About a year ago, I started having problems with my right eye. Every few months, it would start tearing excessively. Then, the space between my eye and nose would swell like a balloon, my sinuses would hurt for a day or so, and then the whole thing would clear up. At least, that’s what happened the first couple of times; the third time, the pain and swelling stayed for days, resulting in the worst sinus headaches of my life. I finally went to see my doctor, who sent me to an ophthalmologist, who referred me to a tear duct specialist, who tried a probing and irrigation procedure to remove whatever was blocking the tear duct. It didn’t work. (If anyone reading this blog wants to know about probing and irrigation, here’s the long and short of it: extremely unpleasant, but over very quickly.)
So he told me I’d need surgery: dacryocystorhinostomy, or the creation of a new tear duct. The moment I heard the word “surgery,” my heart rate tripled. All my life, I’ve had a severe phobia of general anesthesia. When I had to have surgery on a broken finger in high school, I wouldn’t even let them give me a sedative – I was terrified of losing control or being changed in some weird way. So knowing I’d have to face that fear wasn’t fun. Plus, upon Googling “blocked tear duct surgery,” I came across this woman’s blog – and as you can see, she seems to have had a completely horrible time. So not only would I have general anesthesia, a thought that had petrified me since I was a kid, but I’d apparently be in agony for days and days. Lovely!
My doctor was booked for about a month, so I had to spend my August sitting with these fears. I tried to keep my mind off of it, but with little success. I went to a family reunion and a wedding and thought about surgery as I danced and socialized. I packed up our apartment (I’m starting a graduate program next month) and thought about surgery as I boxed books and clothing. I searched the Internet obsessively (against my therapist’s orders) and found the most awful photographs. I had no idea what to expect.
Well, I finally had the surgery two days ago, and decided to create this blog to spread the good news: it wasn’t that bad at all. I’d hoped that I would be able to feel silly about being so scared, and I was right! I think Vivian Marie’s experience might have been an outlier, especially since she’s a migraine sufferer, so I want to provide an alternate account of the surgery for anyone who needs it and is looking for information.
So here’s how it went: Dacryocystorhinostomy, as experienced by someone with severe anxiety and a hospital phobia.
Like I said, I didn’t handle my anxiety about the surgery very well, so by the time we got to the hospital I was a wreck. We went to the outpatient surgery pavilion and I started crying in the waiting room. My husband and I had put some TV on his iPod, but halfway into an episode of 30 Rock (which calmed me down somewhat), the batteries ran out. Crud. As I shakily flipped through a magazine, my doctor came out in surgical scrubs and started talking to the family of whomever he’d just operated on. “You want to go say hi?” my husband said. But I was paralyzed.
Eventually the beeper they gave us went off, and my husband and I went to the door. Technically, I was supposed to go back on my own, but as soon as the nurse saw how hard I was crying, she let him come back with me while I changed into the gown and went to the prep room.
Upon entering the room, I passed a young girl lying in a bed, apparently drugged out of her mind. I fought panic as I thought back to my ninth grade finger surgery and my fear of mind-altering drugs. I cried as one nurse went over information with me; I cried as another put in the IV (which didn’t hurt at all, thankfully). They kept assuring me that the anesthesiologist would be there soon with medication to “relax me.” I knew what that meant – soon I’d be drugged like that girl! – but at that point I knew I needed it. Besides, I wanted to face my fear, and I was even curious to see what being sedated felt like.
Unfortunately, someone was delayed somewhere and they kept me in the prep area for an hour and a half, with no anesthesiologist in sight. They let my husband stay with me, though, and the monotony of waiting helped take the edge off. He and I were even able to joke a little.
After awhile, my doctor came in and wrote the letter R over my right eye, and then drew an arrow to the surgical site. Then, a little while later, the anesthesiologist finally showed up with a syringe. “I’m going to ask you some questions,” he said, “but first I have something that’ll make you feel relaxed.”
“Shouldn’t we talk first!?” I cried, thinking that the medication would make me incoherent. My therapist had suggested requesting that my husband be brought to the recovery room while I was still unconscious, so that I wouldn’t wake up alone, and I wanted to make sure I asserted myself.
“Sure,” he said, and set the syringe down. Then he started going over information about the anesthesia. When I realized that I’d still be able to talk while sedated, I told him I could have it now after all, but he ignored me and went on with the questions. When he was finished, I made my recovery room request, explaining that it would help my anxiety immensely. He said he’d pass a note along to the nurse.
