Since I was 16 years old, I’ve been dealing with a problem called non-allergen chronic rhinitis. To most people, that means that I get a stuffy nose every now and then. What actually happens is at least once month, but usually several times a month, my sinuses swell so badly that I am completely unable to breathe through my nose and then I have to be a mouth-breather, which makes me super uncomfortable. Because of the excessive post-nasal drip, I almost constantly have a sore throat and a cough. I get sinus headaches all the time, which are like mega migraines. During them, I usually cry my eyes out because it hurts so bad, which makes my sinuses get worse because of all the…well, the snot that crying produces, and I have to be in complete darkness to feel any sort of relief.
Due to the frequency of this illness, it also lowers my immune system’s ability to fight off a lot of other viruses and infections so I get sick all the time. That makes it really hard when you’re trying to earn a living and attend school: things that require frequent attendance. When I suck it up and go to school/work anyway, I am the annoying coughing/sneezing/sniffling student that plagues every classroom. On top of that, it’s one of the more gross illnesses you can have because my life revolves around mucus. Yuck.
Oh, and remember that “non-allergen” part of the name of my illness? What that boils down to is doctors have no idea why this happens to me. I’ve been run through every allergy test there is and nothing’s ever cause a reaction. There’s no trigger for it, all they can do is assume it has something to do with the shape of my sinus cavity.
Trying to explain to professors and employers and provide documentation to “prove” I’m sick, essentially being required to legitimize a major health problem constantly, does not feel good. Especially when I tell someone what I’m sick with and the response is something along the lines of “Oh, it’s just a sinus infection, that’s not too bad.” No, asshole, actually it feels really horrible, especially since I spend more of my life with a sinus infection and/or another illness than without one, but thank you so much for delegitimizing the hurt my body feels constantly being sick.
Finally, last year after seeing a range of specialists it was determined that I had a deviated septum that *might* be the cause of my rhinitis. My sinus cavity was also deemed “too small” to drain the excess mucus I produce so I had a bilateral turbinate reduction and they reshaped my sinus cavity. Surgery was scheduled, which required a lot of faith considering this was a shot in the dark to attempt to fix what was wrong with me. November 26th, I was put under anesthesia and woke up very weepy, loopy and in pain.
My surgery was two days before Thanksgiving so I had to miss out on that and I was put on bed rest for 4 weeks (thus the lateness of my blog posts since I was forced to take an Incomplete and finish out the semester at a later date). It was amazing the things I took for granted that I wasn’t allowed to do for weeks. I couldn’t bend or squat down to do something simple like pick an object up because the pressure could cause the splints in my nose to move, my nose to bleed, my stitches to pop, etc.
Having the splints and packing removed from my nose was…well imagine a splint that reaches from the openings of your nostrils into almost your brain being pulled out, with no sort of numbing aid, after having stitches inside your septum untied with tweezers and pulled through the middle of your nose. I wasn’t allowed to blow my nose for 8 weeks (I had to go to the doctor’s office once a week to have my nose vacuumed out which is one of the nastiest/coolest things that I have ever experienced.) Nothing could come near my nose because it was so swollen, which was very hard to teach my cats and dog, who like to rub up against my face to wake me up in the morning.
This experience has brought me closer to my body. It has taught me to appreciate its intricacies and the things that set it off. It has taught me to respect the aches & pains of others, regardless of what stigmas may be associated with them. It has taught me patience with those who do not understand the issue and, therefore, need constant, medical proof of my illness. It’s been several months since my surgery and, while my immune system is never going to be the strongest, I haven’t experienced any sinus problems thus far. It’s amazing. I know that this could change and a lot of people who receive the same surgery that I had experience problems again down the road but I am happy for the time I have now free of agonizing sinus infections.