My New Nose

Last year, on Valentine’s Day, I had my septoplasty. I had a deviated septum, which veered to the left; my deaf side. For as long as I could remember, I had been unable to breathe through my left nostril – something I hadn’t paid much regard to until my hearing loss and the onset of the associated feeling of pressure in my ears and head.

The pressure is often the most difficult symptom to manage. It is more prominent than my tinnitus. It is ever-present, unlike my sound sensitivity for which the degree of severity is dependent on environmental sounds. With more pressure in my ears comes more dizziness. I would try almost anything to help relieve some of this discomfort as it is extremely hard to disconnect from.

Following a consultation with a particular specialist, in which he stated with confidence that the reason for the feeling of pressure in my ears was because I couldn’t breathe properly, I had elected to have the septoplasty operation. Not all specialists had given me this opinion, and so I tried not to get my hopes up regarding an improvement in my ear discomfort. The straightening of my nasal septum would enable airflow through both nostrils which, at the very least, I hoped would help me sleep better. I also had a faint hope that it could result in a reduction in the feeling of pressure in my ears and head.

The outcome of the surgery wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. The operation had been a success in that my septum was now straight. However, although I was now able to breathe air ‘out’ of the left side, I was unable to inhale. Unfortunately, the nasal valve on the left side of my nose collapsed following the surgery. This meant that every time I tried to breathe air in, the weakened side of my left nostril caved into the nasal passage; blocking the airflow. If I wore a nasal dilator strip, which I opted for during the night, I was able to breathe through both nostrils. But, as soon as the strip was removed, my nasal valve collapsed again. And so, after my septoplasty, I was still unable to breathe naturally through my left nostril and for this reason, the operation also had no impact on my associated ear symptoms.

This year I was offered another procedure to help me breathe, and of course, I agreed to it. The surgery would involve reshaping my nose to correct my breathing problem. I still refused to give up hope for having the minimum comfort of being able to breathe properly. Moreover, I retained my guarded hope for some relief from the persistent ear pressure. 

I spent the weeks leading up to my surgery exploring how my new nose would feel. To simulate my anticipated, improved breathing function I would press my left index finger on a patch of skin next to the left side of my nose and pull the skin away from my nose gently; opening up my airways. The feeling of breathing through both nostrils was wonderful and the pressure around my nose was clearly reduced. I ignored the confused and sometimes disturbed looks passers-by would give me and I’d smile with delight at the thought of this extraordinarily oxygenated state could soon be my new ‘normal’.

I had the open rhinoplasty surgery six days ago and am recovering well. The operation experience was very similar to my septoplasty. I awoke from the anaesthesia with my nostrils full of packing. There was gauze taped under my nose to catch the blood that steadily drained for the next couple of days. The first two days were predictably the most difficult. I was in a significant amount of pain, and it was very uncomfortable trying to eat or drink anything with my nose blocked with dressings. When I returned to the hospital 2 days following the surgery, the specialist removed the nasal packing and I immediately felt a lot more comfortable and had some marvellous breaths of air through both nostrils. On leaving the hospital I felt quite lightheaded from all the air I was able to breathe.

Recovery will take time and patience. My nose is full of stitches and is very sore. My face is bruised and swollen and at present, I resemble an old bruised potato. My nose is currently congested due to swelling, and I am not allowed to blow it, so it feels like I have a very bad cold. But, I am hopeful for some more wonderful full breaths of fresh air. I am hopeful for better sleep. And, I am still holding on to my most cautious of hopes; for some reduction in the constant feeling of pressure.

…I also wonder what my new nose will look like.

Attack

It was a Monday morning and I awoke to the sound of my alarm. I had been sleeping well at night-time, for the past month or so, yet continued to wake up feeling drained. I was exhausted. I began to make my way through my morning routine, without the need to think about my actions. I methodically put the kettle on; took two mugs out of the cupboard (one for me and one for my boyfriend) and dropped tea bags into them; took out my water bottle from the fridge; and put a green tea bag into my flask, ready for work. I then headed to the bathroom to continue my habitual preparations for the day ahead.

Whilst in the shower, for a few moments I appreciated the feeling of the water on my head and body; washing away some of my sleepiness. Just as always, I began to cycle through the components of the advancing day in my mind; pondering over tasks to be completed during this time. And then it happened. Without warning, my eye-sight became blurry. I started to feel hot. Within seconds my surroundings inside the shower cubicle were spinning. I felt an uneasy disconnection from my body, similar to the feeling of unsteadiness that comes from drinking an excessive amount of alcohol. I could feel myself becoming short of breath. My ears were full with the feeling of pressure; causing a sharp pain. My legs started to feel weak, and I rapidly pushed my hands flat against the shower cubicle as I supported the weight of my body down towards the tray; moving into a crouching position. I needed air. I awkwardly forced the shower screen open. Then the nausea hit me; one last blow from the attack. I crawled to the toilet and allowed my head to bow heavily over the bowl. On my knees, my elbows pressed against the hard plastic of the toilet seat, I shakily positioned my arms upwards; enabling my hands to cradle my head in position. I stared wearily at the toilet water as it seemed to whirl around erratically.

After what I guess was about five minutes of extreme body weakness and breathing deeply into the toilet bowl to stabilize myself, I managed to crawl across the floor to where I had earlier dropped my nightclothes. I was able to dress myself in my vest top and shorts and I slowly grasped the bathroom door handle; carefully testing the strength in my legs as I started to stand up. I began to walk the 15 or so steps towards the sofa. I was still feeling fragile. My body felt like it was in a continuous fall against the wall which I leant on with all my weight; shuffling through the kitchen into the living room.

I sat on the sofa and stared at my mobile phone. I couldn’t focus properly. I didn’t want to have to make the phone call. I didn’t want to have to call in sick again. I had only been back at work for a month since the summer holidays and had already taken 2 days absence due to illness. I started to consider whether I could go to work. Could I cope with the motion and the crowdedness of the Metro train? Would I be able to walk up and down the stairs at school? Could I tolerate the classroom noise? Of course, I couldn’t.

After making the call, I made my way to the bedroom, continuing to support myself with my hands against the wall. My boyfriend was still sleeping, as I slowly and carefully pulled my body onto the mattress and wrapped myself in the covers. I was cold. My boyfriend’s hand began to touch my hair, as if examining it with confusion; somewhere in the midst of sleep. I realized my hair was wet. I didn’t know whether I had finished washing it before the attack had happened. I didn’t wake my boyfriend. His alarm would be going off soon.

I spent the day on the sofa and slept away the hours. The reality of what had happened didn’t really occur to me until I woke up later that day.

Even though I often experience dizziness, I hadn’t had an actual vertigo attack since the day of my hearing loss; two years ago. This new attack brought the difficult times I had dealt with during the past two years, to the forefront of my mind. In the past, I’d been given numerous possible diagnoses to explain my hearing loss: Meniere’s Disease, Cochlear Hydrops, and Endolymphatic hydrops. Irrespective of the ultimate diagnosis, there was no escaping from the ramification of the abnormal fluctuation of fluid in my inner ear. Like a big slap in my face, this new attack forced me to comprehend the reality of my situation. I was never going to be able to get away from this. It wasn’t going to get any better. I was, in this moment of contemplation, emotionally back to where I was 2 years ago: scared at the prospect of living with this unpredictable condition.