Then he gave me the sedative. When it kicked in, I suddenly felt very drunk – the room started spinning around me. I still felt more or less lucid, although my memory does get a little fuzzy. The anesthesiologist let my husband kiss me goodbye, and then wheeled me into the OR. I looked at the machines all clustered in the middle of the room and thought I heard my doctor’s voice somewhere behind me. A nurse put an oxygen mask on me and told me to take deep breaths. I tried to, but the mask smelled like latex or something, so it was difficult.
“Have a nice snooze,” the anesthesiologist said. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him putting something into my IV.
“Wait,” I said, “you’re doing it now?”
That’s the last thing I remember. I thought I’d feel drowsy and then fall asleep, but instead it was as if someone just cut the footage out of the film reel. A while later (twenty seconds? A million years? It’s weird to have no sense of time passing) I woke up in the recovery room. Unfortunately, this is the one pretty bad part of the whole experience. My husband was nowhere in sight, and none of the nurses seemed to be paying much attention to me. Hospital policy was to let family members in as soon as patients were awake and aware, so I think the very first words out of my mouth were, “can I see my husband now?” But the nurse said no, not yet.
It feels like they kept me by myself for a good twenty minutes before they finally brought him in. I asked for him over and over again, but the nurse said she had to finish doing something with another patient. In terms of bodily health, I actually wasn’t feeling all that bad; I had only moderate pain, which painkillers helped, and zero nausea. I’d had a breathing tube, but my throat didn’t hurt at all – if I hadn’t been told beforehand that it’d be there, I would never have known. I’d been afraid that I would be aware but immobilized, but the moment I woke up, I was able to speak, move, and even stand (as I discovered when they asked me to move from the surgical chair to a recliner). They gave me some ice chips to eat while I waited. I put a hand to my eye, and as I’d expected, it was covered in bandages. There was also a light metal shield on it to protect it.
The pain was starting to get worse when my husband came in. Looking back, it probably wasn’t the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life, but I was feeling very shaky and vulnerable – plus I was angry at the nurses for keeping my husband away for so long. It was mainly a sharp pain in my eye and nose, and dull throbbing in my sinuses. I began to cry, and the nurses told me to stop because crying would increase the sinus pressure, but I couldn’t help it. There were two patients across the room from me, both peacefully dozing, and I thought I’d go crazy with jealousy. I’d heard that I would probably want to go back to sleep after surgery, but that was out of the question.
They gave me codeine (I’m allergic to vicodin), but when I was told it’d take twenty minutes to take effect, I started crying harder. Plus, my nose was bleeding pretty heavily, which was alarming. “She shouldn’t be in this much pain,” one of the nurses said, and I promptly convinced myself that something had gone dreadfully wrong in the OR. A monster-sized blood clot slipped out of my nose.
But guess what! The whole episode only lasted a few minutes, because then one of the nurses decided to give me more intravenous painkillers, which worked like a charm. The pain went away completely and I started to drift in and out of sleep. I suspect they gave me the strong stuff partly to shut me up, but hey, that was fine by me. So, after decades of fear, I finally faced general anesthesia and heavy drugs, and it wasn’t the most terrible thing on earth. Just as I’d hoped.
When I woke up again, I felt a little stronger and told everyone I was ready to go home. That’s when they sprang into action – they must have had me out of there in five minutes. The pain didn’t come back, and aside from sleepiness and a little difficulty speaking (I’d try to speak at full volume, but only a whisper would come out), I didn’t feel any huge aftereffects of the anesthesia. At home, I slept for a few hours, took some more codeine, and watched Lord of the Rings.
Over the past couple of days, my eye has looked like something out of a horror movie, but I’ve felt hardly any pain at all – just the occasional twinge, almost unnoticeable. Advil has worked fine for the most part. I think I can feel the stent in the corner of my eye – it feels like an eyelash – and although my eye was too swollen to see it yesterday morning, I think I can make it out when I look closely now. It’s very tiny.
And that’s it. I guess I won’t know whether the operation was a success until the stent comes out in a few months, but overall, the whole ordeal was pretty minor. The lack of compassion in recovery was frustrating, but it was over quickly.
I hope this helps anyone who is as afraid of the procedure as I was. I’ll try to post updates as my eye heals, and when the stent comes out.