Two weeks ago I had surgery on my sinuses and my nose. As a result I was adorably helpless, and this made me miserable.
I have never aspired to be a quirky supporting character in the story of a man's life, but rather a walking, breathing person of my own. But I happen to have been a long-term relationship with a 'real-adult' so while I resent the idea, the quirky supporting character descriptor may not actually be that far off. I often feel as if I am not a 'real adult' and that I am faking it. It's hard to feel fiercely independent when you lived with someone who is so ridiculously capable. I sometimes think that if I was going to write about my experiences in our relationship I would call it 'Being Lois Lane'. This fear of being a supporting character is something I carry with me most of the time in my everyday life.
So in the first couple of days after the surgery, when I felt like a child, I’m sure you can imagine how heavily this weighed on me. I am supposed to be an adult, but there were so many things I could not do for myself. This helplessness combined with the fact that I was wearing braids and drinking things through brightly coloured bendy straws made me feel ridiculous. I could not even blow my nose, it just dripped out onto a gauze dressing. Since then I have spent a lot of time lying flat on my back to minimise the bleeding. Apparently gravity, hot showers, and hot beverages, are all things that will make my nose bleed more. They are all things that were mainstays of my daily routine so I am feeling the lack of their presence quite keenly.
Even following all these recommendations, I had to wear a Gauze Dictator Moustache (trademark pending) taped to my face for a week. I had to cut everything into small pieces and eat it with my fingers so that I did not get my gauze dirty. I had to drink all of my beverages through a bendy straw for the same reason. I wore two braids in my hair, because it was the only hairstyle that did not dig into my head while lying down. For the first couple of days I was still groggy, clumsy, and pained enough that I could not yet change the gauze on own. Having surgery on my nose temporarily turned me back into a child, and I hated it.
Midway through a gauze change a couple of days after the surgery my partner said something alarming, "Did you know your nose looks different?"
This is not something I wanted to hear. I may not have as handsome a nose as Anne Shirley, but I had always felt that I had one that looked good with the rest of my face. It was not too big or too small, and could hold up my glasses if I chose to wear them. I had this surgery performed for medical reasons; not cosmetic ones. I am not sure I would ever trust a non-plastic surgeon to do anything aesthetic.
"Different good, or different bad?" I asked. It was impossible to keep the worry out of my voice, as I was overwhelmed by visions of a near-future where my face would make children run away screaming and crying.
He stared at me for a long time without saying anything. "Different good; really good actually. It's only a slight change, but it has done something dramatic to your face."
Normally I enjoy compliments, but I was starting to feel uncomfortable.
“I hadn’t thought about it before,” he continued, “but the tip of your nose used to turn down slightly at the end. Now it turns up slightly. It’s a minor change but it has made a big difference. Your doctor did a great job.”
“I always thought I had the right nose for my face,” I responded somewhat defensively.
“You did not have the right nose for your face, because the nose you have now is the right nose for your face. You look younger somehow. You were beautiful before, but you are even more so now.”
“Younger?” I screeched, “are you fucking kidding me? I do not need to look younger!”
Nothing my partner was saying was cruel, but I could not help but feel offended on behalf of the nose I had for thirty years. Old Nose and I may not have been the best of friends, but it was mine and we had a lot of shared experiences together.
I had my first sinus infection when I was eleven, and in the years afterwards I would get them frequently (sometimes as often as once a month). The pressure in my face was immense, and the mucus coming out of my nose was so vividly coloured it was hard to believe my body produced it naturally. A friend of mine once commented that if I was a character in a Victorian novel I would be described as sickly, but that my extreme pallor would have been the height of fashion. I missed many days of school and as I got older I missed work. I had children and stayed at home with them and did not think it was odd that I was so exhausted. Everyone says that babies are exhausting, but I was still feeling tired once my children were old enough to spend most of the day at school.
I was thrilled to receive a diagnosis of pan-sinusitis last year. It is not a pleasant thing to have, but knowing that I was sick with something that was known about and has a name was tremendously reassuring. I was still upbeat nine months later when other preventative measures had failed and my Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor suggested a few medical procedures. Surgery is never a happy prospect, but it beats being told there is nothing that can be done and spending years feeling awful. I went into surgery hopeful about a future where I would have more energy and be less sick. Thoughts of how my appearance might be affected by the operation never crossed my mind.
Not that I’d never thought about surgery for cosmetic purposes - my nose has been broken multiple times (my daughter had a vicious head butt when she was a year old), so I used to have this fantasy about rhinoplasty. In that fantasy I would tell the doctor that I only wanted to remove the damage caused by the breaks so I could breathe more easily, and that I was happy with the nose I was born with. To realise that there was a nose better than the one I had been born with upended a lot of my feelings about my appearance, things I thought I knew about myself and my body.
I may not have had my surgery for aesthetic reasons but I do look better. My nose does not look dramatically different, but the different features of my face seem to be in more harmony with each other than before. My eyes look bigger and brighter, my jawline and cheekbones appear more defined, and my lips look more pouty than before. From an appearance standpoint there are no downsides, and It makes me uncomfortable to admit that. I’m not entirely comfortable with the idea of myself as being conventionally attractive.
Before I was thirteen I had been invisible. Glasses for children were a lot bigger and more face-distorting than what is available now, and my parents did not know how to style my curly hair properly. People who did not know me used to say things such as, "You must be very smart." Whereas if I was standing next to someone pretty, they would complement them on their attractiveness. I was used to this until something miraculous happened. I started straightening my hair, I got contact lenses, and puberty was very kind to me. I went from being invisible to beautiful in two weeks. Everyone treated me differently. In stores shop assistants were much more attentive and helpful. Female receptionists in offices where I had appointments smiled at me more. I got more free samples for things. For the first couple of weeks I loved the newness of it, but after a month I was pissed off. Only my appearance had changed. I was still the same person. As a result of my teenage experiences I was already a bit ambivalent about being attractive, so being more so plays into those conflicted feelings. I would rather be recognised for being smart, witty, and all-around awesome.
Now that I am recovered enough to leave the house, I have noticed that strangers seem to mistake me for a high school student even more often than they used to. Mind you, it sounds better in theory than in practice; teenagers are not universally loved. This little tilt of the angle of my nose has made an undeniable difference to how I look to others, and I’m not sure yet how I feel about that.
However even though I look better, I still have blood and mucus leaking out of my nose on a near constant basis. If I move my mouth the wrong way I feel the stitches inside my nostrils pull tight. When I douche my sinuses with salt-water the stuff that comes out would look at home in a monster movie. Sometimes the blood and mucus dries to the inside of my nose and crusts onto my stitches. This is both disgusting and painful, and that's before I even get to the smell.
About three weeks after the surgery I started noticing the most horrible smell. Did the kids leave a rotting piece of food behind a piece of furniture? Had I failed to ventilate my bathroom properly? It turns out that the combination of mucus, blood, and dead tissue that is still being flushed out of my nose with a douche is responsible for this smell. It is so bad that I imagine it if there was a rat small enough to crawl into my nasal cavity and die that it could not smell any worse than this. Sometimes for short periods of time I forget how disgusting it still is inside of my nose. “What is that horrible smell?” I think to myself. Then I remember that it’s me, and feel a bit ridiculous for having forgotten. I have to visit my doctor every couple of weeks to have larger pieces of ‘nasal debris’ pulled out of my nose. There was a scheduling mix-up and I missed an appointment, and my partner mentioned that I smelled horrible. Every time I exhaled he could smell what I smell all the time. Six weeks after my surgery I look good, but still feel like a swamp creature.