Friday, August 05, 2016

My Lovely Sinus Surgery Follow Up

Friday, July 29th finally came.  It's a day that I spent an inordinate amount of time welcoming, dreading, and eventually hating.  And here's why.

It had been 8 days since my sinus surgery.  And to be honest, I was feeling progressively worse each day.  I had been told by the doctor that I would feel immediate relief following surgery, but that didn't seem to be the case.  If anything, the headaches increased and I wasn't eating much due to overall nausea of having "stuff" dripping out of my nose and/or down the back of my throat constantly.  If I was supposed to be feeling better, no one informed my sinuses about it.  This had not been the smooth, easy, or immediate recovery I was led to expect.

My original follow-up appointment was scheduled for 4:00 PM, but I begged for an earlier time because I wanted to put an end to the pain as quickly as possible.  So the doctor's office thankfully moved my appointment to 8:30 AM on the same day.
Throughout the previous week, I learned that I am in no way shape or form prepared if I were to contract any form of long-term illness.  Neither emotionally nor mentally will I be able to handle myself and remain positive if I were to get cancer or any life threatening medical condition.  Occasionally you hear stories about people who've lost the fight to cancer and people will say things like "I never heard him complain" or "she always remained so positive despite how she must have felt".  I'm here to admit that I will NOT be one of those people.  My apologies right now to Kevin, my close friends and family, but I will forever be amazed by people who have and will face down any form of life-threatening illness and remain positive and uncomplaining about it.  When I go, I'm going to take everyone with me
Kevin drove me to Northwestern for my appointment.  We parked in the parking garage and as we were walking through the breezeway into the building, I noticed we were following a family of 4:  a mom and dad and 2 boys under the age of 10.  All of them were wearing tee shirts about fighting brain tumors.  And I suddenly hated myself.  Here I was, a grown man with a little sinus problem turning it into a bigger deal than it needed to be, and then here was this family with (I suspect) a child who may have a brain tumor.  I didn't say anything to Kevin about it for a few days (he had seen it too) but it weighed very heavily on me for the rest of the day.  I felt foolish.  I still hurt like crazy, but felt almost ridiculous for allowing this to cripple me like it had.  This is not to negate the fact that I was in pain, but it did help me put it into context.  And I felt ashamed.

We got to the doctor's office and they sat me in an exam chair and readied me for the eventual vacuuming process.  The assistant first sprayed a saline moistener up my nose, followed by a numbing solution.  After sitting for a few more minutes, the doctor came in to start.  He started talking about my surgery and, to be honest, I was only half paying attention until I heard him say, "It's surprising that you weren't in more pain."  Kevin responded with, "You didn't live with him."  And the doctor said, "No, I mean even when you came in for the initial visit, you didn't seem like you were in that much pain and you should have been."  Trust me, I was.  Then, I was reassured again by the doctor, that I should feel instantly better when this process finished.

He fired up the machinery and started the procedure. I leaned back in the chair and the doctor inserted the long, thin vacuum tube into my nose and within a few seconds it felt as though he was drilling into my skull.  Despite his using what I was told was a vacuum, it felt more like a scraping.  All I could do was grab my legs in pain, writhe in agony and beg for him to stop.  Which he did.

Let me say here and now that this was the most painful process I have ever gone through in my life.  And remember, I've suffered heart attacks and endured open-heart surgery, all of which in retrospect were a cake-walk compared to what I was about to experience.  I even went back and read my journals and blog posts concerning my heart surgery and nothing in them suggested that the pain I experienced then was overwhelming or beyond what one would naturally expect after going through such events.

I sat up in the chair and was engulfed by a wave of emotion unlike anything I can ever remember.  I quickly became hysterical and hyperventilated.  The doctor admitted right then that they sometimes give Valium to people before this procedure and that maybe they should have offered it to me.  between gasps of breath, I managed to respond, "Yes, maybe you should have."  He left the room to allow me time to calm down, but it took several minutes for me to regain my composure.  I could not stop crying and found it difficult to get my breathing regulated.  It felt like such a violation - a complete assault and attack on me.  Had Kevin not been with me, holding my hand and comforting me, it would have been an even more difficult process.

Kevin told me that it was no wonder I was experiencing such an emotional release.  I had been dealing with this for the last few months and was physically and emotionally exhausted at this point.  And I agree that certainly played a part.  Perhaps too, so did the idea of the child with the brain tumor play a part as well.  But along with those ideas was the excruciating pain of having something that felt like - again, drilling - happening, especially to my face, especially inside my head.  Your face and head are who you are.  It could be why many people, myself included, fear dentists.  The idea of something coming at my face and head - well, it's a natural instinct to duck, get out of the way, or otherwise protect your face and head from approaching objects.

And the doctor was only half done.

I knew I had to muster the courage to allow him to come back in and continue doing what created my anxiety and meltdown.  Throughout my life, when faced with adversity, I have made it a practice to dig in my heels and accept my situation with an inner cheer-leading monologue that goes something like, "Okay, here we are.  This has to happen.  Accept it and move on.  This is temporary."  And then I get through it.  But it took A LOT for me to cheer myself through this procedure.  Again, I credit Kevin being in the same room with me.  So after about 15 minutes of me struggling to calm down and regain my composure, the doctor came in for Round 2.

Again, I sat back in the chair and the vacuum was inserted into my nose.  Instantly, the pain came right back and I fought to stay in control.  The doctor commented that I wasn't squirming as much this time, but it felt no less of an assault.  Again, I dug my fingers into my legs and again I pulled at the cuffs of my shorts.  And after about a minute, which seemed like an hour, it was over.  And again, I was flooded with emotion.

The doctor said a few more things, none of which I remember.  Kevin was diplomatic and I'm sure handled the conversation.  I was invited to remain however long I needed to before leaving, which was about another 5 minutes or so.  On the way out of the room, I grabbed a tissue box, tucked it under my arm, and told Kevin, "I paid for these" and out we walked to go home.

The rest of that day is mostly lost to my memory, either from blocking it out or by sleeping it off.  I almost never cry.  Almost.  I'm just not emotional in that way. This was the most sad and negative emotion I had spent in one day, perhaps in my whole life.  I spent the rest of the day intermittently bursting into tears for no reason.  And I'm not at all surprised if my mind is choosing to forget it.

I continued to get better through the rest of that weekend.  I returned to work on Monday and despite not yet finding the best position in which to sleep, continued to feel better each day.  Headaches and spontaneous drainage aside, every day showed more improvement.  But one thing was still clear - I was lacking knowledge of what I had just gone through.  I was never given (or don't remember getting) an explanation as to why I woke up from surgery 2.5 hours beyond what I was told.  I had no idea what surgery had actually been performed.  I was told twice by the same doctor that I would instantly feel relief following as many procedures to no avail.  I was in the dark.  So on that same Monday, I reached out to the doctor for a consultation to find out just what the hell had happened.

And here's what he said...

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