That’s Life!

I heard an item on the radio this morning concerning an article written by the journalist Kevin Myers, in today’s Irish Independent. In this piece he refers to the perfect contours of the late Princess Diana’s nose which, when combined with her appealing eyes, made her into a real photogenic beauty. It started me thinking about the contours of my own nose and forehead which have been altered by recent surgery. My medical history is complex – I’ve had a lot of surgery, in various specialities and have the surgical scars to show for it – but none of these compare to living with a slight facial disfigurement.

I was admitted to an NHS hospital in northern England earlier this year to undergo a complex operation at a specialist Head & Neck surgical unit. This surgery is unavailable in Ireland unfortunately. I have a long history of serious sinus infection which has necessitated regular surgical intervention and intensive antibiotic treatment over the years. As a result of this, I now also (surprise, surprise) have a history of recurrent MRSA infection. The MRSA presented itself as orbital cellulitis following my last episode of frontal sinus surgery and this infection manifested into chronic osteomyelitis in the frontal bone of my skull. All surgical efforts to establish drainage from the frontal sinus had failed and despite intensive antibiotic treatment, I continued to develop abscesses in the bone close to the base of my brain. As this had an associated risk of developing into a brain abscess/septic meningitis, I was referred to the UK for assessment. Here I was advised that the most effective way to stamp out chronic osteomyelitis would be to have all the infected/dead bone removed, and an operation called the ‘Riedel procedure’ was recommended. I was fully informed that there would be a cosmetic disfigurement post-operatively and having considered my predicament very carefully, I finally agreed to proceed.

My little friend, the superbug, is thankfully still responsive to a tetracycline antibiotic, Vibramycin (Doxycycline), and this enabled me to obtain the requisite ‘all-clear’ from MRSA screening prior to the surgery. The operation itself went very well and was completed in just under four hours. My head was opened from ear to ear (zig-zag coronal incision), my ‘face’ was peeled back to the bridge of my nose and the anterior and inferior walls (bone) of both frontal sinuses were removed completely leaving a large hollow in my forehead. The margins of the frontal sinus along with the supraorbital rims were then ‘chamfered’ (planed) to make a gentle curve rather than a sharp step out of this hollow. This allows the soft tissue of the face to fall in and line the vacated frontal sinus area and improves the cosmetic defect which results from the procedure. My ‘face’ was then put back where it belongs and the coronal incision was stapled together before a pressure bandage was applied with a drain in situ to minimise haematoma formation. I had no post-operative complications other than vomiting copious amounts of blood when in the recovery room – this had drained into my stomach during the surgery. Ten days later when I had the staples (59 of them) removed from my scalp, the incision was healing beautifully and I was well on the way to making a good recovery.

That all happened five months ago and I remain free of infection. The post-operative numbness of my scalp has almost resolved though it has left behind an unpleasant neuralgia which requires medication. The surgery has left a definite legacy – a facial cosmetic defect. The bridge of my nose ends abruptly where the large hollow begins in my forehead. I’ve got used to seeing my new ‘look’ in the mirror although photographs still tend to take me aback. I’ve also had to get used to having conversations with people, usually strangers whose eyes are firmly fixed on my forehead while they try to work out what’s happened to the contours of my face. I’ve had a few tactless comments but nothing that humour can’t handle. You have to keep things in perspective – I’ve been given a second chance at life – not everyone gets that chance. My surgeon has offered re-constructive surgery (a split calvarial bone graft/titanium plate) in the future but for the moment anyhow I’ve no wish to go there and certainly no wish to invite further trouble. And anyway, I’m proud of my war wound – my husband refers to it as the ‘bomb crater’- it was a hard fought battle and I’ve come through it still smiling 😀

I’ve just gotta face it – I’ll never be a Princess Di. But then, that’s life!

12 Responses to That’s Life!

  1. Nonny says:

    Good Lord that is an awful lot to deal with. I can’t believe people would be so rude. It just goes to show whilst some people may appear “nornmal” their mentality leaves a lot to be desired. The very best of luck with your recovery.

  2. Bean says:

    I hadn’t heard it called the “Bomb Crater” before!

  3. Harry says:

    That was such an interesting post to read, very enlightening. You have been through an awful lot, but retain a fantastic attitude about it all. I don’t blame you for not wanting more surgery for now after reading that. It’s so interesting to hear from a patients perspective.

    It’s nothing in comparison, but last year I had a bone block procedure where they took bone from my lower jaw and nailed it in my upper jaw after an abscess from a split tooth root infection. I know what you mean about the numbness, it used to drive me nuts as it felt so alien but now I’m pretty much used to it.

  4. Steph says:

    Thanks for that, Harry. I’ve lots more of those stored away somewhere, just waiting to come out.

    Eeny, meeny, minny, mo
    write a post ‘n let it go
    when the comments start to flow
    I’m not alone – ’tis good to know!

  5. Grannymar says:

    ‘I’ll never be a Princess Di’

    I’m so glad to hear it. She is just a memory, You are alive and kicking!

    Cheerfulness removes the rust from the mind, lubricates our inward machinery, and enables us to do our work with fewer creaks and groans. If people were universally cheerful, there wouldn’t be half the quarrelling or a tenth part of the wickedness there is.
    Cheerfulness, too, promotes health and morality.
    Cheerful people live longest here on earth, afterward in our hearts.
    – Author Unknown

  6. […] programme has certainly helped me to keep my life in context. I was pleased to learn last night, having got used to seeing my own reflection in the […]

  7. […] while travelling home by air. I was en route back to Ireland following a stay in a UK hospital for complex surgery on my skull. I had been discharged from the hospital earlier in the day and felt totally elated to […]

  8. […] seen him. We agonised together over my battle with MRSA and of course, he was fascinated by the complex surgery I’d had in the UK earlier this year. He studied the resultant cosmetic defect in my forehead […]

  9. […] I returned by air last year following complex surgery in the UK, I will never forget the emotional storm which took me completely by surprise as the […]

  10. […] I made my first ever trip to Wimbledon to see the real thing. I booked the flights in advance of my operation in March so that I’d have the trip to look forward to after the surgery. It was a fantastic […]

  11. […] unit of an NHS hospital for surgery on my head. I was no stranger to the place having had a major operation there two years previously. Revision surgery was now required as further complications had […]

  12. […] of my nose so that a prosthesis could be made to seal off one side of the airway. However, the ‘bomb crater’ left in my forehead following previous surgery, was also clearlyof interest to my new friend. I was […]

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