DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional nor qualified in any way to give advice. These opinions are my own experience, only. I am a stranger on the internet, so take my advice as you see fit, and consult with your doctor.
So you’ve decided to get septoplasty! I also got a turbinate reduction, as well as a Latera implant to address a nasal obstruction, so if you’re addressing any or all of these, you may find some of the below helpful.
Some additional background/disclaimers:
- I had the immense privilege of being able to take an entire week to rest and recover. If this is in any way an option to you, I’d recommend it.
- I live alone, but have a supportive partner. I spent the vast majority of my time at home, alone. I was able to take care of myself because I planned ahead, but my significant other did stay with me the first and second night, helped me run an errand or two, and I visited them a couple times.
The day or two leading up to surgery
Poop happens, you guys. Sometimes it doesn’t. I dream of living in a world where talking about literal everyday activities we all have in common is acceptable. People generally fall into two camps–prone toward loose bowels, or prone to constipation. If you’re the latter (and maybe even if you’re not), I’d recommend taking some extra action in the day or two leading up to surgery; surgery is full of reasons for constipation: you don’t eat or drink the day of, you may be stressed, general anesthesia causes constipation (and can cause vomiting), pain meds cause constipation (and your other meds may, as well). You’re already going through a lot, so best not to be constipated if you can help it!
One option: I’ve used laxative tea from Triple Leaf Tea before–you brew and drink a cup before you go to bed, and it stimulates a BM in the morning–very effective. This may be good to do the night before surgery–I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink after midnight, so there will be nothing else in your system to help! However, you may not be able to predict when it will happen–my surgery was at 1, so I think this was acceptable. If your surgery is first thing in the morning, give it a careful think.
Another option: magnesium. I’m told that it’s not habit-forming, and you can just keep taking it until it stimulates a BM. Calm from Natural Vitality is a powder you mix into water. This product I would recommend testing out even a week before as it can take a day or two to find your correct dose–everyone has a different dose that works for them, so you want to know where your baseline is (i.e., what dose will not give you diarrhea) before you know how much to bump it up.
Either of these are good to keep using throughout your post-op recovery.
Do a grocery run so that you have easy food on hand. Make a big pot of stuff before your surgery. Ask loved ones if they wouldn’t mind sending you a meal or running an errand for you. You won’t be able to taste as effectively since you won’t be able to smell for a week, keep in mind. You’ll also need to stay hydrated. If water doesn’t do it for you, or you worry you’ll get bored, get some seltzers, some tea you can brew, kombucha, coconut water, drink powders. Any of that. Nothing too sugary or salty because that may just dehydrate you more!
If you are unfamiliar with or if you dislike nasal rinses (e.g., a neti pot), I strongly urge you to make your peace with it in the days leading up to your surgery. Get some salt packets from the store (if you feel like it stings, try the packets from Xlear, which have xylitol in them; I’ve found they’re gentler). In my opinion, nasal rinsing is essential to this recovery process.
Day of surgery
Wear comfortable clothes–these will be the clothes you wear out of the hospital when you’re likely feeling miserable. I recommend a crew neck or button-up–don’t wear clothes that will come anywhere near your nose when you put them on and take them off. Bring something that occupies your time (I brought my eReader), and something comforting. I have a plushy who’s become my health buddy over the last few years–they’ve been with me in MRI machines, hospitals, and now an operating room!
My surgery was at a hospital, and my surgeon also had a very full day with me toward the end, so I spent far more hours there than I anticipated. My surgery was supposed to be at 1 PM, but it didn’t happen until about 4:30. You may wait less if your procedure is at an outpatient facility, but ask your doctor or surgery coordinator what to expect.
Afterward, I think it’s safe to say you’ll be pretty out of it. Working the general anesthesia out of the system takes a while. Given COVID, I wasn’t allowed to have someone with me. After the surgery, there are a lot of after-care instructions and cautions that can seem overwhelming. Make sure to get documentation, and have them write down anything you talk about that isn’t already on the printouts. You can ask to record your conversation to refer to later when you’re more cogent. Advocate for yourself. Call your doctor’s office if you have questions before or after the surgery–better to feel silly than to threaten your recovery.
The hospital I went to gave me gauze and tape to use at home, so I recommend asking for supplies if you don’t automatically receive them.
You will need someone to drive you home. My team recommended not being alone the first night, just in case anything goes sideways. If you live alone, think of a loved one who can be with you overnight, and where you’ll be comfortable. If it’s not your own home, make sure to give belongings (e.g., glasses, favorite pillow, retainers, vitamins, etc.) to them ahead of time so they’re there for you.
First week of recovery
Provided you don’t have complications, recovery–in my experience–was very quick. There were some low points for sure, but after my post-op appointment, I felt so remarkably better that it put in perspective how short a time a week is.
Your pain medications may have warnings about driving. Mine said not to drive until I know how it affects me. Luckily, my significant other drove me around the times that I left the house–I think I would have been able to drive, but I did feel a little out of it, so played it safe. Have a plan B for transportation in case the medicine makes it unsafe for you to drive.
My doctor recommend sleeping on my back at a 30 degree angle–pretty steep! I’m a side sleeper. I am normally physically incapable of sleeping on my back, but I was able to for the first four or five nights. On night three, I think, I’d wake up in the morning with my BUTT HURTING. I could not figure out a better way to position myself or my pillows to take pressure off my butt, so it did hinder my ability to sleep as much as I would have liked to, but I still got enough rest. During the day, I spent a lot of time on my stomach because my butt was honestly that sore.
