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Opinion >  Column

Front Porch: A column as plain as the nose on her face

Stefanie Pettit takes her nose sailing on Lake Coeur d’Alene. (Courtesy of Stefanie Pettit)
Stefanie Pettit takes her nose sailing on Lake Coeur d’Alene. (Courtesy of Stefanie Pettit)

This is about my nose.

It never occurred to me that I’d be this involved with my nose, until … well, I was. I’ve been sporting a big old bandage seemingly forever, and everything I say and do seems to be driven by what’s going on with my nose.

Many years ago my husband dropped a big hunk of sheet metal on his big toe. The nail blackened, the toe swelled, and everything in his consciousness was about his throbbing toe … until it healed. I get it now.

I’ve tried to make up good stories about what happened to my nose – like this great bar fight tale or the one about how the boom of a sailboat clocked me as I was executing some spectacular sailing maneuver, but, alas, no one believes me. The truth is, it was surgery, the removal of a basal cell carcinoma from the side of my nose.

Because of where the thing was on my face, I had Mohs surgery, a micrographic procedure, followed by the application of a collagen mesh placed over the wound to speed healing and minimize scarring. The mesh gets covered with tight-fitting bandaging, which holds everything firmly in place and to keep the mesh moist. The entire dressing is changed weekly until new skin forms and healing has taken place.

I’ve been Nose Woman for five weeks, and while things have moved along as they were supposed to, everything has been about my nose.

First, I’ve not been able to get it wet. I shower from the neck down and wash my face and hair separately – and carefully. Early on, I wasn’t supposed to bend over a sink, so I had no really good way to wash my hair, necessitating going to a salon just to get it washed.

And every time I move a facial muscle – which is when talking, chewing, smiling, yawning or doing anything other than just staring quietly at the TV or a computer screen – there’s a tug on the bandage. While subsequent bandages have not been as uncomfortable as the first big official pressure bandage was, these “smaller” ones do exert pressure, so it feels like someone is pushing a thumb down on my nose most of the time. Very distracting.

The first two weeks, one nostril was pretty much, but not entirely, blocked off, so I was largely a mouth-breather. When I awoke in the morning, it felt like gym socks had been stuffed in my mouth. And as I am prone to occasional nose bleeds, I have been in perpetual fingers-crossed mode hoping those nostrils behave themselves for the duration.

Then there’s the runny nose thing. I’ll spare details here, but let’s just say I’ve become the queen of cotton swabs. I have them stashed around the house like some people keep reading glasses scattered everywhere. And in public, I’ve mastered a behind-the-hand, sleight–of-hand cotton swab maneuver which surprises me at my own nose care agility.

And of course I have to take my nose with me wherever I go – to the store, out to lunch, at meetings and more. Older people don’t stare. They know. Since we tend to grow barnacles as we grow older, my peers have mostly been in similar situations themselves. Some people do remark, “So, what does the other guy look like?” – which is funny, and to which I usually say something to the effect of “I knocked him out cold.” But, God bless little kids, they just come right out and ask directly.

Most interesting was the taking of my nose to a family wedding in Bellingham last week. It occurred to me to wear one of those big red clown noses, but it really is bad form to do anything that might pull attention from the bride and groom. I had a number of interesting but less-than-helpful suggestions for camouflage – wear a burqa, a hazmat mask, a welder’s mask or keep cooling myself in Scarlett O’Hara fashion with a big fan.

I opted to just go with it in all its gauzy white glory. Turns out it was no big deal.

My favorite time of every week has become the 15 minutes or so when the bandaging comes off and the wound cleaned, before a new dressing applied. It is then that I can wiggle my nose and have regular feeling back in my face. You don’t miss it until you don’t have it.

Several days after the wedding the big white blob was removed, and I will now sport a discreet little bandage for a week or so as I sniffle, sneeze or honk at will – ordinary but delightful things to do unimpeded, things I never even thought about until they became a big deal.

I’ve missed my nose and am so glad to have it back.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at upwindsailor@comcast.net.

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