Wednesday, April 20, 2011

It seemed like a good idea at the time

    When one thinks of medical emergencies, traumatic internal nostril injury is not usually something that readily comes to mind.  In my medical experience, I can only recall two instances of serious accidents involving the inside lining of someone's nose.  One I saw this week.  The other I inflicted upon myself as a young boy.  This is not a particularly easy area of the body to injure.  From experience, I can say with certainty that such accidents, while extremely rare, are not any any way enjoyable.  Well, at least not to the injuree.  Witnesses and family members seem to find the situation quite comical.
     I'd like to tell you that it takes a particular amount of skill to do serious harm to the nasal mucosa.  I'd like to say that it takes some planning and foresight to cause extensive damage to the nether regions of one's proboscis.  Unfortunately, all I can glean from my limited experience of such trauma is that it really only takes a healthy dose of bad luck and some poor decision making on the part of the victim.
     My personal drama started when my parents decided to paint the living room.  Let me fill in the details.  Mom and Dad had decided that the room needed a fresh coat of light green pain, if my memory serves me.  Following the standard protocol of most paint jobs, the furniture had been moved to the center of the room.  Drop cloths had been placed on the floor.  The base boards and window frames had been masked with tape, and the outlet covers had been removed.  To remove these, a screw driver had been utilized.  This was not just a plain old ordinary screw driver.  It was one of those solid, heavy, weighted varieties with interchangeable tips.  Now if you know anything about outlet cover screws, you of course will recollect that they accept the thin flat head variety of screwdriver and so that tip was the one that had been placed in my dads screwdriver that particular day.   Also, lying about on the floor were several unused fuzzy tubes that slide onto the paint roller.  I had wandered into the room and picked up one of those tubes. 
     Of course as any self respecting boy would do, I began using the tube as a telescope.  I then proceeded to do the old trick of making a hole in my hand with an optical illusion. If you have never done this or have no idea what I am talking about, try taking a piece of paper and rolling it into a tube.  Hold the tube in your right hand and look through it with your right eye.  Now move your left hand in front of your face (about a foot away) and bring the tube into contact with the right-hand side of your palm.  If you do this correctly, then with both eyes open, it will appear that the center of the tube passes through your left hand.  Believe me, it works.
  Growing bored of this tick, I picked up the previously mentioned screwdriver and was pleased to find that it fit perfectly into the paint roller tube with just enough room to fill it while still being able to slide freely within.  Up to this point I had not done anything remotely hazardous.  Then suddenly I had a really interesting idea.  Laying down with my back to the floor I held the tube up above my head and looked through the tube at the ceiling.  I then held the handle of the screw driver with my other hand and placed the screwdriver point down into the tube.  I began moving the screwdriver in and out of the tube watch with amazement as the tip moved back and forth first toward my eye and then away.  I don't know how long I laid there doing that, watching shiny metal slide up and down like a piston in an engine.  For some reason I found it totally mesmerizing.  Then my fingers slipped and I watched in horror as the screwdriver transformed into a projectile propelled by gravity at my face.  I count myself very lucky to this day to have two working eyes.  I think my guardian angel must have nudged the tube ever so slightly, because instead of impaling my eyeball, the tip of the screwdriver shot up my nostril without coming into contact with any part of my face and drove itself deep within my sinus, slicing through the soft tissue of my nasal lining as it went until it lodged with a wet thud about 3 inches deep into my head.  It was a one in a million shot.  Talk about a nose bleed.    To this day, I don't know what I was thinking, but it sure seemed like a good idea at the time.
     In hadn't thought about that incident for years.  It came back to me yesterday when I saw a gentleman in my office with 3rd degree burns up inside of both of his nostrils.  He had been driving while using oxygen which was delivered through a nasal canula.  I've heard of people on oxygen lighting themselves on fire by trying to light a cigarette.  I'd never seen it actually happen before.  Forget for a moment that someone with lungs so bad that they have to breath oxygen through a hose still smokes.  He really was trying to be safe.  He apparently had turned off the flow of oxygen prior to lighting up.  He then set the canister down in the seat beside him and in the process had unknowingly turn the flow of oxygen back on slightly.  He put his cigarette in his mouth flicked his Bic, and whoosh! With a sudden explosion he had flaming plastic melting into the lining of his nose as flames literally cooked his sinuses as lit his mustache and hair on fire.
     I guess in a way we are both lucky that nothing more serious happened to either of us.  We certainly both learned a painful lesson through our experiences.  I will never again dangle a heavy sharp object above my face and I don't think he will ever try to save time by not removing his oxygen before having a smoke.  The more important lesson though is one that I'm not sure I've quite mastered.  You see, God gave us common sense for a reason.  We choose to ignore it at our own peril.
     In my own life I know I have courted danger many times by taking needless short cuts and risks.  I'm pretty sure from observations of the general population that most folks are guilty of the same crime.  We see politicians who refuse to make the tough decision for fear it might cost them the next election.  We see business men that try to pull a fast one to save a little money.  Students cheat on a test because they want a grade without putting in the effort to learn.  We do these things because sometimes we get away with it.  We see the easy way out and think, "What the heck, no one will notice if I cut a corner this one time."  It is a dangerous gamble we take, because eventually we will slip up.  Rest assured, we will get caught and there are consequences for making stupid decisions.  No one gets away with it forever.  Just ask Tiger Woods.
     I've heard it said that character is how we act when no one is watching.  I don't care what people say, character matters.  I want my children to know that.  I want to be their example.  I want them to make the tough choice to do what's right and stand by it even when everyone else is mocking them for their stance.  I know they will make poor decisions along the way.  I know that I have. I still do from time to time.  Hopefully they won't see that very often and when they do I will be man enough to admit it to them and rectify the situation.  I don't want them to believe that I am perfect.  I just hope they see that I am not satisfied with my imperfection.  I also know that they aren't perfect either.  I realize that part of parenting is to let them fail in the small things and then face the consequences of their mistakes.  That's the only way they will ever learn to avoid the big mistakes. 
     Sometimes it takes a serious nasal trauma to drive that lesson home.  Hopefully my kids have more common sense than I did.  Then again, maybe Karlye has a point about me putting my screwdrivers away when I'm done with them.