Friday, May 13, 2016

My Nose, Part 3

True story - My nose and I have always had an adversarial relationship, part three in a four part nose flattening thriller.

Incident #3 - Age 23, Linden Hills Park, Minneapolis, Minnesota

This story isn't so much an "incident" as redemption gone terribly wrong.  I had broken my nose a couple more times between seventh grade and age 23, all basketball related and none particularly noteworthy.  None of the breaks were serious enough that I sought more in-depth medical attention than having an overworked school nurse stuff some gauze up my nostrils and placing an ice pack on my nose.  Doctors generally weren't used in my household growing up.  My mom was an X-Ray Technician and had seen a career full of people coming into the emergency room for the most ridiculous of reasons.  Her reasoning, which makes perfect sense, was why pay an exorbitant fee and wait several hours in an emergency room for a doctor to simply verify something you already knew was broken was broken?  So, unless it needed a cast, we simply dealt with it.  Fingers, toes and noses weren't serious enough to require a doctor's visit.  (Side story:  One time in high school when my parents were on a fishing trip in Canada, I had pushed Brian a little too far and he was chasing me around the house in a violent rage.  I, as was my protocol, ran into the bathroom and locked the door.  Safely behind a locked door, I heard a loud thud followed by Brian screaming he had stubbed and broken his toe and I needed to drive him to the emergency room.  I called bullshit for a good 10 minutes before finally opening the door a crack so he could prove it to me.  He wasn't lying - his little toe was pointed at a macabre 90 degree angle from the rest of his foot.  We called a temporary truce to our hostilities and I drove him to the emergency room, where it played out exactly as my mom told us it would.  We waited for a few hours, the doctor looked at his toe, said, "Yep, it's broken.  You should probably stay off it a while."  He then gave Brian some ibuprofen and a hefty bill.  When my parents called the next day to check in on us, we explained what happened and were lectured for the rest of the call for making the egregious error of racking up a hospital tab for a measly broken toe, and the littlest toe at that).

In November of 1993, Kate became tired of my constant snoring, choking and gagging every night as my natural instinct would kick in after I fell asleep and I would attempt to breathe through my nose.  While conscious, I was aware of the futility of nose breathing and would intake my oxygen through my ever agape mouth, but as soon as I fell asleep I would start (trying) to breathe through my nose again.  I was aware I had broken my nose in the past, but attributed my breathing issues more to ever present allergies than a badly aligned nose.  So, I made an appointment and went and saw an allergist.  He gave me a thorough examination, poking and prodding my skin testing for various allergic reactions.  After about an hour, he informed me that I did indeed have a few different mild allergies that could be contributing to my difficulty breathing.  What was a bigger culprit, however, was the fact that my septum had deviated to the point that one of my nostrils was entirely blocked off, allowing no air in or out of half of my nose.  He could prescribe allergy medicines, but it would probably make more sense to have my nose fixed first and see how much of a difference that made.

So, after spending a few weeks convincing my insurance company that this was not a cosmetic procedure (I'm vain, but not vain enough for a nose job), I scheduled the surgery.  It was perfect timing as we were getting married the following July and I would have a nice, new, beautifully straight beak for the event.  The surgery was a same day procedure, meaning KT dropped me off in the morning and came back several hours later to bring me home.  It went off without a hitch, although I don't remember any of it (and never did) as I was put under for the surgery and then kept full of pain killers for the next few days.  To this day, KT doesn't hesitate to remind me that I was a complete unbearable asshole during my recovery period, going so far as throwing a petulant childish tantrum in the middle of a Snyder's Drug on the way home from the hospital because they were unable to fill my pain killer prescription.  Two days after the surgery, I returned to the doctor for a follow up appointment.  My eyes were both extremely blackened, I had a brace protecting my nose from any inadvertent bumping and I had small barely noticeable strings hanging from each nostril.  The doctor said my appointment would be a short one, so KT and Al, who was two at the time, decided to just wait in the lobby for me.  Thirty minutes passed.  Then sixty.  Then ninety.  Finally, after two hours, a nurse informed KT that I could be taken home, but would probably need assistance walking to the car.  KT and Al went back into my exam room to find me an unnerving shade of gray, sitting motionless in a chair in the middle of what looked to be a crime scene.

