Mouthbreather – Part 1

I have a confession to make: I am a mouthbreather. I always have been.

It’s not terribly obvious. If I’m not exerting myself at all, I can keep my mouth closed and get enough air through my nose to keep me functional, but if I’m moving around, or talking, or have even the slightest bit of congestion, my mouth is open. (It may not be open much, and as I have quite a small mouth, you may not notice it, but I assure you, it is).

That something is a bit goofy about my nose has always been obvious. My brother, my aunt, and I all have one visibly blocked nostril (the same one) and we’ve been known to jokingly push the tips of our noses over to the left to align with where the tips should be, relative to the cartilage.

(Ignore the hair - I have surgery today & am not focused on making myself purty)
Where the tip of my nose is actually pointed

I never thought too much about it until grade 5, when they started making us run in gym. All of a sudden, it was a problem.

The thing is, I didn’t know what the problem was. I knew that I couldn’t run without breathing through my mouth, and I knew that that meant that if I ran more than about 100m, my throat was going to dry out and I was going to start coughing. The teacher’s focus on running actually had a pretty long-term effect on my interest in physical activity, which had been quite high before grade 5. So I didn’t run, and I embarked on what would become a pretty damned impressive career of getting out of gym class.

While running and sports involving running were out, there were definitely things that were easier for me because of the nose situation. Not being inclined to inhale through your nose is a real perk in swimming, diving, and scuba diving. All those things came naturally to me, and I enjoyed them a lot (still do). I was a natural chorus singer, because if your choir is sustaining a long note, you need to get a lot of air in quickly during your staggered breathing – nasal inhalation won’t cut it.

But over the years it’s become more of a problem. Other than running (which I would like to do), it’s really impacting my sleep. It’s not just the snoring, it’s that there’s only one position I can sleep in and continue breathing through the night – a position I call an ‘inverted 4’

Every night, 7-8 hrs. Same position.
Every night, 7-8 hrs
  • I’m lying on my left side, but rolled forward so that it’s sort of on my front (but propped up)
  • My left arm is straight up (which wrenches my left shoulder & twists my left side forward)
  • My right knee is bent, my left leg straight down. This tilts my left hip/pelvis forward, shortening my hip flexors and putting excess pull on my hamstrings.

Spending so much time in that position has resulted in some postural and muscular issues in day-to-day movement. Because I’ve been spending this hiatus trying to improve my well-being overall, I went to a physiotherapist & now have exercises to work on training my lazy muscles to engage, but every night I reinforce the problem.


Back in the 90s, I was a huge fan of Dilbert and read Scott Adams’ blog fairly regularly.* When he wrote about having a deviated septum and the life-transforming effect that surgery to correct it had**, these thoughts went through my mind:

  • “Gee, that kinds of sounds like what I have, not being able to breathe through my nose when I run”
  • “My case is probably not as bad as his was – surely some doctor would have told me if it were. I’m just being overdramatic/hypochondriacal”
  • “It must be nice to have enough money to be able to get that done electively. I wonder if I could become a famous cartoonist….”***

* either his views have evolved in a way that I now find unpleasant, or mine have evolved, or his were always like they are now & I just didn’t notice.
** He described the actual surgery as being like having a live weasel stuffed up one nostril & threaded back down the other, which also stuck with me.
*** of course, at the time, a cartoon of my life would have just been a clone of Dilbert, so that would probably have been a non-starter.

But last summer, someone I had worked with mentioned that he had the same surgery done and like Scott Adams, described it in transformational ways (as did this other person who read Scott Adams’ post). A few choice (paraphrased) quotes:

  • “I feel like someone reached into my head and yanked out 35 years of misery”
  • “I feel like someone gave me a super-power”
  • “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how happy I am that I did this”

Well, I thought, this is supposed to be the year of self-improvement and doing things that are good for me – I asked him what was involved in getting it done? How much did it cost? Was it covered by work insurance?

Well.

Apparently if a specialist determines that it’s necessary, it’s covered by regular healthcare. The process is to get a referral to a specialist for assessment (referrals are always covered by regular healthcare) and go from there. Since my friend was so happy with his specialist, I asked for a referral to him. I got an appointment, but as is common for non-urgent issues, there was about a 6 month lead time.

[Kicks herself for waiting so long before investigating this. Could have been breathing better DECADES ago.]


[6 months pass]


I go to see the specialist and he says that that yes, I definitely qualify as ‘sufficiently deviated’ (that one’s going on my tombstone, for SURE) for the surgery. In fact, remember that goofy nose tip thing from up above? Yeah, that’s too special for him to do. Apparently regular septoplasty is done where they kinda just stick tools up your nose, move stuff about, and then you bleed for a while and then heal. But if they did that with me, my nose tip would collapse.
Raccoons Cedric & Burt
I mean, I’m a good Canadian, I liked this show. But I didn’t consider it aesthetically aspirational.

The specialist also did a really interesting test (before sticking cameras up my nose to confirm) that completely changed what I thought was wrong with my septum.

In this picture, you can see that my left nostril is largely blocked by the bent nose tip.

