IN THE BEGINNING…
My sinus trouble started way back in my late teens.
I can remember running around for a whole summer, basically sick, blowing massive discharges out of my nose after surfing or whatever. I remember looking down at these massive things and thinking, gosh, something’s not right. Then one day that year I noticed a golf ball had formed in my armpit – yes, a golf ball, at least that’s what it felt like. (I’d later find this was a swollen gland and that it was filled with poison – your glands are there to fight toxins in your body. Swelling can be a sign that your glands are engaged in a little toxin-fighting warfare.)
The doctor told me I’d have to take antibiotics because I had been running around sick for a long time and the lump, well, that was my body trying to fight the infection. Hopefully, antibiotics would fix it they told me. If not, they’d cut the gland out because it could actually cause a really severe infection if it burst. Lovely.
The antibiotics worked. The golf ball disappeared. But I continued to get sick a lot. And like an idiot, in college, I’d often go on being sick – too busy to want to see the doctor – for months. Until, once again, I’d be put on antibiotics to clear it up.
By my late 20s I was noticing that I was congested a lot. At first, stuff like Afrin worked great. Any time I was congested, sniff a little of that stuff and that would usually take care of it.
Then, one day, that stopped working. And I discovered something even more strange happening inside my nose. Or should I say, I discovered something living in my nose – a big ole’ nasal polyp.
It was freaky. One morning, I noticed that it felt like my right nostril was swelling. I’d blow my nose but nothing would come out. So looked in the mirror and, lo and behold, this translucent grape-like balloon was hanging down inside my right sinus passage. It wasn’t mucus, it was fleshy, soft and TOTALLY blocking my right sinus. I remember sticking a pin in it (sanitized it first, of course), thinking maybe I could pop it, but all it did was bleed slightly. I thought, uh, better not do that again.
For the next two years I was constantly sick. I’d catch a cold and it would turn into a sinus infection, the polyp would swell, I couldn’t breathe, I’d take antibiotics, it would clear up and then it would start all over again about a month later. It sucked. But at this point, it was somehow still manageable. (And something I’ve learned about the sinus cursed people like me, we sort of just get used to it. I think part of it is that we simply forget what it’s like to have normal sinuses, to be able to breathe, smell etc. You just forget and begin to accept your new reality.)
BLACK MOLD, PLEASURE TO MEET YOU…
Well, one day, I decided to move into a new house down the street. As I was moving a desk, I discovered something alarming on the wall behind it: black mold growing in the plaster everywhere. I didn’t even really know what black mold was, nor did I think it had anything to do with my sinus trouble that had, as of late, gotten way worse (it was in this house that I discovered the visible polyp in my right sinus).
(Oh, look! Killer mold growing behind my dresser! Awesome!)
I checked more places around the house. It was in my roommate’s closets, behind some of their pieces of furniture where it was more dark and dank. And well, if you could see this much mold visibly, I could only imagine how much mold was lurking in the wall everywhere all over the house. But of all the places, it was by far the worst in my room. It was everywhere. The more I looked, the more I found. The plaster on my wall was actually saturated and moist from it.
(My roomate’s closet had it too, but alas, he was never sick. So go figure. Not everyone is sensitive to mold. One of life’s mysteries, I guess.)
During the time I lived at this house, I saw some ENTs – two different ones. Both said I had chronic sinusitis. Both said I needed surgery. Both said they’d rarely seen sinuses worse than mine. They said basically I had almost zero room to breathe and that I should really have FESS. I decided they were right. I was sick of the misery. Tired of not being able to breathe. So, I picked my surgeon, did the CAT scan for the Image-guided procedure. And then…
…I moved out of that mold-filled house and I instantly got better. (Was it the mold that took my chronic sinus problems to the next level? I think so – for sure. Many ENTs I’ve spoken to think so. I know one thing, my sinus problems were 3 times worse living in this house. One other factoid: the woman that moved into the house after me was sick for two years. She sued the property management company for not disclosing the fact that there was mold. Get this: they just painted over it and sold the house to her without telling her about it. Insane.)
