Becoming a patient gave me an entirely new perspective
As a physician at CornerStone Ear, Nose & Throat, whenever I discuss sinus surgery with patients, I tell them to only consider the procedure if their symptoms are actually affecting their quality of life. Recently, I had to take my own advice and undergo sinus surgery myself. Although I’ve performed sinus surgery for the past 15 years, becoming a patient gave me an entirely new perspective.

My personal story began three years ago when we installed a CT scanner in our office and I volunteered to be one of the first test patients. My CT scan revealed some thickening in my left maxillary sinus. At that time I didn’t have any symptoms of concern, so I thought nothing of it. Over the next couple years I began to experience thick postnasal drainage, increasing left facial pressure, some upper dental pain, and periods of associated bronchitis at least twice a year. (Other symptoms that patients have include sore throat, halitosis, chronic cough, and decreased smell sensation.)

A repeat CT scan demonstrated that my maxillary thickening was increasing in severity. I was treated five times with antibiotics, which helped to some degree. I also continued to use nasal steroids, antihistamines, and nasal irrigations. All of these are treatments that I recommend to my own patients prior to considering surgery. Over the past year, my symptoms became more persistent and no longer responded to the antibiotics. I finally decided that I had enough and asked my partner William McClelland, MD, FACS, to perform the sinus surgery.

A Less Invasive Sinus Procedure

Many people are scared of sinus surgery because they have heard horror stories from someone who had surgery in the past and experienced painful nasal packing, black eyes, severe pain, excessive bleeding, and a recovery period of many weeks. Even though I didn’t particularly want to go through surgery, I still knew that the recovery time should be short and would not include the symptoms just mentioned.

While there are still some surgeons who use nasal packing, we do not use this method of treatment at CornerStone Ear, Nose & Throat. On average, our sinus surgery patients lose 50 cc of blood or less during the surgery, therefore packing is not required.

After my own surgery, there were really no surprises. I don’t remember any significant pain in the recovery room. (Then again, I don’t remember much of anything from my time in the recovery room!) For the next two days I had some pressure and mild pain in the left side of my face, fairly similar to what I experienced while having an active sinus infection. There was some bloody drainage when I leaned forward and I felt somewhat congested. However, I was able to breathe through my nose at all times. During the recovery, I took antibiotics, used nasal saline and continued my nasal steroid sprays.

I had surgery on a Thursday and on Sunday, I went to a medical conference for three days. The Wednesday following my surgery, I was back in the office seeing patients. I tell my sinus surgery patients that to be safe, they should plan to take five days off from work. But, there are plenty of patients with jobs that don’t require strenuous physical activity who have returned after only three days.

Seven days after surgery I had my first postoperative debridement of the sinuses. During a debridement, the dried blood and mucus that has formed in the sinus cavity that was operated on is removed with suction and small forceps. Prior to the procedure, a topical anesthetic is applied. I can’t say that there is absolutely no pain associated with a debridement, but it’s not terrible. I recently performed surgery on a 10-year-old who allowed me to do a full debridement in the office. Most children that age would not allow you to continue if they were in any significant pain. Only a handful of patients in my 11 years of private practice have been unable to tolerate this procedure.

For approximately two weeks after surgery, I still experienced pressure in the left side of my face when bending over. Occasionally I had some bloody clots when blowing my nose. All of these symptoms are expected to some degree.

It has now been over a month since my surgery and I am doing great. For many years I have tried to tell people what to expect after sinus surgery, and now I can at least give a recount of what I went through. I also believe that having a greater understanding of what patients experience only enhances the care I provide.

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