Up-nose photo of blocked left nostril
I saved this image to include a bit later so that anyone skimming this post & deciding it wasn’t for them wouldn’t have to look up my nose. But you’re clearly committed at this point.

The doctor had me plug my right nostril & put his finger on my left cheek next to my left nostril and pulled my skin to the left.

Doctor: Does that make breathing easier?
Me: Definitely.

This wasn’t a suprise to me – I’d encountered that using BreatheRight strips (which I can only use sometimes b/c my skin is really sensitive & is too easily damaged by adhesives). He reversed to the other side – pulling my right nostril wider open, while having me plug my left.

Doctor: Does that make breathing easier?
Me: No, in fact it’s worse overall because my left nostril is blocked.

Then he brought in the cameras.

Here I’d always assumed that my nose cartilege was a “J” shape – straight at the top & hooked at the bottom. NOPE. It’s more like a dial that someone has turned 25 degrees, blocked at the bottom on the left and up inside at the top on the right! So I’ve been getting even LESS airflow than I thought I was.

Diagrams of actual septum shape and assumed septum shape
!!!

MIND-BLOWING. The left nostril is the GOOD one (despite its weird ‘gate’ at the entrance).

However. That meant that this guy couldn’t do the procedure for me and instead, I have to be referred to an extra-specialist – one of only two people in BC who perform ‘open septoplasty’.


STOP. I’m going to take a moment to warn you about something. If you have any curiousity about what the difference between regular and ‘open’ septoplasty is, for the love of god, TURN OFF GOOGLE RESULTS IMAGE PREVIEWS FIRST. Learn from my mistake, people.

OK. So. “Open” septoplasty involves them cutting the skin under your nose and then, um, kinda peeling back your nose/face so that they can get at the bits inside. They then do more significant construction. In my case they’ll apparently be widening the bridge & main part of my nose to strengthen it and building a brand new (centered) tip. Then they pull the skin back down and sew you up.

Yeah. All of a sudden I’m a bit less sure about going through with this, but I figure that I should at least meet with the extraspecialist to hear what he has to say. THAT appointment isn’t 6 months away, no. Only a few weeks.

[Google has surprisingly little information about open septoplasty and its complications. I assume that means that everyone who went through it is dead]

When I do go see the doctor, he’s extremely reassuring (not just in what he says, but in manner overall) and I feel much, much better about the prospect of starring in my own sweded version of Face/Off. I decide to go ahead with it and mentally prepare myself for an 8-12 month wait for surgery.

But. Apparently this doctor was recently granted 7 extra hospital days this year and because he just got them, they were wide open. So instead of an 8 month wait, it’s a 6 week wait.

And now those 6 weeks are up. My surgery is today. I’ll provide an update when I’m back home (assuming I’m not so miserable that I just want to go to bed), but fingers crossed for a life-changing improvement!

Advertisements

Birth of a Warrior?

I’m attending the level 2 of the Shambhala training this weekend – Birth of the Warrior. I took level 1 over the Labour Day weekend and although it was extremely valuable and I came out of it feeling alive and connected to other people (and signed up for level 2 while still attending level 1), as recently as this morning I was thinking about cancelling.

You see, there’s a project I’ve been working on that hasn’t been going well. There’s been some ambiguity of ownership and a recent technology change that has resulted in a learning curve that I can’t climb in time for the deadline. There’s someone else who might be able to get it done in time, but it’s not clear if that person is available. I’ve suggested a smaller scope that I could achieve but I don’t know if it’ll be accepted.

So my natural response in that situation is to cancel all my personal commitments – the ones that are for my own well-being – and to spend all the time I can scrape together to try to blast up that learning curve and deliver the project. But here’s the thing. I’ve already spent a TON of time trying to learn it. The docs are poor, there are insufficient reference examples, and an additional two days isn’t going to make a difference, given that the platform is one I only started looking at a couple of weeks ago. And I signed up for this program a month before this project came along.

And I’m not great with self-care and personal boundaries. When I say my natural response is to sacrifice my own well-being for the sake of the well-being of others, I am not kidding at all. I tend to apply about a 10x weighting factor on the importance of things that others care about over those I do. So I made it clear that the project scope was not achievable for me given the platform change and went to the Shambhala centre tonight.

I’m already glad I did. The program director has already said something that hit me really hard: we are so used to trying to ‘fix’ things, to ‘manage’ things, to ‘solve’ things (which is fine for our jobs – that’s often what we’re paid for) that we treat life as a series of obstacles to be overcome rather than a sequence of experiences to encounter. We spend our time thinking “if I do THIS, then I’ll be fixed” or “if I can accomplish that, I’ll be set!”, but what happens when we’re ‘done’? Are we just dead then? What does it mean to have ‘solved life’?

It’s understandable, of course, because solving things gives us a shot of dopamine. Our brains are literally addicted to figuring things out. We really do have to retrain our brains to give that up, and apparently meditation is the best tool we have for that. I did a great job with daily meditation for the first 5 weeks after level 1, but then started to fall off. You know, about the time I started taking on projects and commitments for others. I am NOT good at putting myself first and need to get better at it. This weekend is a start.