Reading this article by Lorraine Boissoneault for Salon.com brought back a frightening memory of my own. Please, read this article. Though it focuses more on how some Doctors may react to female patients, the lesson here is one everyone should learn:
My Doctor Told Me It Was All In My Head; I Might Have Died If I Believed Him
First, one shouldn’t lump all Doctors and their relative level of competence/incompetence together, but if you take anything away from this story, let it be this: If you feel there’s something wrong with your body/health, something you feel is serious, and you go to a Doctor and s/he tells you its nothing, get a second opinion. If need be, get a third or a fourth.
Trust me on this. Your very life and well being depend on it.
My experience? (Perhaps you shouldn’t read if you’re eating…at least for these first few paragraphs)
A number of years ago, when I was in my early-mid-30’s, I developed what appeared to be a very serious sinus cold. Usually colds work their way on me like this: I get a sore throat and feel low energy. After a day or two, the sore throat disappears and I get a very runny nose and phlegm/mucus. This will last a few more days until my nose dries up and the cold is gone, usually within a week’s time or less.
During this particular “cold”, the runny nose/phlegm/mucus lasted for a very long time. I can’t remember exactly how long but it was far more than a week and I was constantly blowing my nose and releasing inordinate amounts of mucus. But other than the mucus, I really didn’t feel all that bad so I didn’t think much of it.
I probably should have.
One day, I felt something strange in my nose and, quite suddenly, out of my right nostril a large amount of yellowy liquid rolled down my nose. It was the consistency of water/blood and felt like a nosebleed but, as mentioned, the liquid was a dark yellow color. Once the liquid “bled out” that was it for the mucus and, I thought, I was fine.
Not so by a very long shot.
Over the next couple of years, I developed a strange malady in that right side of my nose. At night, while lying down and sleeping, a pressure would build in that nostril, somewhere deep within the nasal cavity, a pressure so strong it would choke off my breathing and awaken me. At first it was every other night but soon enough it was quite literally every night.
Further, I slept only on my left side because if I slept on my right side gravity would instantly cause that pressure to appear within my right nostril and awaken me. However, even while sleeping on my left side, I could do so for no more than 4 hours before the pressure in my right nostril built and I’d be awoken.
Once awake, I had to get out of bed and walk around or sit upright until the pressure/swelling was gone. Sometimes this would take well over an hour. As I usually went to sleep around 10:30 each night it meant that every night –every night– at about 2:30-3:00 AM I was awake and would stay that way until close to 4 AM. When I went back to sleep, I again had maybe a 3-4 hour window before the pressure once again built up and forced me to awaken.
But there was even more “fun” to be had.
I also developed extreme sensitivity to dust (especially in construction areas) or cigarette smoke. If I detected even a small puff of cigarette smoke, in particular, I would often feel my nose “tingling” and, soon after, I might come down with a very serious migraine headache.
Up until that point in my life I had never had any problems with headaches.
These headaches were so bad that at times I had to lie in bed (always on my left side!) for over an hour with my eyes closed and all lights off (I was light sensitive as well) before the headache eventually left. Sometimes these headaches were even worse than usual and they’d upset my stomach to the point where I was vomiting.
After a year/two years of this, I went to see an ear/nose/throat (ENT) Doctor. He listened to what I had to say and took a look into my nose and said I had a deviated septum in my right nostril (If you are unfamiliar with this, you can read about deviated septums here).
He sounded so sure of his diagnosis that I was instantly up for getting an operation to straighten my nasal passage out. We did it and, some three weeks or so later, I was “healed”.
But my problem, I found, remained.
At first my sleep was better but after a few months time I was once again getting that terrible pressure in my nose while sleeping. I was again waking up each night after only 4 hours of sleep and had to stay up an hour or longer before the swelling within my nose was gone. I still suffered from those terrible migraine headaches.
I returned to this doctor perhaps a year after the surgery and told him I was still having the same problems as before. He took another look at my nose and said that the deviated septum was gone post-surgery so, obviously, what I was suffering from now was some kind of allergy. As it so happened, he shared his office with allergy specialists so I went to see them and they did tests on me and determined I was allergic to dust.
