In November 2021, I had an unexpected nose surgery — a septorhinoplasty with turbinate reduction. I wrote today’s post over the course of one year. Here, I’m sharing why I needed surgery, how I prepared for surgery, what the healing process was like, and more!
For as long as I can remember, I have struggled to breathe through my nose. I had always believed breathing through my mouth, rather than breathing through my nose, was easier. (Over the years, I’ve hidden mouth-breathing by talking or smiling while breathing in, and then holding my breath while my mouth is closed.) When I look back, so many basic things — speaking, exercising, sleeping — have always been uniquely-challenging, because I haven’t been able to breathe through my nose.
Every year, I mentioned my breathing challenges to my doctor — and every year, each doctor suggested I had chronic sinus problems or seasonal allergies and recommended over-the-counter sinus or allergy medication. Over the years, I had tried just about every over-the-counter allergy and sinus medication — and no medication of any kind helped in any way.
During quarantine in 2020, I began riding our Peloton every single day. After 3 months of daily, rigorous Peloton rides, I told Ben, “I’m riding the Peloton every single day. I’m going outside to run every other day. We’re going outside for long hikes every weekend… but I don’t feel like I have any endurance. I am always so short of breath.” During any exercise, I’d try to regulate my breathing as the workout became more challenging — and I’d end up with shallow breathing and a panic-attack-feeling.
Knowing we’d be moving to Minnesota in spring 2021, I hoped to establish care with a new doctor in Minnesota and try asking about my nose again. Because sinus and allergy medication never worked, and because breathing remained so challenging, I knew something more had to be wrong.
Every day — and I mean, every day — I struggled with:
- Sinus headaches and facial pain,
- Feeling as though a rubber band was around my head,
- Constant pressure behind my eyes,
- A crackling sound in my ears whenever I spoke,
- Shortness of breath in everyday moments,
- Poor sleep, and
- Daily anxiety because of all of the above.
In an everyday sense, when recording our podcast or having client meetings at With Grace and Gold, I had a panic-attack-feeling simply from speaking. Soon, my anticipation of my panic-attack-feeling caused me to have actual panic attacks before recording our podcast or having client meetings. It became a downward spiral — because I struggled to calm down before our client meetings, and I became more anxious about my normal, everyday to-dos. I began realizing how truly challenging and overwhelming everything was — all because of my breathing.
When we moved to Minnesota in spring, I saw a new doctor right away, who referred me to an ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) doctor to look at and in my nose. I couldn’t believe all my years of yearly check-ups, in which I shared about difficulty breathing through my nose, had never resulted in someone looking at or in my nose. Above all, though, I was truly relieved to finally have someone look closely and help me find a real, lasting solution.
The Cause — August 2021
In my appointment with my ENT doctor, a scope was used to look in my nose. While the scope was able to view one nostril, something blocked the scope from viewing my other nostril: a large and pointy bone spur growing from my septum and pointing toward my facial nerves. Though we’d need a CT scan to confirm, my ENT doctor said the bone spur could likely explain my daily headaches and facial pain.
Following my CT scan, my ENT doctor confirmed: In one nostril, there was a large and pointy bone spur growing from my septum. In my other nostril, my turbinates had become extremely inflamed, trying to overcompensate for the bone-spur-nostril. Beyond those challenges, my septum was deviated. Summed up: I had a nasal septal spur, turbinate hypertrophy, and a deviated septum.
My ENT doctor recommended having a surgery consultation regarding my CT scan results — likely scheduling a surgery to have my bone spur removed, my turbinates reduced, and my septum straightened.
The Solution — September 2021
In my surgery consultation, my surgeon showed me my CT scan and explained what I was seeing. Essentially, hardly any air was able to come in through my nose because of how large the bone spur was and because of how inflamed my turbinates were. A small hairline path for air was all I had in both nostrils. Seeing my CT scan and having my scan explained was an extremely validating feeling — learning the pain I had been living with for so long, for as long as I can remember, actually had a cause and could be fixed.
During my consultation, my surgeon said something like, “I would bet you’ve never had a sinus infection in your life. If I wanted to show my students the picture of perfect sinuses, I would show yours.” My sinuses were completely clear. I had taken so much unnecessary sinus medication and allergy medication over the years, and I was saddened by how many doctors had quickly and wrongly assumed my facial pain was due to sinus problems — when my sinuses were actually as clear as could be.
Seeing physical obstructions on the CT scan and hearing an explanation for my pain was a blend of so many emotions. I couldn’t go back and have those non-breathing years back, so I needed to remain focused on a plan for the future and all the years of easier breathing I had to look forward to.
After discussing my nose’s interior, my surgeon asked me if I had any concerns about my nose’s exterior. What a big question! I shared that I’d always been self-conscious about my side profile: my nose had a prominent bump and I always believed my nose was large in proportion to my face. For as long as I can remember, I had been mindful about not facing people straight-on, and I would change how I’d pose for photos so my side profile wouldn’t be captured. My side profile simply always bothered me. Ultimately, I decided to combine a septoplasty, fixing my septum, with a rhinoplasty — for what is called a septorhinoplasty. Since I was having surgery regardless, I determined I wanted to breathe easier and to have a nose I felt positively about, too.
