I’ll never forget the day in high school when a friend asked, “Did you know your nose is crooked?” Great. I already thought it was too big, and now in the midst of teenage angst, I had yet another reason to feel insecure. A few years later, as I was entering the workforce, I made the mistake of getting the pixie haircut Winona Ryder was sporting at the time. I learned the hard way that a super-short ’do only magnifies any imperfections. In the torturous year I spent growing it out, stranger after stranger commented, “You look like Liza Minnelli.” (Yes, you read that right.) I took this as a direct attack on my nose and vowed to get it fixed someday should the opportunity arise.
One day, it did.
A few months ago, a friend told me about her deviated septum diagnosis, prompting me to get a professional opinion of my own. I shared all of her symptoms: snoring, congestion, frequent sinus infections, and, well, my nose was crooked. An office visit and CT scan later, it was confirmed. I had an S-shaped septum, my sinuses weren’t draining correctly, and my turbinates (bony structures on the walls of the nose that help cleanse air as it is inhaled) were large and round instead of small and narrow—basically, an ineffective breathing system. When my ear, nose, and throat physician, Dr. Evan Bates, suggested a septoplasty (surgery to correct a deviated septum), I was excited. Not only would it greatly improve my breathing, but it also meant I could finally get a nose job.
The next week I met with a plastic surgeon, Dr. Bryan Pruitt, who came highly recommended by Dr. Bates as well as several friends and colleagues. We discussed his conservative and natural approach to rhinoplasty, which was right on par with my goals. He also mentioned he was a sculptor in his spare time. How perfect was that? A tag-team surgery was in the works. Dr. Bates would do his part first, then Dr. Pruitt would take over. We set the date, and I paid the deposit.
That’s when I started to panic.
I was 100 percent sure about the septoplasty. Who wouldn’t want to breathe easier after a lifetime of stuffiness and sinus infections? But then I started questioning the rhinoplasty. Did I really want it? Why couldn’t I just be happy with the way I was born? Was I being too vain? Was it worth the extra recovery time and the extra money? I always thought of rhinoplasty candidates as those with severe disfigurements, not “annoying imperfections.” So did that mean I shouldn’t do it? Everyone I mentioned it to responded with “What?! Why?” Maybe I was crazy. If most people didn’t see anything wrong with my nose, then what was I doing?
Fortunately, I’ve learned to assuage panic with rational thoughts, so I created a list of reasons why I wanted to go through with the surgery, and I read it every morning. First, this was an opportunity. My nose wasn’t flawed enough to justify the rhinoplasty, but because I was having deviated septum surgery anyway, I figured I may as well do it. If it didn’t happen now, it probably never would. Second, Dr. Pruitt said that because of sagging due to gravity, noses appear to grow larger as we age. With mine already a bit protuberant, the last thing I wanted was for it to look even bigger. He also explained that my “tip was soft,” which meant that it would eventually begin to droop. (I imagined myself a combination of Liza Minnelli and the Wicked Witch of the West. Yikes.) Third, the little things that always bothered me would be corrected—looking awkward in photos, being unable to find sunglasses that didn’t sit crooked on my face, not having bangs or short hair (which I love).
The list worked for a while, but as the date of my surgery approached, another attack of “What the hell am I doing?” hit. I had butterflies in my stomach, and I couldn’t concentrate or sleep. The only solution was to meet with Dr. Pruitt one more time to confirm (again) that he knew I didn’t want a totally new nose, nor did I want to look like a different person. I wanted to look like me—with a straighter, smaller nose.
My obsessive side reared its ugly head as I prepared for the final appointment. First, I asked a friend to Photoshop some pictures of me to illustrate my “after” look, then I scoured the Internet and printed every pertinent before and after picture I could find. I was grateful to Dr. Pruitt for not laughing at my presentation.
He explained that as much as he’d like to show me exactly what I’d look like after the surgery, he couldn’t. The final results would depend on a few unpredictable factors. For example, shortening the tip could cause the base to appear too wide, so he might have to narrow my nostrils a bit (which is exactly what he did). Also, it was impossible to predict how I would heal, and that could affect the final outcome as well. Believe it or not, this actually set my mind at ease because I knew there was nothing more I could do. From this point on, it was out of my hands.
I asked Dr. Pruitt post-surgery if I was the craziest, most obsessed patient he’d ever seen. “Absolutely not,” he said. “Fear is a very normal response. If this is a patient’s first procedure, he or she should be nervous. Rhinoplasty is a real surgery that should not be minimized as a minor procedure. I would have been concerned if you weren’t nervous. Most people feel a combination of apprehension and excitement, which is very, very common.” So, even if I were crazy, at least I wasn’t the only one.
The day of my surgery came quickly. I was all smiles going in. They put the I.V. in my arm, and within seconds I was blissfully unaware. Dr. Bates spent about an hour on me; Dr. Pruitt, about two and a half. It took longer than expected because Dr. Pruitt spent more time than usual sculpting the tip. Besides straightening my nose and making it less prominent, he inserted a cartilage graft (or “tent pole”) in the tip to keep it permanently perky. Bless you, Dr. Pruitt!
Coming off the anesthesia was the most unpleasant part of the whole ordeal. Sweating, nausea, chills, and throat pain from the breathing tube (inserted and removed while I was still unconscious) greeted me upon awakening. My husband waited patiently for the brunt of the nausea to wane before he took me home. That night wasn’t as horrible as I thought it would be. Although I looked pretty bad—red bruises around my eyes, yellow discoloration on my cheeks, a plastic “cast” over my nose with a thick gauze pad taped underneath my nostrils, and a gel ice pack over my eyes—I actually felt okay once the nausea subsided.
But sleeping that first night wasn’t easy. I was in an upright position (for the entire week, actually), and every couple of hours, my lips and throat would get so dry from mouth-breathing that it woke me up. I also had to use the restroom too many times to count, because I had received so many fluids during the surgery.
By morning, I felt 100 percent better, and each day brought improvement. I was shocked at how little pain there was. I never needed more than the occasional Tylenol. By the third day, the swelling that had surrounded my eyes had moved down to my jaw line, creating that adorable chipmunk look. Six days after the surgery, I had an appointment with Dr. Pruitt. Instead of changing my bandages as I had anticipated, he proceeded to take out the stints and stitches (somewhat painful but quick) and remove my bandages. The only remnant of the surgery was a little bruise under my right eye. My nose was tender and swollen, but no one could tell until I spoke. Because most of the swelling was internal, I couldn’t breathe out of it (and wouldn’t be able to for at least four weeks), and I sounded congested. But the worst was over.
Now, a month later, 90 percent of the swelling is gone, so I have a pretty good picture of the new me. The biggest relief is that I can still see the old me, just with a better nose. In fact, fixing my nose has made me appreciate my other facial flaws. I don’t look at them negatively anymore, because they’re the characteristics that make me unique.