Once my younger daughter was born, the juggling act of caring for a new baby and managing the long hours in the Texas Medical Center seemed more and more impossible. Being up and in place for a 5:30 a.m. videotaping of open heart surgery, in addition to staying well after 6 p.m. to pick up other footage, became more difficult day by day. (The Texas Medical Center’s shift change at 11 p.m. looks like the middle of the day at other non-medical work places.)
It seemed like the appropriate time to take a break and just be an at-home parent for a while—but dark clouds were rolling in, literally. Forest and brush fires down in Mexico were sending huge plumes of smoke over Houston. I had always had allergies and asthma problems since childhood, but now those became even worse. My intermittent sinus infections due to my allergies now became chronic. A CT scan revealed anatomical abnormalities in my nasal bony structures that added to the mix and with the extra smoke in the air that exacerbated the previous allergy/asthma issues—it looked like the surgery and thus, becoming the patient was the only answer.
Yet, due to my experiences working in the Texas Medical Center, I knew that the only approach to invasive treatments such as surgery is to be fully informed. I went back to work and began my research, using the following:
Sinusitis Help Book by M. Lee Williams, MD– Dr. Williams was an otolaryngologist (Ear/Nose/Throat or ENT doctor) who worked mainly in and around John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. He underwent eleven sinus surgeries himself and his book helped me understand a great deal about the complexities of what I was getting ready to undertake.
The Mysteries Within: A Surgeon Explores Myth, Medicine and the Human Body by Sherwin B. Nuland, MD-Dr. Nuland wrote many, many books about his time as a Yale University Medical School professor of surgery. Dr. Nuland’s humble discussions about how greatness in surgeons lies in their ability to continue to learn and grow in their profession was very enlightening. In this book, he explains that no one is structured just like the anatomy charts in textbooks and that we’re all unique, so surgeons must always keep in mind the individual nature of each and every patient.
Ron Philo, Ph.D. (now retired) UT-Houston Medical School Neuroanatomy professor-One of my first calls was to the most knowledgeable people I knew about anything pertaining to head anatomy, Dr. Ron Philo. He gave me a very clear visual of what I was up against—the ethmoid sinuses (clustered behind the bridge of our noses and our inner eye area) were like a roomful of office cubicles, each with its own little entry. Yet, instead of being laid out like a normal office grid, the cubicles were all over the place and it was really difficult for any surgeon to see all of them as many of them were hidden around nooks and crannies from others. It wasn’t going to be a simple procedure even for the most skilled surgeon.
Arming myself with the knowledge that I needed when I was becoming the patient, I set out on a long journey to regain my health.