Jeff Barr's Blog

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Who Knows What My Nose Knows?

Warning: This post contains explicit references to surgery and to my nose!

I’ve had a small problem with my sinuses for a couple of years. My family reported that I would make weird noises in my sleep, and my wife thought that my breathing was a bit irregular. From time to time my nose would become very, very stuffed up — to the point where I was essentially a mouth-breather.

I went to an ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) specialist early this year and he diagnosed my problem as nasal polyps — some grapelike growths inside of my nasal cavity. He injected them with a steroid of some sort, gave me a prescription for Prednisone, and also discussed surgery as an option for the future.

The polyps have also nullified my sense of smell – I can’t smell my wife’s perfume, the scent of her fresh-baked bread, or anything else for that matter. What’s worse, it turns out that a lot of what we typically think of as taste is actually smell. The tongue has sensors for a few basic flavors, but most of the “flavor” is really based on scent.

The worst part of all this is that it has come upon me very gradually. Like a slowly boiled frog, I didn’t realize how bad it had become over the last several years.

Earlier this month the problem finally got to the point where I was having trouble sleeping, and I went back to my ENT yesterday. We agreed that it is time for the surgical option, and that we’ll get it scheduled for early January. In preparation for the surgery I had a CT scan yesterday. The doctor explained that he will use the scan as a guide, but that during surgery he’ll use a real-time 3D imaging system to guide him into the deeper regions of my nose. He’ll use a small, precise grinding device (or maybe a Moto-Tool) to whack away at those nasty polyps. I’ll need to rest and recover (by reading blogs, and living a more mobile Second Life) at home for 5 to 7 days afterward, with a couple of followup visits to the doctor over the course of the following weeks.

After that I should be able to breathe a lot easier (literally). The doctor isn’t 100% confident that my sense of smell will return, but I think that it will. He told me that the polyps can sometimes destroy the nerve cells associated with smell. My confidence comes from the fact that I do occasionally get a full-on scent if I inhale deeply enough. That tells me that the cells are there, but just covered up.

So, why do I write stuff like this? Too many people wait and suffer needlessly from correctible medical problems. I find that knowing a lot about the mechanics of the problem and also understanding the solution gives me the information needed to make informed judgements about what I should do. I don’t see any reason to be ignorant or squeamish about your own body.

Earlier today I had a wickedly bad sinus headache – so bad that I was tempted to head out to the garage for my own Moto-Tool. It has subsided a bit now, but I’m sure it will be back.

More updates as things progress. Oh yeah, one more thing — I am going to ask for the raw data file from that CT scan. Perhaps I’ll see something interesting inside!