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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How I spent my Spring vacation

Last week was an exciting one in the household. What started as a brief opportunity for Dutch Amish aspersions turned over the course of days to a near-death experience (or two) and ended with a vaguely unsettling semblance to a hydrocephalic leprechaun.
                I broke my nose. It was a while ago, a story for another day, perhaps, but now that I am older, fatter, and have a wife that has grown sick of my snoring, I thought I would go ahead and get it looked at by the friendly neighborhood Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor.
                From the outside, you could tell I had a slightly deviated septum. No biggie, I am told. You have a nice little outpatient surgery, two days of narcotics and enough bloody mucus to satisfy any number of B-Horror or Alien movies and another five days of splints in your sinus’ and ‘voila!’ you are back up running. Your life will be changed forever and everyone anyone knows who had anything similar done has found it changed their life for the better.
                Fair enough. I arranged by schedule to have a nice Friday morning off and set aside a weekend to take it easy. Man this was going to be great. No more sore throats from not being able to breathe through my nose. Yeah, my weekend would suck, but how bad could it be? I shaved off my mustache and provided much mirth about how Amish I looked (you can see pictures on Facebook, if you care) to keep the complications down and made sure I didn’t eat or drink anything after midnight as per doctor’s orders (apparently Mogwai and anesthesiologists have something in common).
                Friday morning, I jump in the car and my loving wife throws our little one in day care and off we go. When I arrive everything is about as boring as you can hope for, with the possible exception that my anesthesiologist gave me a dire warning to avoid holding my infant daughter until my nose had healed. He said he made that mistake and now his nose is permanently damaged.
                One thing I did not know was that a common reaction to IV narcotics is an itchy nose. That is the last thing I remember hearing my surgeon say before I passed out. When I awoke in the recovery room I remember three things: First, the beautiful brown eyes of my loving wife looking down at me; second, the concern on her face as she looked down at my bandaged and damaged mug; and third, my weird drug-induced desire to stick my finger in her nose. Don’t ask. I couldn’t tell you.
                To be honest, Friday evening and night were okay. I kept a bandage under my nose to catch what would be the start of a burgeoning familiarity with my own skull and I was still kinda hazy anyway. The next morning I felt okay, a bit, too. It wasn’t until around 10 am or so that things started to get… interesting.
                I was playing online games (World of Warcraft, if you care) with my wife and friends when they started to notice a shift in my behavior and speaking. I guess I didn’t notice it at first, but I remember them telling me I should probably go lay down. In retrospect, I do recall my attention getting more and more myopic as I focused on the game, as if there was some sort of primordial programming that kept me going long after my brain, body, and mind were checked out for the day. Eventually they got me to leave the computer and I went to lie down.
                Now I should probably describe what I mean by “lie down.” I couldn’t lay flat, because I didn’t want to roll over on my nose, and my head was killing me anyway so I didn’t want blood rushing to my skull unexpectedly. My eyes had begun to water, with nowhere to send the excess moisture they normally collect and the issues with my sinuses, and I could barely see. So there I sat, in my bed, unable to move, sleep, or see.
                By Sunday morning, my head had swollen to the point where my scalp hurt. That’s right, my scalp was stretching, my cheeks were flushed and my head felt like someone had punched me in the nose moments before. The headache was growing exponentially, and we decided I should probably go to the ER to make sure I wasn’t having a reaction to something.
                We dropped the kid off at a neighbor/coworkers house and headed in to see if I could do something about this bad headache. Well, as many of you know, if you go an ER doctor complaining of a headache, they will usually just tell you take what? Tylenol. Here is yet another thing I didn’t know that may have been useful. The pain narcotic I was on, was, in fact already having an adverse affect in my system. I hadn’t eaten in two days, I could barely move, and I was nearly incoherent. My grandmother had the same issues with pill narcotics, so I may have gotten it from her. Char picked up some Tylenol for me and we went home, hoping to relieve some of my skull pressure.
                Things got a little ugly at this point. After my first dose of Tylenol, I couldn’t move. I could barely breathe through my mouth (my nose was still a mess at this point), and I spent all of Sunday night laying in bed with an icepack on my face. Some of you may also know that narcotics require they be taken with food, and I still couldn’t eat. This further compounded the issues. We called the surgeon’s office first thing Monday morning and were relieved when the nurse there went into a panic telling us that the particular drug I was on for pain had a POTENTIALLY LETHAL reaction to the narcotics I was taking.
                Let’s recap: I was on a narcotic that I already had a bad reaction to, and then couldn’t eat when I took them so that made it worse and now I had spent 24 hours on a combination of medicines that had a proven lethal interaction. That is above and beyond the basic fact that I had two, two-inch splints in my sinuses and nostrils that filled my skull with plastic. Now, my body doesn’t like foreign objects in it (whose does?). Having things inside my sinuses was probably the worst case scenario my body could imagine (how is that for dissociation?).

