Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty

This story came about due to an operation that I had undergone called a “uvulopalatopharyngoplasty” which is Greek for “pay a doctor a large amount of money to hack out chunks of your throat.” I’ll be willing to bet that you can not even say it without needing reconstructive surgery afterwards. The reason for the operation is that I snore. The reason that I snore is because my body has extra parts that it doesn’t require. So does yours — so don’t think that you are any better. These parts include: the uvula (the small punching-bag-like protrusion that hangs down in the back of your throat and has absolutely nothing to do with the female genitalia), the tonsils, the adenoids, and any other objects that the doctor felt contributed to my snoring. In this case, he removed a nasal polyp through a procedure called a ”polypectomy.”

Before I get too far into this story, I’d like to explain that the suffix “ectomy” means “to painfully remove.” You think I’d have learned this after an operation called a vasectomy where I walked around like I got kicked in the crotch for a week. It didn’t help much that during the recovery period, my three-year old son decided that he would leap across a fourteen foot room like Superman and land with his knee embedded in my groin. As far as I know , Superman never landed with his knee embedded in somebody’s groin, unless he was saving the Earth — or Lois Lane — but my little Superman did. At any rate, what I’m trying to say, is avoid all operations that end in “ectomy.” You will be glad you did.

When I used the descriptive word “hack” in the first paragraph, I was in no way implying that my doctor was not competent. In fact, he is an excellent doctor and was honest to a fault about how I would be feeling after the operation. I did not just point this out because I may have to go back to him someday, and I do not want to anger a man that routinely wields a scalpel for a living, but because it is true. He told me my throat would be very sore for a week or two. I am accustomed to doctors telling you “This won’t hurt a bit,” as they jam a needle in your arm. I did not realize that if a doctor tells me I would be in pain after the operation and they will be giving me a morphine drip, that I should have just gone home and continued snoring for the rest of my life.

There are basically two ways to perform a uvulopalatopharyngoplasty. The traditional “cheaper, but more painful” way — where the doctor uses a scalpel, and the modern “no possible way I could afford it, but substantially less painful” way — where the doctor uses a laser beam and blasts my uvula off Luke Skywalker style. The first thing the doctor had to determine before he could help me decide which procedure would be best, was whether I had sleep apnea. This was important because if he discovered that I had sleep apnea, the surgery would be covered by my insurance.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with sleep apnea, it is a condition where the patient stops breathing for several seconds while sleeping, then resumes breathing with a resounding snort, much like a surfacing Humpback whale. If you live by yourself this may not be a problem, otherwise your spouse may inadvertently try to injure you while you are sleeping. As a matter of fact, people who have sleep apnea may not even be aware of it unless their spouse sits there all night watching them, or they go to a sleep study. I recommend that you try the spouse method because I tried the sleep study and it was not fun.

The first thing you have to do is make an appointment to have a sleep study done at a “sleep lab” — which I was told was a cross between a hospital room and a motel room. This lab was located way in back of the hospital on the top floor. The only requirements for the sleep study were that you wear the same thing you wear to bed at home, and you could bring a pillow from home if it made you feel more comfortable. When I arrived at the lab, the lab attendant asked me to change into my pajamas. I brought a pair of shorts and a T-shirt since I figured I would have electrodes attached to me. The next thing the lab attendant asked me was if I had to go to the bathroom. I said “no.” The sleep study preparation had begun. It was 9:30 pm.

The second lab attendant that came out to attach the electrodes to me made it quite clear that she would rather be doing something else for a living. She was speaking to the first lab attendant as though I was not there. This did not make me feel comfortable. When she finally did speak to me, she asked me if I had to go to the bathroom. I was touched that everybody seemed concerned about my urinary tract functions, but I informed her that I had, in fact, gone to the bathroom only a short while ago, and would be all set for the duration of the night because I never get up during the night to go to the bathroom. I was getting tired of talking about pee, so I tried to speak to her about what I could expect in the next eight hours or so. She grunted at me and gave me short two or three word answers. It was going to be a long night.

The electrode procedure was rather interesting. The first thing that happened, was that the lab attendant looked at me as if I had just arrived, and said, “You haven’t shaved today, have you?” I figured that the four day beard growth was answer enough, but I told her I didn’t shave because I have unfortunate results with a razor. She handed me a disposable razor, and stated that I needed to shave, because the growth of a beard during the night — this is true — has been known to push the electrodes off the patients face. I told her I should probably take my chances, but she held her ground. If shaving was so important, it should have been included in the requirement list, I vehemently argued, to no avail. There was no shaving cream in the bathroom, so I had to use hand soap.

