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A nose for trouble



No, I dote hab a code. My dabe id Adrew, ad I hab a chrodic sibus idfectiod. So dere.

Today is a good day, meaning I can breathe out of one nostril, and use the letter ‘N’ in casual conversation.

According to a doctor’s diagnosis, I have something called pansinusitis – a sinus condition that is surprisingly common among people these days, what with our weak immune systems and unusual propensity for allergies.

What that means essentially is that my sinuses are constantly inflamed and often infected, resulting in a runny nose, headaches, earaches, and some ungodly snoring that could literally wake the dead. Without Dristan I would probably be a single man by now.

How does one get pansinusitis?

I’m not sure, but mine is likely the result of the fact that my sinuses don’t drain properly, and that might have something to do with little league baseball, high school rugby, high school football, high school gym class, and skiing.

More specifically, five broken noses – a short hopper on a bumpy baseball field, a knee in a collapsing scrum, a thin wrist that somehow got through my football face mask on a block, an errant elbow playing basketball, and a T-bar.

The T-bar was the worst. My friend thought it was fun to bounce up and down on a stopped T-bar while parked on a flat spot, and accidentally slipped off to the side. The bar, which is suspended by an incredibly powerful spring mechanism, proceeded to spin around and up, cracking me in the lips and nose as it retreated upwards. I coated myself, my friend, a ski patroller and the bump shack with blood, and was nearly rushed to a hospital by ambulance until it miraculously stopped bleeding. It hasn’t really bled much since that day, and not for a lack of trying.

How does one person get five broken noses by the time he reaches 20 years of age?

To begin with, the Mitchell men are all cursed with large, pointy noses and below par hand-eye co-ordination.

My father broke his nose twice when I was young in utterly ridiculous ways. Once when a sticky garage door, the kind that tilt up, suddenly gave way. The cement counterweights and springs propelled the door upwards with enough force to knock my dad about five feet back in the air, catching him square on the honker.

On another occasion he was attempting to right a sloping shelf without removing any of its contents. He took a couple of books and half of his collection of duck decoys square in the face before he had the good sense to abandon ship.

He broke his nose a few times before we were born, but the circumstances are hazy. One might have happened when he accidentally strolled off the side of a cliff at night near his old hunting lodge, and another on the steering wheel of his car.

My brother has had at least three broken noses that I can remember. One happened playing ultimate, another skateboarding, and another in a bike crash. I may be forgetting a couple.

To see a family portrait of us, you’d think our noses were genetically crooked, but it’s sadly just a coincidence.

Anyway, largely as a result of my broken noses I’ve been battling sinus infections for the past decade.

At one point, I couldn’t even fly because every time the plane decompressed for landing I thought my head was going to explode. A small chip of bone had lodged itself in the sinus under my left eye – I still have no idea how or when that happened – and needed to be removed.

It took three years to finally get that surgery, and it was almost a success. Almost.

Following surgery to re-align a deviously deviated septum – a thin wall of bone and cartilage separating the nostrils – and remove the bone chip, the Toronto specialist who performed the operation somehow forgot to tell me to make a follow-up appointment in Halifax, where I was in school at the time. Well, he either forgot to tell me or he told me while I was still giddy from the gas. Either way, I had no idea I had to go back to the hospital for a post-op checkup.

As a result, my badly swollen nose exploded in a downtown Blockbusters video store about 12 days after the operation. It turns out that I still had a suture up there as well as a few chunks of gauze, all of which should have been removed less than a week after surgery. By the time it exploded, the whole works was badly infected.

A month of antibiotics later, I found I could breathe better. Best of all I could fly again.

Still, it wasn’t long before my sinuses were acting up again. I lived at home in Toronto for a year-and-a-half after university, where I was mildly allergic to the family cat. Naturally I assumed that when I put about 5,000 kilometres between me and Newman (the cat) my sinuses would clear up.

The Whistler air was great, at least at first. But four years in, and I’m as plugged up as ever.

Last week I took the first step towards what will likely be another operation, going to Vancouver for a CT scan of my face. I have to make a follow-up appointment in the next month, and after that I could be added to the surgery list.

It could take six months to a year after that before anything happens, depending on the results of the scan, but I’m actually looking forward to getting surgery at this point.

Right now, I’m effectively disabled, with only four out of five working senses. I have almost no sense of smell most of the time, and the things I do smell tend to stick with me for days and days, slowly driving me insane. Last week the pervasive smells I couldn’t get rid of were peanut butter, bleach, and, for some reason, urinal puck.

I’m looking forward to smelling and speaking normally again. I’m also looking forward to hearing properly – when the ol’ sinuses are acting up, I also tend to go a little deaf, and then talk way too loudly to compensate.

My co-workers, friends and family will also be happy. When I explained to a co-worker that it could take a while for surgery because my condition wasn’t life threatening, he disagreed – if I kept snuffling and clearing my throat, he was going to kill me. "Put you out of your misery," were his exact words.