We scheduled my septorhinoplasty with turbinate reduction — a 4-part surgery for fixing my deviated septum, removing my bone spur, reducing my turbinates, and changing the appearance of my nose — for November 15… which meant I had about 5 months to prepare.
Preparing for My Septorhinoplasty — November 2021
In the months leading up to my septorhinoplasty, I experienced a range of emotions! Ben and I drove to South Dakota for a post-quarantine road trip, we planned a spontaneous trip to New York City, and we prepared for a fall 5K at Disney. Essentially, I tried to stay very busy while feeling so nervous about my upcoming surgery.
In the weeks leading up to my surgery, I became more and more nervous — and sleeping became more challenging than before.
In the days leading up to my surgery, though, I finally felt ready. I had gone so many years without being able to breathe easily — something so essential for relaxing, sleeping, exercising, and just living peacefully… and I was ready to experience easy breathing.
To prepare for my septorhinoplasty, I…
- Prepared to take a full week off of work. The pamphlet I received from my doctor said many people feel under the weather for about 7-10 days following surgery. My surgery was on a Monday, so I prepared to return to work the following Monday.
- Spoke to my therapist about being anxious. She provided really helpful tips for overcoming my anxiety about surgery, like thinking about what I had to look forward to following my surgery. Thinking about being able to breathe freely was both exciting and calming.
- Created a cozy space in our living room. Knowing I’d be spending a full week resting, I created a cozy space on the chaise lounge of our sofa, by our fireplace.
- Got organized. On top of scheduling all of my work at With Grace and Gold — social media posts, newsletters, podcast episodes — I organized myself overall, from my email Inbox to the clothes I could wear during my recovery week.
I also bought the following:
- Wedge Pillow: After my surgery, I was advised to sleep at a 45 degree angle, so my wedge pillow came in handy!
- Ice Packs: I bought small circular ice packs to ice my head, forehead, cheeks, undereye, and jaw. The pain and swelling moved around a lot over the course of the week.
- Humidifier: A humidifier stopped my nostrils from becoming too dry.
- Saline Spray: Similarly, saline spray stopped my nostrils from becoming too dry.
- Facial Cleansing Wipes: After my surgery, I wasn’t able to wet my face for two weeks. These facial cleansing wipes came in handy.
- Aquaphor: This helped to keep my face moisturized. (It became very dry from the facial cleansing wipes!)
- Arnicare Gel: This is a homeopathic remedy for swelling and bruising.
- Applesauce: I expected to feel queasy following surgery, so we bought applesauce pouches. These ended up being perfect, because they were easy to eat and helped to ease my sore throat.
- Banza Pasta: I knew I’d need a bland, yet healthy, food to eat following surgery — so we stocked up on Banza pasta, pasta made with chickpeas.
- Bottled Water: Drinking from a cup or using a straw are both challenging to do with a cast on your nose, so bottled water it is!
- Cough Drops: I had a sore throat following surgery, and cough drops were an amazing help.
- Comfortable Button-Up Shirts and Sweatpants: I was advised to wear button-up or zip-up shirts to avoid pulling a shirt over my nose for a couple of weeks. At Target, I bought comfortable button-up shirts and sweatpants for my recovery week.
With all of the above in mind, I was officially prepared for surgery.
Healing from My Septorhinoplasty
Throughout the healing process, I tried to simply stay focused on healing; my surgery was behind me, and I only had healing and better breathing to look forward to. I rested well, knowing I’d begin feeling better in about one week.
As expected, days 1-3 were challenging and painful. Day 4 was when my face became swollen and pain decreased. Day 5 was when I began feeling more like myself, and it’s been a smooth process since. On Day 8, I had my final appointment so my cast and my splints could be removed.
In all my surgery preparation, I read way too many blog posts about what to expect following surgery. What I learned is: Everyone’s experience is going to be unique. I truly believe staying positive, looking forward to feeling better in about a week, and resting well helped my healing process to go by quickly.
My personal recommendations are: Wear comfortable clothing, stay hydrated, eat well, and rest well.
One Year Post Surgery — November 2022
Now, one year has gone by since my surgery — and I’m happy to say I can:
- Breathe through my nose freely and confidently — most importantly!
- Wear sunglasses again.
- Wash and scrub my face as normal.
My nose tip is still wide and swollen, and I haven’t fully regained feeling in my nose tip or septum — but I have heard healing can be a 12 to 18 month process. So, I’ll be looking forward to summer 2023, when, hopefully, the entire healing process is behind me! The following photos best show my nose. 👃
A Final Note
Lastly, I just want to share: My experience has reminded me how essential it is to be kind to everyone, everywhere, no matter what — to reach out to people, to let people know you care. Having secretly wrestled with an “invisible” chronic pain for so many years, I couldn’t help but think about how many of us are dealing with huge challenges at any given moment.
During these past couple of years, I was overflowing with anxiety about performing well at work, self-conscious about my nose and breathing, discouraged about trying new things from fear of my breathing getting in the way, sleeping poorly and feeling exhausted every day, and panicking about every podcast episode I recorded and meeting I led. Essentially, my lack of breathing stopped me from living my life freely and happily.
For me, if there is anything to glean from my surgery experience, it’s to practice kindness, empathy, and compassion. Things aren’t always what they seem on the surface, and simply asking someone “How are you doing?” can go a long way.