So tomorrow I’m going back under the knife, this time to repair an “external nasal valve collapse” and a few other abnormalities with my nose. The goal is to be able to breathe better, but it seems like the more immediate goal is to make me feel even worse than I do now (and I think the chances of success with the latter are pretty high!). So why do I need this surgery, and why now in the mist all my Cancer treatments? Well, for starters, here’s an overly-simplified explanation of what an external nasal valve collapse is.
Due to a previous surgery and simply time and age, the cartilage in my nose has weakened. This has caused some changes in the shape of my nose (which is normal) as well as weakened the side walls of my nasal passages . Because the side walls of the nose are flexible cartilage, when I inhale through my nose it creates a negative pressure that pulls the sides of my nose inwards. On the right side, the side walls are so weak that breathing in creates a total collapse of that side with complete obstruction to my airway (a.k.a. I can’t breathe in through the right side of my nose). The technical term for this is “vestibular stenosis”.
In theory, it might seem like loosing function of one side of your nose wouldn’t be that big of an issue (I mean, I still have partial function of my left side and my mouth). But unfortunately there are several REALLY annoying secondary effects, such as the pressure inside my nose makes the right side of my face/eye painful and “full feeling” (feels like I constantly have a really bad sinus infection), I have a much harder time breathing at night, and it is very difficult to perform high cardio activities (I feel like I can’t get enough air). Also, the inside of our nasal passages are filled with tiny nerves, who never (and should never) meet one another. However, when I inhale, the nerves on either side are brought into direct contact with one another….and let me attest, the meeting is hostile! My nerves communicate their dissatisfaction by sending message through my facial nerves (messages like “ MAKE PAIN, AS MUCH PAIN AS YOU CAN!”) which has led to terrible headaches.
It is this condition which I began to notice in July and landed me in Urgent Care – which kicked off my medical saga. The thyroid cancer (of which I was completely asymptomatic) was only discovered b/c the first Ear-Nose-Throat doctor I saw was a jerk, so I went to get a second opinion, and the second Dr. ordered a head/neck CAT scan which revealed my tumor. Otherwise, the two conditions are unrelated.
So why have the surgery now (at this clearly, less-than-ideal point in time)? The timing is a function of the doctor’s schedules, the holidays, and our health insurance (what – were you thinking things were planned in a way that was best for my health and well-being….ha ha ha ha…silly you!). As I said, I tried to get the problem addressed in July, but it took seeing FOUR Ear-Nose-Throat specialists to get to the Facial Cosmetic Surgeon who could perform the surgery. Being a new patient for 13 different doctors takes time….a LOT of time. By the time I finally met with my surgeon, it was October and we had already scheduled my thyroid surgery and knew the general time frame for my radiation. Since the Dr. did not have any immediate surgical openings, I had to wait until after the first surgery – which meant squeezing it in between my thyroid surgery and radiation and trying our best to avoid Thanksgiving and Christmas. The final driving factor is our health insurance, which I must note is “pretty good” considering they all totally suck. Like many people these days, we recently opted into a “high deductible” plan in order to hang with the cool kids and maintain our reputation for always having the most fashionable health care coverage! Anyways, this means that since we will be meeting (or very close to) our out-of-pocket maximum for this year (and definitely meeting our deductible), the surgery will be covered by insurance. If we postponed it until next year, we would have to pay for it ourselves [side note: the top facial reconstruction guy in the state isn’t cheap].
So what exactly is this surgery? Glad you asked (you may not be so….). I’ll be pretty general here, because it even totally grosses me out. To correct the nasal collapse, the Dr. is going to construct and implant a “batten graft” (which he explained to me will look like a small Breath Right nasal strip). To create the graft, he will be taking cartilage from my ear lobe, shaping it into the right form, and then inserting it across the bridge of my nose to stabilize the side walls and provide structural support (basically an internally Breath Right strip). While he’s got my nose deconstructed, he’s also going to fix a few things with the tip/bottom and lastly remove my personal nemesis, the “chin waddle” (which has mocked me through all major life events, including my lovely driver’s license picture…which makes it appear as if I’ve WAY underestimated my actual weight!).
I expect to come out feeling like I took a few good punches to the face….maybe worse since I’m going into this fight with a tight/sore neck and a feeling of impenetrable exhaustion. Somehow we’ll get you posted as to how it goes. Make sure to stay tuned for the best post-op. pictures ever!