Dispatches from Septum Surgery

A personal account

I didn’t realize my septum was deviated until quite recently. For well over a year I had been experiencing chronic sinus infections, migraines, dizziness, and other debilitating symptoms. I had gone through many courses of antibiotics and regularly engaged in home remedies like saline nasal spray, irrigation with Neti pots, and breathing in steam from boiling water and showers. After finally getting a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, I was informed that my symptoms likely resulted from a severely deviated septum (my doctor could tell I was getting headaches just by glancing at the MRI results).

Soon enough, I visited a local Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) doctor who recommended a corrective surgery called septoplasty. I scheduled the procedure for a few months down the line to ensure I could get time off work. The insurance was a little tricky, and I eventually realized that I would have to pay my entire deductible ($250) in order to be covered. So I set up a GoFundMe page, shared it on social media, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was fully funded in less than two weeks.

“Septal deviations are common. About 70 to 80 percent of people have a septal deviation that’s noticeable to an examiner.” -John Pallanch, M.D. (Mayo Clinic)

I changed into a hospital gown and conversed with my wife for a while. We were soon visited by a cheerful nurse who recounted hilarious tales of patients behaving strangely while under the influence of general anesthesia. I filled out more paperwork and discussed additional details with the nurse. A few solid hours went by, and I was eventually attended to and set up with an IV and other basics as I laid in my unexpectedly comfortable hospital bed.

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An MRI scan showing the sinuses (source)

Since I wasn’t permitted to eat or drink anything that morning, I joked about how much I wanted a taco like the one I had eaten the previous night, right before bed. My anxiety was not as bad as I had expected, but still ominously lurked in the back of my mind.

Finally, medical staff wheeled me from the small waiting room to the surgery area. The anesthesiologist greeted me and mentioned that she was going to give me “some nice, relaxing drugs.” Mere seconds later, I felt my legs begin to get heavy, as though they were filling with cement. I told the woman I was feeling strange and asked if she had started administering the anesthesia. She confirmed that she had and reassured me that my sensations were normal.

The next thing I remember was groggily waking up and realizing the procedure was over. The surgeon (my ENT doctor) was there — I think he was on his way out. I don’t remember being transported back to my waiting room, but there I was, being offered some Percocet pills. I took one and continued spacing out for the next hour or so. Soon enough, I found myself at home in bed, where I continued sleeping off the effects of the potent narcotics.

One nice thing about the aftermath of this surgery was that I really had nothing to worry about, other than taking my antibiotics and pain killers. I caught myself checking the time, and immediately realized it literally didn't matter what time it was. I essentially had five consecutive days reserved solely for recovery! The one major annoyance was that my nose was constantly bleeding.

The day after my surgery, I woke up around 5:00 a.m. with a persistent and noisy case of hiccups that scared my dog away (this is a somewhat common side effect of general anesthesia). My nose was still bleeding a little, but I could tell it had substantially decreased. Surprisingly, I wasn’t experiencing much pain, and decided to postpone taking more hydrocodone. I went downstairs and made that taco I was longing for, drank a bunch of water, made coffee, took my antibiotics, and read a book for a while. The hiccups had subsided, only to return with a vengeance an hour later.

In addition to providing my personal account, I wanted to include some practical advice and observations for any readers who might have to undergo a similar surgery in the future. Based on my experience, here are some things you can expect during the days following your procedure:

  • bleeding from the nose
  • sinus congestion
  • drainage and sore throat (especially if a breathing tube was used during surgery)
  • facial pain, even in the teeth and gums
  • dizziness and drowsiness (from the lingering effect of anesthesia the day after, as well as from the pain medication)
  • and, apparently, hiccups!

Don’t be afraid to be lazy, messy, and disorganized for a few days — recovery is priority #1. Remember to get plenty of rest and to follow your doctor’s instructions. This may include the use of antibiotics, saline nasal spray, and pain medication. You will also need to schedule a follow-up with your doctor for some time within the next few weeks. Be sure to avoid heavy lifting, strenuous physical activity, and blowing your nose until you’ve been “cleared” by your physician to do so. Don’t put anything up your nose and don’t mess with your stitches!

So far, I believe the procedure was worth it; some of my previous symptoms have already diminished, and I was told by some of the attending physicians that the operation was successful and that my breathing is much better now. Honestly, the worst thing about this whole ordeal was the crippling anxiety in the weeks leading up to the day of the surgery. I’m profoundly relieved that it’s finally over!

Written by

Socialist. Herbivore. Husband. I usually write about politics, current events, and history. My work has also been published by The Hampton Institute.

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