I should not be writing this…

…or, perhaps more accurately, I should not be here to write this.

Tomorrow I will be celebrating an anniversary. Forty years ago tomorrow evening marked day zero – the beginning of bonus time for me. First, though, there is the backstory:

As long as I could remember, I had been getting the nosebleeds. And not just from getting hit in the nose for whatever reason; that was to be expected, of course. But the nosebleeds would also, from time to time, pop up out of nowhere. Sometimes they would be of the garden variety – no big deal, just give it a few minutes and things would invariably stop. But, a couple of times a year, they would last a bit longer, and the bleeding would be much more intense. Any number of suggestions were offered over the years in terms of cause, prevention and relief. The most useful: When the bleeding starts, apply pressure as hard as you can along the length of your nose on both sides, squeezing your nose between your thumb and forefinger for several minutes. I sincerely recommend this as a way to stop a routine nosebleed; it has been quite effective over the years. The least useful: Wear a key on a chain around your neck to keep them from happening in the first place. (Seriously. And yes, I even tried that, in grade school. Didn’t work.) But, like I said… regardless of the intensity, the bleeding invariably stopped after a few minutes. So, no big deal…certainly nothing so severe as to seek medical attention, right?

The thumping in my left ear started the summer before my senior year in high school. I attributed it to water entering my ear during swimming; the thumping would come and go…so, again, no big deal. And then there was the congestion in my left sinus, making it sound like I had a head cold whenever I talked…

What I did not realize was that the thumping I was hearing was the ticking of a time bomb, tucked away in my sinuses. And the timer hit zero in February of 1975.

I was on break at work one evening, having my usual cheeseburger. (Clarification: I did eat a different cheeseburger every day. Recycling was not such a big thing back then. Just in case you were wondering.) Anyhow…as I opened my mouth for the first bite, I felt the all-too-familiar sensation; this was going to be one of those high-intensity nosebleeds. Got through it though, the way I always did, and returned to work. Except that the same thing happened again the next night. And then, when I woke up the following morning, my pillow was soaked with blood. And I had also reached the point where I could barely open my mouth without triggering another episode – I could talk, and I could eat small bites, but that was about it. At that point it became quite apparent that something was seriously wrong. Although I had not yet put all of the clues together, it was clear to me that it was time to go to the doctor. Now. So I called the local clinic, and an appointment was made for the next day.

The timeline over the next two weeks was something of a blur. I can tell you, though, that the ENT specialist in Wausau looked up into my nose and saw what he called a “polyp”. I was sent across town for a CAT scan so as to provide a more complete picture (please note, no actual cats were harmed in the procedure). The doctor decided to apply a cauterizing agent with the apparent goal of searing the vulnerable area shut so as to stop the bleeding. When two cautery treatments failed to do the trick, the doc told me that this one was pretty much out of his league. He recommended that I seek treatment either at University Hospital in Madison (the better part of a three-hour drive away in those 55-MPH days) or at Mayo Clinic (Rochester was close to four hours). What about Marshfield, I asked; the clinic had an excellent reputation and was less than an hour away. Although he did not offer Marshfield at first (Wausau doctors were reputed as being overly reluctant to refer patients to Marshfield voluntarily), once I asked, he agreed.

And once again, appointments were made…this time, to see Dr. Ruben Aguas in Marshfield.

(To be continued tomorrow…)


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