It’s been five years since I last had calcium deposits removed from the bridge of my nose, the fifth time I’ve endured this procedure. Usually, I take care of this annoying issue about every three years, but the pandemic put that on hold this time around—which ultimately meant that the calcinosis got worse.
Originally, I thought the problem was caused by the weight of my glasses. I get calcinosis in my fingers at pressure points, so it made sense. But I switched from wire frames to very lightweight Silhouettes years ago, and it has not solved the problem.
No one really knows why scleroderma can cause this build-up of calcium in unwanted places. My theory is that, regardless of how thoroughly my ENT plastic surgeons have tried to remove the calcium growths from my nasal bone, a seed remains that grows more calcium crystals over several years. They always biopsy what they remove, and it always (thank goodness) is benign. In any case, once it gets big enough, it becomes unsightly and increasing uncomfortable, stretching skin that is no longer very elastic.
This spring I met my new surgeon, Dr. E., who is chief of Otolaryngology at Boston Medical (his predecessor had done the last three extractions). I liked him and his team immediately. He is thoughtful and conservative about performing a procedure that is either unnecessary or has low potential for success. In fact, he was at first reluctant to take me on, given how fragile the skin on my nose has become, but we came to a meeting of the minds, with a plan to do a skin graft if necessary to close the wound.
And that is what he and his resident did last Wednesday. I’d had to postpone the procedure twice over the summer, given unexpected schedule conflicts. During that delay the calcium had pushed through the skin, so I was managing an open wound and doing my best to avoid infection until we could finally take care of it.
Nonetheless, I was not looking forward to the procedure. Getting Lidocaine shots in your face is no picnic, and neither is having the bridge of your nose cut open and calcium deposits scraped out of bone. Then there was the added complication of the skin graft, which they took from below my left ear. And sewing me back together.
I’ve learned from past experience that I do not do well with Lidocaine mixed with epinephrine, which is a preferred concoction because it limits bleeding. So, instead, with plain Lidocaine they had to use a cauterizer, which, even with local anesthesia, feels like pins and needles, and sometimes like tiny darts. And it smells like burnt roast, which is, of course, essentially what’s happening.
This all took over an hour. I did my best to keep breathing evenly through the process. Some music from the High Holidays was a welcome ear worm. In addition to suturing the graft, they stitched a rectangular piece of gauze, called a “bumper,” on top of the graft to hold it in place for a week. That comes off, I sincerely hope, tomorrow. Between the stitches under my left ear and the bumper, I looked a bit like Frankenstein’s monster when they let me see my face in a mirror.
“Can I have something to cover it?” I asked.
“What did you have in mind?” asked the resident.
“A bandage?” It seemed rather obvious. His concern was that it not pull at the bumper to dislodge it in any way, but there was no way I was going to walk around with a piece of bloody gauze stitched to my nose for a week. So he found a light blue bandage, which I later replaced with one of my good cloth bandages, and I have been carefully tending it since. I also started antibiotics the day of the procedure to avoid infection. Pain has been easily managed with OTC meds.
So, this has been the every-few-years routine. Except, Dr. E told me when he finished, there’s not a lot of bone left where the calcinosis has repeatedly invaded. He was clear that this is the last time he would do such an extraction. If it grows back, which it most likely will, then we’re talking rhinoplasty. “Well,” I quipped, “at least I have a lot of nose to work with.”
And that is where I find myself after Extraction #5. It’s a lot to process. If the calcinosis re-emerges in a year or so, I may not wait until it begins to form a noticeable bump to undertake the inevitable. I’ll be 70 next April, and if I need major nose surgery, it’s better to do it sooner than later. In the meantime, I’m glad this round is done. And the immediate benefit: I can breathe better.
Image: Anne Nygård