seen the point of pain meds; they make me feel weird, and I usually just save them for emergencies. However, even on day two, if I was even 20 minutes late on my pills, I was at an eight. I’ve pushed out two kids, so when I say an eight, I mean it. Crawling on the ground growling, EIGHT. The swelling around my teeth made it feel like they might fall out.
What was healing like?
Hold onto your butts—this is going to be gross.
I got black eyes, my nostrils felt like they were about to tear off of my face, the roof of my mouth was black and blue, and I had random bruises on my face from where the surgeon rested his hands for two hours. The tape that held the packing in was by far the worst.
For the entire first week, I had packing stuffed up my nose, held by surgical tape, and the pressure of it was awful. I learned pretty quickly to become a mouth-breather, but every now and again I’d sip water and just gag.
Then some of the packing came out. It felt like someone pulling snakes out of my forehead via my nostril. So, not awesome. The splints and stitches, which held my healing septum upright, had to come out at some point; the doctor pulled out the splints. It felt so much better after they were out that I didn't mind the pain. The stitches I pulled out myself; they collected debris much like a rope in the ocean collects mussels and barnacles.
On day five, I went back to the surgeon. He used a little metal speculum to jack open my nostrils, and thin little pliers to pull out packing. Then he inserted an impossibly long, thin vacuum tube to suck out extra packing. Every fiber of my being had to remain focused on not freaking the f%#@ out.
It's a month later, and I do a lot of neti pots to flush out scabs, blood clots, pus, and packing—chunks that I can’t believe came out of my nose. I use saline mists to keep it all moist and moving; if it crusts up, it can be pretty painful to remove. Everything is still a bit tender.
Can you still taste and smell?
Mostly. In the beginning, I couldn’t taste or smell anything, which was problematic because I cook and keep house. Most everyone was too nice to tell me that my cooking wasn’t great, or that maybe the trash should go out, but eating food wasn’t enjoyable at all.
After most of the packing has melted out, I can taste and smell a fair amount, and it should be back to normal in a few weeks. That’s right, there’s still more packing in my facial catacombs.
Did it help your hearing?
Oh boy, did it! As soon as I could breathe out of my nose, my ears stopped crackling. They stopped popping. Things don’t sound muffled, and everything is clearer.
Was it a success then?
I can now sleep for seven hours straight. Without waking up, without every sound or sniffle or bump shocking me awake. I have had sleep issues since I can remember—right around the first time I broke my nose, actually. My sleep is better, I fall asleep faster, and it’s changed everything.
It was hell, but I feel extremely lucky to have finally gotten the surgery.
- Have you had nose surgery? Were you terrified?
- Have you ever tried a shameful home remedy, like ear candling?