For what my body has been thru in the past 24 hours, I’m most surprised at how bounce-back I have been. I have these dueling urges. On one hand: to carry on, walk around, be vertical. Which begets the opposing urge to give into the physical chimes to lie the fuck down and just repair. To that end, I’ve got a mother and wife making sure I’m not up for more then a few minutes. And a stack of Netflix.
My pain level, to use the standard hospital rating, is an unbelievable 2 or 3. No need to take any more of that crooked fucking Vicodin; just Tylenol. I had prepared for pain levels double this. So to only be grappling with a sinus pressure, a familiar discomfort, is a pleasant surprise.
Today is also the day I get the tampons taken out. The packings, which undoubtedly are a significant factor in the pressure I’m feeling up there, were placed an unknown distance up my sinuses, leaving these heavy black strings trailing out my nose and taped to my cheeks. I look like some feral cat whose picked & lost a fight. It will be good to get back into Dr Rust. Just to check-in, ask some questions, get some oral history of how the surgery went. Unfortunately, save for those few groggy moments when I woke from anesthesia, I haven’t seen Dr Rust since.
Sitting in the same brightly lit examination room I was in when Dr Rust first explained the myriad of best & worst case scenarios, I’m aware for the first time since that the deed is done. I’m on the other side. Sitting there alive. Post-op & pain free. Surreal. In the room with my mom, and she & Dr Rust are chatting about HER deviated septum, when he pulls out his spreader forceps and offers to take a gander up my moms nose. More surreal. And kinda funny, cause my mom obliges. So there we both were, Dr Rust and I, peering up my moms nose.
Dr Rust explains that he’s going to pull out the packings, and that I am going to bleed. A lot. For me not to worry. That he’s done “oh… only a few hundred of these.” When I ask where the tampons are up there, he informs me that they’re packed into the ethmoid sinuses, the honeycombed shaped cavities between the eyes. Hoe. Lee. Shit. We’re talking a lot further up there then I thought.
But first, he soaks some cotton balls in a solution not unlike the Vicks nasal mist: where it contracts the mucus membranes and opens everything up. Stuffing a soaking-wet full-sized cotton ball up each nostril is again, not too painful: just terribly uncomfortable. That weird line between sinus-tickle and sinus-pressure, each producing a physical reaction resembling pain. Whether it’s the residual anesthesia, or a general numbness of the whole area, I’m just relieved that I can’t feel pain up there. Like so many things in Life, this has been NOTHING like the warnings people gave me prior.
About 5-7 minutes later, Dr Rust comes back in, and places one of those pink kidney-shaped plastic dishes in my hand and positions it under my chin. Here we go.
The next few minutes of my life will be ones that I will neither forget nor ever be able to accurately recount. If my mom wasn’t there to witness it, I don’t think I would have ever believed it possible. And she only SAW it. She couldn’t HEAR what I heard.
First, he tilts my head back, spreads my nostrils with the forceps, and needle-noses the cotton-balls out. One. Two. Each a mix of red & black, slapping into the dish followed an involuntary drip of tears from my eyes.
Next, he precedes to finger-nail the surgical tape from my cheeks, to free the cat whiskers attached to the tampons. No fear. No apprehension. No worries. In hindsight, I suppose I should have been concerned. I mean, if you know a dentist is about to do something such as this, your body goes into reaction mode, to prepare for an onslaught of negative feelings. But with this, none. Perhaps because we all kept talking, a bit about the colour of the cotton balls, a bit about just general stuff. I can’t remember.
But I knew I was in for a ride when with one hand he twisted-up & knuckled the strings, and with the other, he squarely palmed my forehead. As if for leverage. Inside of 2 or 3 short seconds, the tampons, which looked like halves of french toast sticks, were out.
There was no one-two-three. There was no advance direction. There was only the pull. And that fucking sound. Like eggshells cracking. A lot of eggshells. My head pivots at the neck in response to the resistance. My vision goes all funny in that moment. With one action later, my head is downward, over the kidney-shaped tray that I am still holding. Thank god I didn’t close my eyes for any of this. For close on the heels of the tampons, out both nostrils and my mouth, comes an unholy stream of blood. Mostly bright red (fresh) blood. But also some bits the same consistency & colour as charred steak.
The tears are pouring out of both eyes, so I hand my glasses over to my mom without looking. I don’t want them to fall into the tray, the bottom of which is now completely filled. For a long & solid 15 seconds, both nostrils flow uninterrupted. Then for another 20, they drip with the cadence of a drum roll. Then for the next 5 minutes at least, they drip with a slow taper. Eventually, the right nostril stopped altogether. But left nostril never stopped dripping, even well into the night.
I have never seen so much blood come out of my body at one time. My mom remembers that it was all she could do to fight back the urge to react as if I was hemorrhaging; that this routine post-op procedure had gone terribly sideways for her son. But we were BOTH re-assured by Dr Rust’s warnings of blood, as well as his relaxed reaction to the blood. The force with which he had to pull, the crunching sound, and all this blood: As hard as this all was to reconcile, it was normal.
I have ALWAYS had a penchant for gore. I was that kid in 8th/9th grade who had Freddie Kruger and pages from Fangoria up on my walls. I was one of those early adopters who frequented Rotten.com long before they went paid-only. Same with Ogrish. I was fascinated with how the human body reacted to trauma. What we looked like. How our limbs & internal organs looked rendered free from our bodies. I know it sounds macabre, but I didn’t so much enjoy these images & videos as I gained strength from them. Almost as if I was able to feel alive by these graphic reminders of how close accidental death is at all times.
So to be staring down into this dish filled with a half-inch of blood spanning no less then 4 shades of red, and the black & white mottled tampons coagulating within, I was fascinated. Only a small fraction of the people I know would share such sentiments. Even regarding their own discharges. You know who you are.
Following the tapering of the dripping, Dr Rust went back up there with a dentist-like vacuum to clear away some of the debris that had either coagulated or otherwise failed to drip. Again, tickle. No pain. Another moustache dressing and a few handshakes later, and I was slowly shuffling with my mom back out to the car. Whether it was the loss of that half-pint of blood, the physical debt of the actual tampon removal, or just too long being vertical, I was spent. I nearly fell asleep in the car ride home. With messy dressings.
I can’t really remember much about the rest of the day. In retrospect, a lot of the post-op days have blended into each other. I know I took 3x Tylenol and had another bowl of soup. And sleeping. A lot of sleeping. With visions of french toast sticks on strings.