October 02, 2013

new sinuses, new job, new husband

That's actually the subject of an email my sister just sent to me. I have this awesome habit of changing ALL THE THINGS! in my life at the same time.  The last time I switched jobs, for example, it was the same week I moved in with Chris, right as we also took our first major international trip together. 

Meanwhile, I just quit my current job, accepted a new one, and also had (minor) sinus surgery yesterday. While planning a wedding, of course. Whee!

So, the sinus thing. I've had crappy sinuses for ages, which is not news. I switched to a new ENT (after the oh-so-assuring insurance mix-up at the old place) and I really like them. I've been on a new regime of allergy drops for a year, so I went back in to be retested a few weeks ago to check on my progress.

The good news: there has TOTALLY been progress! I am reacting WAY LESS to a lot of the things! 

The bad news: I would never have guessed that to be the case, because no one told my face about the situation and it's been causing me just as much pain as always.

As a result, I decided to go ahead with a balloon sinuplasty. Basically, they numb up your face, then stick tiny catheters into your sinuses and inflate balloons inside your face, like they would for an angioplasty. The balloon "gently restructures and widens the walls" of the sinuses without needing full-on traditional sinus surgery. The benefits are that it can be done in the office as an out-patient procedure, without general anesthesia, and recovery is supposed to be quicker and less painful. The downside is that it might not always fix your problems, especially if they're due to something more structural like a deviated septum or gigantor turbinates (both of which I have).

(Part of the reason I want to write all this down here is because I did A LOT of googling prior to going in for the procedure to try and find some first-hand info from people who had done this, and wasn't able to find much. Aside from testimonials *on the websites* for sinuplasty providers, there wasn't a lot, especially from people with my symptoms & history.)

I was hesitant to go ahead with the procedure only because I wasn't sure it would DO anything. I don't have a lot of congestion: just a lot (A LOT) of sinus pain & pressure. Most people with these symptoms can directly attribute them to congestion and a lack of drainage, and it seemed a lot of people with those issues were helped by the sinuplasty. Whereas congestion *wasn't* my primary issue, and getting elective face surgery for something I wasn't sure would help was... not super appealing.

But, after learning that my allergies were being successfully treated, yet my face was still a mess? I figured I would go for it. I knew from the CT scan 2 years ago that my sinuses passages were super-narrow, and it seemed like getting some more space up in thurrr could only help. And as my doctor assured me, the only real risk to the surgery was that it wouldn't work. 

So! What To Expect From a Balloon Sinuplasty:

  • They'll offer you valium prior to the procedure, because some of the numbing stuff can trickle down into your throat, and apparently "numb throat" sometimes translates into "your throat is closing" to your brain, even though it definitely is not. But they recommend valium so you don't freak out if your brain does get that wrong message.
  • Fun fact: I'd never taken valium before. So I did not know that my body's reaction to valium would be prolonged uncontrollable sobbing. It was SO AWKWARD. I was actually in a good deal of pain & discomfort at the time (more on that in the next bullet) so at first I thought maybe that was the problem... except that I've been in a lot of pain & discomfort before, and don't usually find myself WRACKED WITH DESPAIR and unable to stop weeping about it. It caused quite a (SUPER EMBARRASSING) scene at the office, where they kept trying to gently ask me what the matter was, and I kept hiccuping that I diiddnn't knooooowwwwwww. I later recounted this story to my mom and discovered she has the EXACT SAME reaction to valium. So! Good to know! Valium will not calm the ladies of this family down; it will make us sob, a lot, while being very confused about the sudden DESPAAAIIIIR and SAADNESSSS that we're feeling.
  • The getting-numb part is the absolute worst part of the entire procedure. They spray some numbing stuff, and then some Afrin, directly up into your sinus cavities, then pack your nose with cotton that's been soaking in more numbing stuff. While the numbing starts to take effect, shit starts BURNING. Your eyes, your sinuses... it's not pleasant. Add to that the building pressure from having cotton packed in your already tight sinuses, and you get some serious unpleasantness. (Which is why, at first, if you find yourself crying uncontrollably, you may wonder if it's just because you suddenly are unable to deal with pain.)
  • Once they took the cotton out of my nose (and, uh, the valium-sobs had worn off) I felt MUCH better. The next step is to shoot more numbing stuff directly into your face with a needle, from inside your nose. This is why they did the first round of numbing, so you don't feel these shots. (And I didn't, not even a tiny bit.)
  • Now it's time for the actual ballooning! They turn off the lights, because there's a wee, very bright light on the end of the tube they're sticking up your face so they can see where it's going from the outside. They put it in place, then inflate the balloon. All you feel is some weird pressure.
  • However.. um.. you can HEAR what they're doing, and it sounds... not good. For me it sounded like a series of loud pops & crackling from inside my face, which I could only assume was the cartilage and whatever else in my sinus cavities hairline fracturing outwards as the balloon expanded. I don't know if this is true, but the thought weirded me out a lot.
  • So much, in fact, that I proceeded to pass out in the chair before the next round. HAHA I AM A FUN PATIENT.
  • (Technically I let them know I was about to pass out before I did it, so they were able to put my chair back and spray cool air at me until I became less of a delicate flower. But between my valium-sobs and inability to stay conscious during a routine in-office procedure, I'm sure I made a lot of friends.)
  • (I do have to say that everyone there was AMAZING about all of this, by the way. They pretended everything I did was perfectly normal and didn't make me feel awkward or like a burden, even though I CLEARLY messed up their entire schedule for the day by taking waaay longer than I should have. I cannot recommend the folks at Metropolitan ENT enough.) 
  • Anyway. Once I recovered, they went on to do the rest of my sinuses and it was all a-ok. No more passing out or sobbing or anything! You really can't feel anything they're doing at all, just a sense of some pressure in your face.
After that, they sent me home with some antibiotics, vicodin if I needed or wanted it, and a different kind of netipot than the one I already had (the squeeze bottle kind). I would recommend stocking up on tissues before you leave the office, because as soon as we got out to the parking lot I found myself leaking blood from the nostril region, which was super-pleasant for everyone who walked by until Chris got back with supplies, I'm sure.

