Thursday, January 12, 2012

Deviated Septum

On Dec 13th, 2011 I had surgery for a deviated septum and enlarged turbinates. If you are in need of similar treatment I highly recommend it. Here's my experience.

About 2 years ago I went to an ENT because Tammie was complaining about my snoring (which was getting pretty bad). He told me there are many causes of snoring such as airway blockage and being over-weight. Check, and check. I had a deviated septum, enlarged turbinates, and an extra 40 lbs. I knew I had a hard time breathing through my nose, but I figured it was normal for everyone. I mean, the nostrils aren't that big, how much air can you really get through those things?

He told me that surgery could correct the septum and turbinates (and that I should drop some weight but he wasn't going to help with that), but before going to that extreme he gave me a prescription for Flonase to reduce the turbinates and see if that makes an improvement. It did and within a week I was breathing better than I ever had (or better than I could remember).

My snoring problems improved only a little, but Tammie continued to put up with it. In September 2011 I also began a morning swimming routine. I love swimming. Unlike running, which gives me asthma, swimming feels great. Even after a very difficult swim I feel really good. And together with a regular healthy diet of lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, and complex carbs, the pounds began to slowly melt off. By December I had lost 20 lbs and I was feeling good.

Unfortunately without the daily Flonase spray my nose would feel like it was closing up on me. Although Flonase is not habit forming and is safe to use for a very long time, it was tiresome to have to refill every month and use every morning, and come December it was time to visit the doc to renew the prescription. During the visit I told him I wanted to go ahead and schedule the surgery.

This would be my first surgery that would require a short hospital stay (not overnight) and general anesthetic. The anesthesiologist paid me a visit in the pre-op room and gave me a Valium in my IV. After that I really don't remember much until I was back in the post-op room. What I do remember is: 1) transferring from my bed to the operating table in the OR and being impressed by all the cool electronic equipment all over the room, 2) "waking up" during the surgery and hearing a "crunch, crunch, crunch-pop" inside my head and thinking it was pretty awesome that it didn't hurt and I didn't care, 3) transferring back onto my bed, 4) finally arriving into the post-op room. I thought I said some stuff outloud ("this is awesome" and "ouch") when I heard the crunching, but I'm really not sure. I think I also thanked the anesthesiologist for a job well-done, but I'm not really sure about that either.

The rest of this account gets a little gross, but being a father and having seen my fair share of grossness I really have no problems with sharing it. The reader is left to decide if they can handle it.

The packing that was put in my nose is what the doctor calls "minimal packing." It's not "6 feet of gauze stuffed up there" (as he put it). But it's not exactly what I would call "minimal" either. My nose felt completely plugged up, although it was free to drain. I had to keep a gauze in a sling under my nose to keep from making a bloody mess. The pain meds kept me from feeling any pain, but I was extremely uncomfortable. When your nose is that plugged up it makes breathing, eating (swallowing), talking, and sleeping very difficult. This lasted for 3 days. Every time I fell asleep I was instantly woken up by my own snoring or inability to breath. So with sleep deprivation came a short temper, and anytime I had to talk to someone and say more than 3 words to them I got pretty mean about it. I did take that week off of work, so only my family got the worst of it.

When the packing was removed I saw for the first time exactly what it was. The doctor removed a 2 inch long tube-shaped stiff gauze from each nostril. They where in much deeper than I thought was possible. But oh what a relief when those things came out! I could breath! I could sleep! I had an instant change in my mood too.

The improved breathing was short-lived though. After a few minutes it started to feel like I had a cold, but it was still better than the packing. My nose also continued to drip a pink ooze. I was sick of the gauze sling, so I just kept a tissue with me constantly. (Puffs with lotion, I love you.) Over the next week the dripping slowed and changed color to a greenish yellow. But the breathing didn't really improve much. Things felt worse than before the surgery. The ENT assured me this was normal and things will get better as I heal.

I was warned before the surgery that during recovery some very large "scabs" would form inside my nostrils and these may come out on their own and look like very large boogers. They weren't kidding, and this was really the most exciting part of the recovery. I had 2 come out a couple days apart that looked like huge pieces of plastic or rubber about the size of a dime. But they were just the tip of the "iceberg." The doctor removed even larger ones during another follow-up visit. And finally, the breathing began to show signs of improvement. I could breath better than I could even with Flonase.

But breathing wasn't the only difference I've noticed. When I went back to swimming I discovered that the chlorinated pool water no longer stings my nose. Ever since I was a child I remember pool water stinging. As a swimmer it was something I just learned to put up with. It also would usually let up after about 10 minutes of swimming. But now it doesn't sting at all. I'm assuming the stinging was caused by the turbinates and now that mine are smaller there's no longer any irritation. The next time I visit the ENT I'll try to remember to ask about this.

I'm still recovering and still seeing improvements every day. One irritation that I continue to deal with is cold air. It really makes my nose hurt. Also, I still have to be careful about bumping and pressure. The doctor says this sensitivity should go away after another month or two. But the improvements to my breathing and reduction in snoring, even only after one month, make this treatment well worth it. You really can get a lot of air through those tiny nostrils!