Here’s another thing I’ll say just to give a full scope of the experience: your body’s purpose shifts very strongly to being a snot factory. It is unconscionable sometimes how much comes out of your sinuses. There were two nights I was up until quite late because there was so much going down the back of my throat. I did my meditation, did visualization exercises to calm and distract myself… I gave it my darndest. But it was absolutely disgusting. KNOW THAT IT WILL PASS. Stick with it. Sometimes our goal is no more than “get to tomorrow.” Your body is doing exactly what it should to help you heal and adjust.
No, this is not a weird salad.
Dressing, meaning the gauze that goes under your nose to catch mucus and (hopefully far less) blood, is essential. The first few days, it was great. I didn’t feel like as much was coming out of my nose, so I wasn’t having to change the dressing as much. In the latter half of the week, though, there was so much movement that I generally just held a tissue to my face instead. It was easier, more convenient, and felt better. As I told my significant other, I had some moments throughout the first week where I could not think of a time I’d felt more disgusting in my life. Having hours where I didn’t have a snot rag taped to my face was very humanizing! But sometimes you gotta have your hands free, and you also need to have on a dressing if you’re wearing a mask.
As I said, the hospital I went to sent me home with enough gauze and tape to get me through the week, so ask about supplies if you aren’t handed any. If you do have to buy some, it seems like an open weave is best at absorbing mucus. I’d recommend making the gauze a bit wider than your nose, and I folded mine about three layers thick–then I used “paper tape” to hold it to my face. The tape irritated my skin sometimes and actually pulled some off once, so be mindful of this and be kind to your skin. You may need to try another type of tape, and handle the piece first so it loses some tackiness.
You’re recovering. You’re regenerating tissues. You’re fighting constipation from medicines. And you are producing a LOT of mucus. Drink a lot of water. If water gets boring for you, try coconut water, seltzer, or kombucha. I did a Costco run beforehand and that was helpful.
A cold (not steam) humidifier was also recommended to me. I feel like it helped.
At my post-op, my doctor told me my healing looked better than the average patient, and they credited my nasal rinsing (e.g., neti pot). My doctor recommended doing a nasal rinse 6-8 times a day. I don’t know how people don’t do it!? The pressure that builds up in the sinuses gets intense. It also was nice from time to time to have water dripping out of my nose for a bit, instead of mucus.
I recommend one of the nasal rinse bottles that you can squeeze, as it gives you control over the amount of pressure. Use only boiled tap water (obviously cooled to a tolerable temperature) or heated distilled water. Tap water can have bacteria in it, which is harmless to us if we drink it because our stomach acid kills it, but our nose has no such defense.
The first couple days, I would spend minutes at the sink. It was slow going. Sometimes the goal was to get any water at all to come out of one side. Be patient. The more you try to rush or force it, the more water you’ll get in your ears, or even through your soft palette! I would do two bottles in a row on one side sometimes–once I got water through, I’d get hooked on seeing if I could improve on it (and I always could, it just took time). It was time well spent because I at least got the pressure to go away for a while.
My doctor also told me at my post-op that I had no scarring. I’m sure the nasal rinse was instrumental in this, as it keeps the area cleaned out and staves off bacteria.
Just a reminder that you will only be able to breathe through your mouth, even while eating! Don’t take bites that are too big. If you have a dressing taped to your nose, drink with caution–so annoying to get coffee or water on the gauze.
Just an acknowledgement that you will not be able to smell for a week. If something is burning, you will not know, so pay attention when cooking.
Numbness and jaw tension
Again, this is just my experience but I lost some sensation or movement (or both) in my upper lip for the first several days. Mobility also was impaired because of the packing my my nose. It was hard to purse my lips (e.g., to spit out water when brushing my teeth, or get my mouth on or around some foods.
I also noticed a lot of jaw tension and/or pain. Particularly in the morning. I don’t know if sleeping on my back did it, or if things shifting in my face caused it, or what.
I had the equivalent of hay fever on roughly days 5, 6, and 7 (leading up to my post-op). I was so stressed about sneezing at first. In my experience, it was virtually no different from sneezing before surgery. Just make sure you don’t do it with your mouth closed, and have a tissue ready!
My surgeon put some special tape on either side of my nose to keep things in place, and then “packing” inside my nose–I think it was like a little plastic cage to keep the nostrils’ shape and protect the septum? At my post-op, we checked in about how it’s gone–I honestly didn’t have anything to report other than sneezing a heck ton for a couple days. Then the doctor took that stuff out of my nose and then VACUUMED ALL THE MUCUS OUT OF MY NOSE AND SINUSES. IT WAS AMAZING (and did not hurt or feel uncomfortable). To go from being so congested that my dressing had soaked through, to being 100% clear was a seriously night-and-day experience for me. I quickly got *some* congestion back, but only about 10% max of what I’d just had. Most of the runny nose I had wore off after about 30 minutes, and then I was just a little sniffly and congested (I’m still healing, and am still a little congested, but this should clear up in a week or two).
The aftermath of all this will be for a future post, but I hope this is helpful. I wanted to arm myself with as much information as I could before I decided to do this, so I hope this can scratch some of that itch for you. If you get the surgery, let me know how it goes! What was similar and different for you?
For the next in my series, here is the post covering the post-op appointment, all the way to a full month out from surgery.