Unbeknownst to me, the two "little strings" that were barely hanging out of my nose were attached to two much larger tampon-type devices which were crammed into my nasal cavity so far that I wasn't even aware they were there.  When I sat down on the table for my follow up appointment, the doctor casually asked me how I was feeling.  Before I got a chance to answer, he gripped the two little strings and with a quick snap of the wrist, ripped the "tampons" out of my nose.  I was caught totally unaware and gasped as I saw the size of the objects that had previously been shoved up my nose.  Then, I briefly noticed the blood flowing out of my nose like a wide open tap before blacking out.  When I woke up, I was lying on a table surrounded by a few agitated orderlies attempting to clean up more blood than I had ever seen before in my life.  The doctor, noticing I was conscious, chuckled softly and said something along the lines of "Well, that was a bit more blood than I was anticipating".  He proceeded to tell me that despite being covered in blood, I looked great and the surgery had been a success.

He was right.  A few months after the surgery, I was able to take the brace off and was dumbstruck by how beautiful my nose looked.  It no longer took a curving "S" route down my face but instead was a straight line top to bottom.  KT marveled at how wonderfully silently I was sleeping and I had to admit I was waking up feeling more refreshed than previously.  We were now into Spring, which meant the outdoor basketball courts were up and running nightly.  I was itching to start playing again as between the surgery and not being able to afford a gym membership, it had been several months since I played last.  My brother, cousin Todd and his friend Matt all lived nearby and we had made a habit of going to Linden Hills Park in Southwest Minneapolis three to four nights a week to play.  We were young, tall and in shape at the time so we put together a pretty formidable team and more often than not got to keep playing until we decided we were finished (winner's always stayed on the court until they were beaten).  My nose was still a little tender to the touch, so I put my nose brace on before the first game of the season and hit the court, excited to get back to my pre-surgery routine.

The nose brace lasted a half a game.  It was bulky, uncomfortable and blocking my vision.  Additionally, I was (am) superstitious, so when my first several shots clanked off the rim rather than going through the net, I whipped of the brace and threw it to the sidelines.  I vowed to be careful, settling for jump shots and keeping out of the lane where elbows flew.  The only was I was (am) a terrible outside shooter.  My basketball skills were centered around patrolling the lane, throwing my weight around (I was no longer scrawny) and grabbing rebounds.  So, before I knew it, I was mixing it up in the paint, we were winning games and all was right with the world - until it wasn't.  On about our fourth game of the night, I was matched up against a giant of a man whom I had battled many times before.  He was a very friendly guy and we got along great, but on the court we absolutely pounded on each other.  He had not been playing basketball for long - and never more organized games than playground ball - and thus wasn't fully aware of some of the do's and don'ts on the court.  One of the big don'ts, especially in playground ball, is throw your elbows around.  Unaware of the unwritten rule, however, this guy would leap for rebounds and come down with his elbows fully extended and swinging.  He wasn't doing it maliciously, he just didn't realize the peril he was putting everyone else (including his own teammates) in.  As I'm sure is apparent by now, I caught one his monstrous elbows, square on the bridge of my nose.  It made a sickening squishing sound and game stopped as my teammates were immediately aware of the gravity of what just happened.  I grabbed my nose, expecting blood to be rushing out and was stunned to find only a small drop or two leaking out.  I let out a big sigh of relief, thinking I had avoided a catastrophe.  I looked over at Todd to show him I was ok and saw his jaw drop and face turn white.  Even though my nose wasn't gushing blood, it was pointing slightly towards my ear rather than straight down to my chin.  I excused myself from the game and rushed home the few blocks to our apartment to see the damage for myself.  When I arrived home, I told KT that "I might have broken my nose again" and asked her to take a glance.  She looked up at me, slowly shook her head and covered her face with her hands.  It was an action I would see her repeat a few more times over the years.  

My septum was once again blocking an air passage and my picture perfect wedding nose was ruined. Neither insurance nor KT were going to allow me to have the procedure again so I was back to the mouth-breathing snorer I was destined to be.

Next time - Broken ego or broken nose - which would I choose?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

My Nose, Part 2

True story - My nose and I have always had an adversarial relationship, part two in a four part septum shattering drama.

Incident #2 - Age 13, Valley Middle School, Apple Valley, Minnesota

One year later, my nose had fully recovered from the "shallow end of the pool" incident.  I was now a year older and in seventh grade, but physically nothing had changed.  I was still a runt, the proverbial 100lbs. soaking wet.  The photo is from my 12th birthday, but it gives an idea of my less than imposing physique (Side note - this photo could be a story in itself from the Old Style Light in the corner to the wallpaper clearly identifying where in the house you were to the "Grace" painting that every good Minnesotan Lutheran family had hanging in their house, but I digress).  Although my body hadn't changed much, my mind certainly had.  I had morphed from a (mostly) sweet, innocent kid into a complete insufferable asshole.  I didn't realize it at the time, of course, but having had experience later in life with kids that age, including my own, I can comfortably state that all 7th graders, particularly those with "outdoor plumbing" are complete assholes.  Most grow out of it, thankfully (I like to think I did), but at that age they are completely unbearable.

