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December 2nd, 2015

Minimally Invasive, They Say

When the specialist told me he wanted to do a sinusotomy I thought he said sinusodomy. “You call that minimally invasive? It’s great that you don’t have to cut through the skin, but you didn’t tell me you were going that direction.”

Only when that confusion was straightened up did I consider the idea.

So, this week, I’m going in to have a minor procedure done on my sinuses. “Minor procedure” is what people say when they don’t want to scare you with the word “operation”. But it really is a fairly minor outpatient procedure. Unlike when my father had it done years ago, it’s an endoscopic surgery, and doesn’t require cutting from the outside to reach the inside. It’s more like going into the nose with one of those electric sewer Roto-Rooters snake machines.

Well, there’s a comforting thought. “Okay, power it up and let’s shove that snake in!”

I’ve had sinus problems all my life, but they’ve gotten progressively worse the last few years. No doubt living in the Midwest, land of “Boy, it was hot and humid yesterday—hey, it’s snowing!” doesn’t help, but it’s too late now for me to move to New Mexico. The last three winters I’ve had more sinus infections than most people get their whole lives, with the exception of those who live in northern Minnesota and are also heavy cocaine users. Still, having heard horror stories about people who have the surgery and then live in terrible misery, I sought out every possible treatment.

Then I realized: I was already living in terrible misery.

The ear, nose, and throat guy examined my ear, nose, and throat, and quickly realized some things that I should have found out about a lot earlier. It was the same situation I ran into when I was diagnosed with multiple allergies about five years ago: I’d spent my whole life with no idea I had more allergies than Ben and Jerry’s has flavors. As a kid, I’d just assumed everyone coughed, sneezed, and blew their nose constantly. As a teen, maybe I’d have gotten more dates (or any) if I didn’t look like patient zero in a flu epidemic.

Anyway, the ENT discovered I had a deviated septum. A septum is a thing in the back of your nose that’s apparently supposed to be straight. Later he described it as “severely” deviated, and suggested I’d broken my nose sometime when I was a kid. Although you’d think I’d remember something like that, my brother and I did have something of a rough and tumble childhood; we were always one bicycle jump over a homemade ramp away from a broken bone.

Apparently the nasal passages are like an eight lane highway, and my septum was like a semi that jackknifed and blocked six lanes. Every time I breathed, there was a fifty car pileup.

To make matters worse, my nasal passages had narrowed to such an extent that absolutely nothing would pass, somewhat akin to budget hearings in Congress. The ENT informed me he’d be bringing a “balloon guy” to do his thing during the procedure. At first I thought that meant I’d get a cheerful get well soon helium-filled balloon, maybe in the shape of Snoopy. It turns out he meant balloon sinuplasty, in which one of those long, narrow balloons like the ones clowns use is inserted all the way up my nose, then blown up with a tire inflator, or maybe an air compressor. It’s just like angioplasty, which I almost had to get after learning about sinuplasty.

“I’m going to be asleep for this, right, doc?”

“Don’t worry, there’ll also be an anesthesiologist there.”

At that point I stopped worrying about the procedure, and started worrying about the bill.

This procedure is about ten years old now, so if the balloon popping in the middle of the procedure was ever a problem, I suppose it’s figured out by now. So, they’re going to straighten my septum and blow up my sinus passages, and if all goes well, I’ll be good as new in about a week or so.

If all doesn’t go well … well, then, I hope my last column was a funny one.

Kidding! I’m not really worried about that, so much as the possibilities of post-op problems of a more annoying variety. But the procedures have improved, and risks are low, and it would be a fine thing to get rid of these headaches that are sometimes debilitating, and always annoying. Maybe I can save enough money in not buying ibuprofen to pay for the thing … eventually. If not, I’ll give some big sob story to get people to buy my books, and after a few tens of thousands of sales the whole thing will be paid for. I’m cool with the sympathy pitch.

In any case, don’t expect to hear from me online for at least a few days, and possibly a week or more. I may or may not be able to catch up on my TV watching and book reading, but I doubt I’ll be up to looking at a computer screen for a while.

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