These things are about two inches long,
which doesn’t sound bad until you realize that is two inches into your skull!!

                We went into the surgeon again and he switched me to another pain medication, told me to take Ibuprofen instead for the weird swelling headache, and casually mentioned that he didn’t expect my reaction to be this bad, but he guessed he could see it considering he took an ounce or so of bone and cartilage from my head and had ‘never seen such extensive damage.’ Perhaps now is a good time to speak a little of my doctor on this little adventure. The man is awesome, he worked quickly and efficiently and went out of his way to help my wife when she went to get my antibiotics at the pharmacy right before the surgery. He was actually at the grocery store (buying beer) when he ran into her and talked to pharmacist in person to get me what I needed. He made sure I was handled quickly and efficiently in his office every time an issue arose, and even gave me a little professional ego boost when he reacted with “cool!” when I told him what I did for a living. Sure, he was a little cocky, but he might be the most justifiably cocky man I have ever met, so more power to him.
                So he sent me home with a more powerful narcotic. Remember what I said earlier about reacting to narcotics poorly? That is important here. Keep in mind, I didn’t know going into this about my issue with narcotics, so his new plan made sense. The new drugs did help a lot. I was able to eat (the best hummus sandwiches I have ever had). The pain was slightly less. My face was still swollen and my head still felt like I was smuggling a Heisman, but at least I wasn’t dying. This all came at one…small...cost.
                To use the vernacular, I spent Tuesday “tripping balls.”  Stumbling all over the house, still able to feel the pain and pressure but very distracted by various and sundry delusions including a terrifying yet strangely comforting idea that the U.S. Senate had enlisted earth elementals as private security and were roaming D.C. in packs of the giant creatures. 

These guys. I feel sorry for journalists.
Throughout this period, I still couldn’t sleep, and eating was minimal. For brief moments I could watch TV or, in one amazing case, change a DVD. I basically sat in bed, slightly elevated, using up Puff’s Plus like they were going out of style, hoping to pass out from exhaustion. Meanwhile, my wife was chasing a nine-month old with a penchant for disassembling furniture by hand (the kid had one, not the wife) and taking care of an admittedly whiney and practically incoherent husband who tried his best not to leave tissues everywhere with varying degrees of success.
                Thursday morning (after another night of sitting upright in a chair with an icepack and a waning appreciation of late-night television), we went down to the surgeon’s again to have the aforementioned splints removed, and that is pretty much where the story ends. I was back at work Friday, ten pounds lighter and owing my wife a vacation on the quick road to recovery. My face stopped swelling once the foreign objects were removed (fancy that), I stopped all narcotics (Ibuprofen only), and with only one interesting side effect things returned to normal. It turns out that when they slice up the inside of your nose and it is slowly on the mend, everything tastes a little funny. Imagine you strap a strip of raw steak to your lip and as it slowly dries, uncured, in the sun, that smell permeates everything you eat. Yeah, yum.
                Of course, by now, my shorn face hair had grown back a little, and the tape I had used to hold the bandages on my face all week had left shiny, rosy splotches just under my eyes the combined effect being I looked like a leprechaun the day after a bender.  Another week and I can play with the kid fully, and another two and I will be as healed as I ever will be. The doctor advised I avoid martial arts until then, I think I can handle that.
                So that was my week. My friends and family, work and boss were especially helpful and understanding. My surgeon was awesome and I don’t fault the ER doctor. My wife was a saint and my child seemed to see my avoidance wasn’t personal. I am still taking it easy, but I can’t complain.
                Well, I shouldn’t complain. I still do. Mea culpa.

1 comment:

  1. As a quick correction, my mother informed me that it wasn't technically a drug interaction between Vicodin and the Tylenol. It was that Vicodin already has a large amount of Tylenol in it, so when I took more, it was technically a potentially fatal overdose.

    Hey, details matter.