As a seventh grader, it is incumbent upon you to make others miserable.  It is as naturally instinctive as eating boogers as a toddler or cracking open a beer at 12:01PM on a Saturday for a middle age man.  Because of my size, I couldn't use my new found assholism to physically make other people miserable.  The only person I dared get physical with was my brother who was either too patient (possibly) or as physically unimposing as me (more likely) and didn't give me the proper pummeling I so richly deserved.  Our "fights" usually consisted of me sneaking up on him while he was reading a book (Brian was always reading a book, so this wasn't difficult), delivering a few quick blows to his stomach or trick knee (a blow to the right spot on his knee left him howling in pain for a good 30 minutes) and then quickly locking myself in the bathroom until he became too bored for retribution.   On the rare occasions he was able to retaliate, to his credit he always abided by the unwritten rule that no punches were allowed above the neck.

So, unable to physically torture others, I instead turned to verbal torture.  I'm unable to give examples of the acerbic wit I unleashed on others (this was more than 30 years ago), but I can imagine they were about as clever as you would expect from an asshole seventh grader.  One person in particular received an pretty hefty share of my verbal assholism.  I can't remember his name - even scouring through my old yearbook wasn't able to bring it back - so will call him "Scott".  Scott was a year older, in eighth grade, but wasn't much bigger than I was.  I don't know why I chose Scott to unleash my assholism on, but can only guess it was because I didn't see him as much of a physical threat, which was rare for me.  I do remember going out of my way to insult, tease, pester and generally torture the poor kid though.  I also remember that I was smart enough (or, more appropriately, cowardly enough) to only unleash my verbal torment when I had a full backing band of friends who would laugh each time I let my inner asshole shine.  Scott may not have been bigger than me physically, but mentally and emotionally couldn't have been more different.  Rather than lob insults back my direction or ask a teacher to intervene, he silently took it without reacting.  Which, of course, I took as an invitation to continue my behavior (remember, I was in seventh grade and seventh graders are assholes).  For weeks on end, I was an unrelenting dick to this poor kid - until the day Scott had finally had enough.

We were in shop class together (excuse me, Industrial Arts), which allowed a loose enough class structure that the students were able to interact with one another without being told to shut up and pay attention.  I had been bugging Scott since the opening bell and was still unleashing insults when the final bell rang.  I was so deeply involved in being an asshole that I took no notice that my supporting group of friends had become bored with my game and were already out the door on the way to their next class.  It was then that I noticed a not so subtle change in Scott.  Instead of just shrugging off my words, he turned and stared at me with a seething hatred in his eyes that I hadn't ever seen before.  I was shocked and frightened and became more so when I realized that apart from Scott and I, the classroom was completely empty.  My bravado gone, I gathered my items and headed for the exit.  Scott, undoubtedly seeing his opportunity, blocked my way.  Before I knew what had happened, Scott delivered a beautiful round house punch square to the bridge of my nose that sent me sprawling across the room.  I blacked out briefly and then pretended that I was dead in the hopes that he wouldn't continue my much deserved ass-whooping.  When I dared open my eyes again, Scott was gone and I was alone with my pain, blood and humiliation.

As mentioned in the "shallow end" incident, I was pretty good about keeping things from my parents.  This time, however, that was impossible.  I arrived home from school with a gash on my nose and two black eyes.  My mom noticed immediately and asked what had happened.  There wasn't a chance in hell I was going to explain that I had been a mouthy little shit and gotten what I deserved, so I explained it away to an errant elbow at a playground basketball game.  I'm not sure if she bought the story or not, but let it slide either way.  Scott, to his credit, never spoke to me or even looked at me again.  The momentum was undeniably all his and I was completely terrified of him. He could have easily spent the rest of the year forcing me to turn tail every time I saw him.  Instead, he acted as if he had never seen me before.  I never thanked him at the time, of course, because I was too afraid to come within 100 yards of him.  As I have grown older and my assholism has faded, however, I think often of the debt I owe this kid.  Not only did he teach me a valuable lesson about the consequences of being an asshole, he let the lesson speak for itself and didn't continue to make my life miserable, as easy as that would have been for him.  So, Scott, wherever you are, thank you for breaking my nose. 