I felt fine when I left the office, but once we started driving home the pain set in. My whole face was in considerable pain, all the way down through my lower jaw. It was.. not great. When we got home I threw down 2 vicodins as quickly as I could then huddled on the couch with an ice pack draped across my face until the meds kicked in. It took about an hour and a half before I was comfortable, so for any future sinuplasty-ers out there reading this, I'd ask your doc if it's OK to take a vicodin right before the procedure to get a head start on that.

The good news is that after those first few hours, everything IMMEDIATELY got better. I only took 1 vicodin at the next dosage opportunity, then stopped altogether.

(I don't get the happy-fun reaction on vicodin that others apparently get. Instead I get EVERY SIDE EFFECT there is. So while on vikes, I can't stand up for more than 5 minutes without getting dizzy, I'm nauseated half the time, I have no appetite, and I constantly itch like a mo-fo all over my body. I am always thrilled to STOP taking vicodin.) 

Today, aka The Next Day, I feel GREAT. I'm stuffed up with some sinus pressure as if I have a mild sinus infection, but I have NONE of the pain from yesterday. I haven't taken any meds today at all and I'm completely fine. Even pushing on my face from the outside doesn't cause any discomfort.

It's a little hard to tell how effective this is / will be, since I am super-stuffed up at the moment (this is a completely normal / expected side effect) but I have to say it SEEMS to already be helping. I'm stuffed up... yet I can breathe about the same as when I have no congestion at all. Before I got stuffy yesterday, Chris asked if I felt any different, and I cooed with glee about ALL THE AIR I was breathing in! SO MUCH AIR! (I am very easy to please. Breathing! IT'S LIKE CHRISTMAS!) 

I'll update for posterity after a few more days of recovery just in case someone does in fact google this one day. 


  1. Is it wrong that I laughed when you told me that you sobbed and then passed out? Because the mental image is quite funny. I'm a bad friend.

    Glad you got through it a-ok! As you know, I do not react well to these pain meds either. ADVIL FOR LIFE.

  2. Dude, this sounds intense. Glad you're feeling better but, uh, whoa.

  3. This sounds like quite an interesting and painful procedure. I'm glad it's over and that you now know how you will react to Valium! :-)

  4. Oh, God. All of this is awful & terrible, & I hope it keeps working, because then this story is just funny & not for nothing. xoxo

  5. Does it help if I tell you that I have the same reaction to the V?
    I wish you permanent satisfaction with your surgery.
    Me? Surgery has been half good and half bad. I shuddered through your entire post.