Early in our marriage, Barb and I shared a cramped little apartment in Prescott, Arizona, not the palatial estate we inhabit now with its postcard view.
Back then, a handful of years into the marriage, she had to go back to Cleveland for family reasons. Maybe because of her attachment to her mother, she decided to make it an extended stay.
She was gone at least a month. I had the apartment to myself.
Now I’m no slob, I keep a neat house. The old cartoon – socks over the lampshade, cigar butts in the bathtub, encrusted plates in the sink – that’s not me.
Her absence did extend certain liberties. Not all good.
I’m afraid the distance convinced me it was a good idea to stage a cigarette smoking relapse. Heart pounding with guilty excitement, I drove to the convenience store on Montezuma and spent something like seven bucks for a pack of Marlboro Reds. Wow, I noted to myself, prices had gone up. It’s even more now.
At first, I just had a few cigarettes out on the deck.
But it got to be dead of winter. I began to want to take the chance of smoking inside.
Only problem was, my wife couldn’t know, whenever she did get back.
As my mother said, I smoked them down to my toes. The acrid nicotine smog would not air out easily.
I kept it up, my habit waxing to a pack a day, and the reek commensurately increasing.
What to do?
I decided to sleep with all windows open. It could be ten degrees or zero out and here I was climbing into the sack in sweatpants, knit hat, and sweat socks, and swaddling myself in extra blankets and afghans, as many as I could find. I slept all right, kind of like camping. I do not remember waking with a cold.
The guy below me must have been shivering. Maybe he turned his heat up, had a few words with the landlady about weather-stripping.
Eventually, Barb did phone to say she was coming back. Her own mother shamed her into it.
Back to an apartment two college sophomores might think twice about renting.
It was the price we paid for my decision to undertake the second career of high school English teacher, and no jobs available in Cleveland.
I continued to open windows at night and when I was out of the place. The day before her return, I talcum-powdered the carpet and vacuumed over that, as well as Windexed the windows.
When Barb walked in, she was wise.
“Have you been smoking?”
“No!” I shrugged, made a little laugh. I don’t think she was buying it.
It was sometime later – I want to say a few months – that my nose went on strike. Stopped working. The sinus passages cemented shut.
I gasped for air all night, waking with a mouth that felt like the Sahara. Yea, I suffered the torments of Job. My tongue verily cleaved to the roof of my mouth. I didn’t think it then, but to this day I believe my body was punishing me for the sin of smoking and the open-air ploy.
My mouth was so dry it took some time before my throat could open enough for me to tip water down it. Gasping, I woke in the night, licking my cracked lips and going for a glass.
I took Benadryl and got in arguments with Barb because they made me druggy, depressed. I took them anyway as they were the best antihistamine I could find.
Nasal rinses didn’t work. I was too congested to suck anything up there.
After a while the pills stopped working — no more even the temporary relief of one barely open nostril and a chance to close my mouth as I slept.
I lived in steamy showers. Went to the school red-nosed, honking at students. The counselor commented on my low energy.
The distant imperative to see an ear, nose, and throat specialist began to form. Finally, I saw one.
He gave me steroid pills. Seven the first day, six the second, and so on till you took one and were done. First day, boom! My nose cleared completely. I was in love with my ENT. I never told him about opening those windows but wondered if that had caused the problem, predisposing me to a respiratory crisis.
“Your nasal polyps will come back,” the ENT said.,
They did. I suffer classic Prescott allergies, compounded by my history of nasal difficulties. Juniper trees in these parts plague many citizens. But I’d been aware of dog and cat and ragweed allergies back in Ohio from a young age.
I found my way back to my ENT. This time he talked me into a simple surgical procedure to remove the polyps.
His anesthetist had to put me out. The atropine used to dry up my secretions while the physician worked was so strong it (this is my amateur theory) severed the neural connection by which the brain tells the nether organs to pee. I could not urinate to save my life. I’m still trying to figure out how the upper and lower parts of me could be connected like that.
Hours elapsed. I was back home but couldn’t squeeze a drop. I called the doctor. He said he was busy, but maybe I’d need to go to the emergency room to get “catheterized.” I blanched at the word.
After more frustration, and an alarming rate of uncomfortable swelling, I went to the hospital. I forgot whether Barb drove me or I drove myself. I do remember her being there but then having to leave the waiting room to go to work. I had swollen like a balloon; I was pregnant with piss, jackknifed with pain, my abdomen pushing my waistband. I hobbled to the men’s room hoping I might finally produce piss, but couldn’t, so I hobbled back to my seat, where I shifted from buttock to buttock against the mounting agony, the buildup. For hours I waited to be seen.
When a heroic male nurse (whom I’ll always remember) finally drove a thin tube up me to puncture the bladder, and all that hot pee poured into that bag hanging off the ER bed, I welcomed the sharp torment. Anything to get me out of that swelling, helpless horror. I was finally in blissful relief.
As humiliating as it was for me to wear that thing – and I’d wear it for eleven days, my bladder had got so distended — I don’t want to think about what might have happened if there were no such device. I guess I would have exploded inside and died.
My wife and I are still Monday morning quarterbacking the thing. If only I hadn’t taken a few Benadryl the night before to try to nose-breathe during sleep. If only I hadn’t taken the Oxycontin the ENT gave me for post-surgical pain (a pain that was negligible), pills my wife presently threw out.
Thanks to this experience, abetted by a slightly enlarged prostate, I now know not only an ENT but a very good urologist. I didn’t want to have to meet either of these guys.
I sat home for eleven days wearing that damn thing, languished on the couch, stunned by what had become of me. My wife ran me meals. I felt inert, unmanned, didn’t want to move much except when I had to, down the hall with the plastic thing slapping my shin, to the bathroom where I’d lean down and release the petcock valve to let the urine into the toilet. I got a sub for two weeks, binged on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
When the urologist finally removed the catheter and I went home and, reeling and praying over the toilet, performed a full and unaided urination, I sent ecstatic emails to friends, who tried, not too successfully, not to laugh at me.
Suffice it to say I had fallen out of love with my ENT. To this day, I refuse to do anything he said.
My nose was much better in the half year or so since the operation, but this last allergy season has been bad. I still eschew the nasal rinse (each application to be augmented by drops of liquid steroid). I just take Benadryl and blow my nose a lot. I have filled up many wastebaskets this allergy season. But the utter cementing of my sinuses has not recurred, not like it was before.
I haven’t had a cigarette in four years.