Next time - Wedding Day Blues

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

My Nose

True story - My nose and I have always had an adversarial relationship 

I have, in the course of my 45 years, managed to break my nose as many as seven times.  I say "as many as" because I've only endeavored to see a doctor about it twice.  Two incredibly expensive and draining septorhinoplasty surgeries have convinced me that perhaps my nose is just meant to be perpetually broken and I shouldn't fight nature.  Kate has actually forbidden me to have the surgery again unless I a) sign a waiver guaranteeing to never play basketball again and b) find someone else to transport my impossibly cranky ass home from the surgery and to my follow up appointments.  So, instead, I have learned to live life with my mouth slightly ajar as my septum is deviated to the point that one side of my nose is completely blocked, making the intake of oxygen through my mouth a requirement.

I don't remember the details of each break, but I'll share a few of the more memorable ones.  In the interest of keeping the stories shorter and Facebook friendly, I'll separate them in different posts.

Incident #1 - Age 12, Valley Middle School, Apple Valley, Minnesota.

As a sixth grader, I was a scrawny child.  Not just skinny, but scrawny.  Those who have known me only as an adult may (justifiably) be skeptical, but it's true.  I was the kid in gym class who was struggling bench pressing the bar only while the other kids - boys and girls - were pushing up twice the weight I was.  It was one of those humiliating experiences unique to the awful middle school years.  I was always relieved when gym class moved out of the weight room and into the swimming pool.  Swimming was the great equalizer for me.  I was still awkwardly skinny in my suit, but I had grown up in the water.  I was an excellent swimmer and eagerly used every opportunity to show it.  Swim the length of the pool?  No problem.  Do it entirely underwater?  Sure.  Use the diving board?  A perfect opportunity to show off my perfect diving form.  The pool - and to a lesser extent the basketball court - was where I was able to feel like I was not only not the worst in the class, but one of the better ones.

At the end of each class session, we were usually given 10 to 15 minutes for "free swim".  For most kids, this meant hanging out in the shallow end and splashing each other.  I, however, was determined to use this time to impress upon everyone exactly how talented a swimmer I was.  I headed to the deep end of the pool with the few other brave souls and dove in time after time.  As exhilarating as this was, it didn't take long for me to become aware that my extraordinary diving feats weren't being given the attention they were due.  The majority of the kids were still down in the shallow end, oblivious to the mastery being exhibited.  This would not do.  If they wouldn't acknowledge me in the deep end, I was bringing my talents to the shallow end.  Diving was (with good reason) strictly forbidden in the shallow end, but I had done it several times before and know how to "shallow" dive.  I lined up at the shallow end of the pool, performed a series of exaggerated stretches to draw attention to myself and dived gracefully in.  Gracefully, that is, until I smacked my nose square on the bottom of the pool.

Immediately I knew I had messed up. Big time.  I surfaced and through eyes quickly clouding over with tears, looked around to see who had witnessed my humiliation.  Amazingly (although in retrospect, maybe not so amazingly) nobody seemed to notice.  All the other kids were going about their business.  I had escaped the ordeal without embarrassment.  Relieved and determined not to break down in tears, I decided to head to side of the pool and regain my composure.  My brilliant stealthy getaway was quickly blown, however, by a scream of the incredible decibel level and pitch that only middle school girls are capable of.  In my dazed and embarrassed state, I had failed to notice a small but quickly growing pool of bright red water surrounding me.  Unfortunately, the macabre scene didn't go unnoticed by others.  The first scream was followed by several more and soon after by the shriek of our teacher's whistle and shouted instructions that everyone must exit the pool immediately.  I held on to the last shreds of my dignity, hoping that I was far enough away from the mess that it couldn't be traced back to me.  The horrified looks of my classmates as they saw my flattened and slightly bent beak spewing blood quickly ended all hope of evading notice.

Class was called early and the other kids were sent to the locker rooms to get changed.  I, on the other hand, was afforded to opportunity to add insult to my injury as I was paraded through the hallways to the nurses office wearing only my swimsuit and with half a box of Kleenex stuffed in my nasal cavity.  Needless to say, I wasn't allowed to participate in the rest of our swimming unit and was stuck on the sidelines until the class was on to a much more humiliating exercise, like pull-ups (my record was one).  Looking back, I was fortunate to only injure my nose considering the horror stories that exist with diving accidents.  I'm not sure if my nose was actually broken as - once the bleeding stopped - the only visible sign of my youthful indiscretion was a small bump, but I can distinctly remember the pain that would resurface far too many times later in life.  I'm pretty sure I even successfully hid this incident from parents (I was pretty adept at selective sharing of what I was up to when I was younger) as my mom has no recollection of it.  I didn't know it at the time, but I had only scratched the surface of my nasal adventures.

Next time - The Punch!