So I started a regime of injections, one each week (I believe) which were meant to ease my allergies. I did this for a year but there were no changes. I was still suffering and gave up on the allergy shots.
My problems, of course, remained and, after yet another year or two of not being able to sleep a whole night and suffering that damned swelling in my nose and the migraine headaches, I went to see another ENT Doctor.
This Doctor was an older gentleman who looked into my nose and shrugged and said “Sometimes that happens when people get older”. He nonetheless told me he could operate and cauterize some veins in my nose, thus making the passageway smaller, which would ease the pressures I felt.
By this point I was at least five plus years into this and I was desperate to get some -any- relief. So I had the operation and, after a week or two of healing, I was better.
But not cured.
Maybe three to five months after the operation I was effectively back to status quo. I had the same swelling in my nose, same 4 hour sleep, same migraines, and this second doctor’s words “It happens when you get older” kept repeating in my head.
Two doctors saw me. I had two operations. And in the end, I was experiencing the same crap. I gave up.
So a couple more years passed and I tried my best to carry on. By this point I was approaching 10 years of this misery and I was starting to lose it. How does one live when he cannot sleep a full night and at almost any point can be hit with an extremely painful migraine headache?
I was miserable, constantly tired, and depressed.
No, not just depressed. More than that. I feared I was losing my mind and, yes, I even thought of suicide.
I know, it sounds like I’m exaggerating. I’m not. Try to live nearly a decade of your life, each and every single day without exception, unable to sleep a full night, always able to go 4 hours before being forced awake and then having to spend an hour and sometimes much more alone and upright until the swelling within your nose comes down enough to allow you to go back to sleep…but only for a little while before its back.
Yes, I actually thought of suicide. That’s how bad things got.
Luckily, it was at about that time I started seeing a general practice Doctor. Though I felt nothing could be done about my nose (after all, two ENTs did nothing for me), I nonetheless told him my symptoms and what I had gone through. He looked into my nose and said:
“Have any of those doctors told you about ‘turbinates’?”
Turbinates, or nasal (mid, inferior, etc.) concha are found within the nasal cavity. My previous doctors, of course, hadn’t mentioned them at all.
This general practice Doctor, who didn’t even specialize in the ENT field, nodded and said that my turbinates, especially on the right side, looked irritated. He recommended I see an ENT he knew. Desperate, but for the first time in a very long time seeing a glimmer of hope, I set an appointment for this ENT.
I went into that Doctor’s office and, when I was before him, gave him a rundown of what I’d gone through the previous many years but made no mention of turbinates. I was curious as to what he’d say and I didn’t want to influence him one way or another. After a few seconds of looking into my nose, he said:
“Your right turbinate is eight times the size it should be.” He then recommended I get operated and the turbinate’s size reduced to what it should be.
Very long story short: It turned out that was exactly what was wrong with me. To this day I’m certain that that strange sinus infection I had years before somehow blew my turbinates up (I never had this problem before). Imagine having something just past your nasal cavity and under your eye that is eight times the size it should be and when irritated it swells up even more. It blocks your breathing but also presses against other tissue. It caused my eyes to water (I wasn’t even aware of this!) and produced all those nasty migraines.
Yet two -let’s be honest here- fucking idiot doctors -supposed specialists in the field!- didn’t see it.
I suffered tremendously for nearly ten very long years with this swelling but, after having a third operation on my nose, this time to reduce the size of the turbinate (you can read more about turbinates, or Nasal Concha, here), I was all but cured.
I still get a bit of swelling in that nose now and again, but its very, very minor and doesn’t awaken me or keep me from sleeping. I can sleep on either my right or left side. Those horrible migraines and super-sensitivity to dust and smoke are completely gone.
For all intents and purposes, I’m cured.
Please, please, please don’t be like me.
If something bad is affecting your life, get yourself checked. And if the doctor you see doesn’t help you with your problem, don’t hesitate to get a second, third, or fourth opinion.
As I discovered, ten years is a very long time to suffer for nothing.