I figured that people who worked in a hospital were used to the sight of blood, but apparently I was wrong. When I walked out of the bathroom looking like a victim of an attempted ax murder, the lab attendant kind of swooned. I wiped the blood from my neck and explained that my skin generally bleeds when I see commercials for electric razors on television. She started muttering about how she should have put the electrodes on my stubble, because she will probably never get the electrodes to stick to my bloody neck. I almost said “I told you so,” but decided it wouldn’t exactly have improved our wonderful relationship. The lab attendant decided to start placing the electrodes in the other locations and do my face last.

For some reason, I thought that I would have about ten electrodes or so on me. By the time she was done, I did not have one square inch of skin that did not have an electrode on it. The electrodes on any area of my body that had hair were, of course, taped with a type of tape that could not be removed without the aid of pliers and tranquilizers. The electrodes that were placed on my scalp, were glued in place, and would have to remain permanently. Electrodes were strapped across my chest. Electrodes were taped on my chin. Electrodes were taped onto my legs. After the electrodes were all connected, the attendant hooked all the proper wires to them. This tedious procedure was time-consuming and took about forty-five minutes. After she was done I informed her that I had to go to the bathroom, and would appreciate it if she could unhook me. If looks could kill…

I was led to the end of a short hall, past the wall of computers and charts and scientific-looking things that would monitor me while I slept. I slipped into the bed and anxiously awaited sleep to overcome me. Almost immediately, the lab attendant lunged into the room, apparently realizing that I could still move — even after she had used up every last electrode wire in the entire hospital. Instead of calling other hospitals in an effort to obtain more electrodes to keep me from moving, she shoved a tube under my nose, and taped it in place. I still had the use of the middle finger on my left hand, so she deftly placed an oxygen monitor over it. I was now almost completely immobile. She was finally satisfied and left.

Luckily for me, the night crew came in. The new lab attendant was more personable and actually used more than three words in the same sentence. He made me perform a batch of tests such as “move your left leg… okay, bend your right knee,” etc. This was apparently for calibrating their machines. Then to my horror, he announced that he would have to adjust the electrode on my left leg. This involved removing the tape. I had relatively hairy legs up until that point. He said that he would remove the tape as quickly as possible so it wouldn’t pull too much hair out or hurt too much, but the joke was on him — he removed three layers of skin along with the hair and it hurt like hell.

When he was done torturing me, he said I could go to sleep now. By this time it was 11:30 pm, my hairless leg was throbbing, and I had to get up at 5 am. He told me that if I needed anything, just ask for it out loud, because they had a microphone hookup and would hear me. There was also a camera on the wall at the foot of the bed, and a large red light near the camera to provide enough light for the camera to film in. Surprisingly, I fell asleep almost instantly, but woke up approximately 50 pillion (it’s a real word — look it up) times because I could not roll over. At about 4 am, I woke up because I had to go to the bathroom again.

I said out loud, “Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom” about five times — each time getting progressively louder until I was yelling at the top of my lungs. I didn’t want to wet the bed with the camera there, but I needed the lab attendant to undo the wiring harness, and the various other devices that needed to be disconnected. I explained to him that I never have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night at home, as if this would make his job easier. When I was done, he hooked me up again. At this point, I knew I would have to get up soon and could not go to sleep, so I figured it was time to have some fun. The first thing I did was have an asthma attack. I did not bring my medication for this, so I’m sure I entertained the lab attendant who was monitoring my oxygen level for a while with my feeble attempts at trying to breathe. Next, I held my breath as long as I could to see if he would come running in. They either got bored and fell asleep, or they suspected what I was up to.

When it was over, the lab attendant assured me that I could take a shower at the end of the study, although he did not tell me that he was going to run out of the special shampoo that removes the electrode glue from your scalp. I rushed through the shower and got dressed. I had about seventeen minutes of good sleep under my belt, huge circles under my eyes, no hair on my left leg, and huge gobs of glue stuck to my scalp. I actually got less sleep during the sleep study than I did at home.

About a week later, I received the news. I had sleep apnea which meant the operation would be covered by my insurance carrier. The problem was they did not yet recognize laser surgery as a viable alternative to traditional surgery. Of course, I had to go with the more painful method, but I already figured that it would turn out that way. I made my appointment for the operation and drove to work, figuring it couldn’t get much worse. Boy, am I an idiot…

Uvulopalatopharyngoplasty Part 2

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