GOODBYE, MOLD. NOW THAT I’M AWAY FROM YOU, I’M BETTER NOW, RIGHT?
For a number of years after, I was convinced that it was the house. It was the mold. Now that I was away from it, my symptoms were way better. It was over. And I think I was right – for the most part, for a while at least.
And now that I was better, I thought, why have that surgery? After all, who needs to have a surgeon probing around cutting things near your eyes and brain unless you absolutely have to? Not me. Hellz no.
In my 30s, bouts of chronic sinusitis seemed to flare up occasionally again. Most the time some antibiotics would clear it up. But more and more often, a little cold would turn into a month-long ordeal. I’d get a cold, but then I’d get the swelling in my nose (the polyps were still there after all). And then I’d stay sick for weeks beyond what a normal person would.
As this pattern carried on through my 30s, I tried everything: Claritin, Zyrtec, Claritin-D, Sudafed, Afrin (but the rebound sinus swelling became unbearable), steroid sprays, saline sprays, cayenne pepper spray (Sinus Buster) and, of course, the homeopathic hippie all-time fav: the neti pot. Of course, most the time when my sinuses were inflamed, the neti pot was total joke since no rinse could even go one centimeter up my sinuses before being greeted by the Hoover damn known as my sinus polyps.
Little did I know at the time, that it wasn’t just the sinus polyp I could see. There were many, many more I wasn’t seeing. And they filled my sinus cavities (you have six sinus cavities in your head, by the way. Yes, I said, six.). I may have gotten away from the mold, but I couldn’t escape the polyps – they were there to stay now.
And hence, I couldn’t escape my chronic sinus infections. The reason is simple: if you have polyps inside your nasal cavities, you simply can’t drain mucus effectively. If you can’t drain mucus effectively, any cold virus or respiratory infection will stay in your sinuses and fester.
When these bacterial infections fester, they cause you to go on being sick long after the cold virus is gone. And this chronic infection causes the inflammation in your sinuses to just get worse. And well, at a certain point it’s all one self-feeding cycle that you can’t break and every medicine in the world can’t do a thing to help you.
IF YOU WANT TO MAKE YOUR SINUS PROBLEMS WORSE, HAVE A BABY.
Then, when I was 37, I had a baby. And that baby – God love her – was a magnet for every virus known to man, as babies always are. In a span of 6 months, I was sick about 6 different times. Each time 10-20 days of total sinus blockage. Zero air moving through my nose. I was on every medicine you can think and I was doubling the doses and nothing worked. I was chronic mouth breather. I sounded like Marvin the Martian when I spoke.
It was time to see an ENT. Again.
This time, I saw three different ENTs, including one that was basically famous and the ENT to the stars (he’s the ENT for the American Idol contestants). He took a cat scan and said he’d rarely seen sinuses that were worse.
All six of my sinuses, that should have been “black” in the cat-scan indicating open space, were filled with gray, opaque stuff. Could be mucus. Could be polyps. But one thing was for sure, something was terribly wrong.
I was then put on a course of antibiotics to see if it could be cleared up. 5 antibiotics and 6 weeks later, the celeb ENT took another Cat-scan and, well, I was essentially the same, if not – can you believe this? – worse. At the time, I had just caught a terrible cold a few weeks earlier and my sinuses were terribly inflamed.
The polyp in my right nostril was threatening to make an appearance in broad daylight, as it seemed to be heading right out the bottom of the opening of my nostril (this actually happens to people – insane, but true). It was time for surgery. The celeb ENT agreed.
I saw another ENT to confirm the celeb ENT’s diagnosis. Same exact opinion: time for surgery.
And after a decade of misery, I decided, yes, it was time for surgery. Whatever fear, pain or consequence of the surgery, I couldn’t live like this any more. My wife was going to kill me if I complained one more day. I was going to kill me if she didn’t.
Now it was just a matter of who would perform the FESS procedure.
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