So, remember that time when I was talking to you about a little problem I had with snoring? You know - when I'd resorted to a handful of "home remedies" in the hope that I could stop this throaty rumble that had people running from me as if I was the xenomorph from the Alien film series?
Well...it turns out that there is a reason for this snore - and it is one that I hadn't anticipated. At all.
I won't go into a long winded recap of the whole snore-fest. You can click through to read my original post and the rather screwy lengths I'd gone to try and stop it.
After we returned from our family holiday on Kangaroo Island, I'd resolved to give this thing proper medical attention and I went to see my G.P. with the intention of nipping this thing in the bud right away. After examining me and determining that there was no obvious reason for me to suddenly have begun snoring, my GP and I decided to refer me to an ear, nose and throat surgeon. Because I'm *in the business*, as it were, I know a number of fine surgeons in this field. An appointment was duly made.
Upon visiting the ENT surgeon and having the somewhat wierd experience of a camera being threaded down the back of my throat right there in his rooms, a rather alarming discovery was made. It turns out that my right vocal cord is paralysed - specifically, the arytenoid cartilage that anchors the vocal cord to the result is that during things like speech, breathing or the act of swallowing, the right side of my throat is collapsing inwards whenever the cords come together so that they don't close up properly.
image credit: Mayo Clinic.
In my discussions with both the GP and the ENT surgeon, a couple of things were happening in addition to the snoring that I'd kind of disregarded but were now, with the advent of all this, things that I should have paid more attention to. Over the past few months I'd noticed, on occasion, that whenever I engaged in exercise I would, after a while, find it difficult to breathe and in addition to that, my breathing had become quite noisy. I was producing a stridor. After exercise, I'd noticed that I had the feeling of a lump in my throat without any real explanation. It was uncomfortable but I'd gotten used to it and therefore dismissed it.
And, very occasionally, I'd noticed that I have struggled with swallowing - whereby I have actually choked on small morsels of food that would otherwise be considered innocuous. There have been a few instances of this that have garnered wierd stares and chuckles from my family but they didn't occur so often that we'd conisdered anything untoward about them. All these symptoms have gotten progressively worse in the last month or so and they've been harder to ignore.
So, on the day that I'm sitting in the surgeon's rooms and we're discussing a paralysed vocal cord, two things came up as causators for it - the first being a viral neuritis leading to an inflammation of the nerve that supplies the right side of my vocal cords. The cause for this is generally sheeted home to a viral infection which can be something as general as a flu.
The other possibility was a lesion or tumour.
Alarm bells sounded in my head on that one as I recalled memories of my experience of the spinal cord tumour that disrupted so much of my adolesence. Whilst I'd been told that the chances of me having another tumour like the one I'd had in my spinal cord was remote, there was always a slight possibility there could be another schwanomma lurking around inside me.
In light of this, it was decided that I should undergo two tests to bed down what we were dealing with - a sleep study to monitor the severity of my snore and its affect on my sleep and an MRI scan of my neck and chest to rule out the possibililty of a new tumour growing on the cranial nerve.
image credit: Auburn University.
If you've ever had an MRI, you'll know that it is, at best, a disconcerting experience. You are essentially placed inside a tunnel that isn't much wider than the average person from shoulder to shoulder. It is an uncomfortable and claustrophobic environment and moving inside the tunnel is not an option. Furthermore, a series of huge magnets revolve around you that create a noise unlike anything you've ever heard. It's loud and it's a little scary.
For my scan, I had the additional *delight* of having my head and neck encased in a rather medieval cage, securing me in such a way that even subtle movements of my head were impossible. Scratching my nose was out of the question. For 45 minutes I was inside this machine, completely helpless and at the mercy of noise that would make Darth Vader quiver.
The sleep study was a world away from that experience and I was able to complete it at home with a minimum of fuss. It's not really worth mentioning to be honest, but here's a nice picture.
The week long wait following the scan passed in a blur and I was pretty withdrawn for much of the time. The thought of possibly having a tumour - another tumour - was breath taking. Recalling those memories as a kid, going through serious surgery was unpleasant to say the least and it was all I could to keep myself from descending into panic.
Fortunately, the MRI was clear of any sign of a tumour. My relief at having dodged that bullet cannot be understated and I almost had an episode of urinary incontinence in the surgeon's rooms. The scan was able to visualize the defect in my vocal cord and noted the swelling caused by the snore and the general irritation of the tissues in my throat. The sleep study cearly showed that the snore accompanying my sleep state was significant though my overall sleep was rated - surprisingly - pretty decently.
So what's the next step?
Well, in a few weeks time, I will be admitted to hospital to have a more thorough study of my throat known as a nasoendoscopy. During that procedure, I'll be anesthetized and the surgeon will examine how the defect with my vocal cord causes my snoring. He also intends to examine my throat further down, to rule out any other causes or problems with my throat that might be contributing to all of this. The bigger part of the surgery, the part that I'm the most nervous about, will involve the surgeon applying a laser to an area of my throat adjacent to the vocal cord. He will, literally, burn it, creating an area of scarring that will, hopefully, prevent the vocal cord from collapsing in, causing the snore and the asymmetrical airflow over my cords that has caused so much trouble for me over the past few months. It will be a little painful and I may have some temporary difficulties with speech and swallowing but the snore will be gone and my wife will want to share the same bed with me again so that's gotta be a good thing right!???
This was a left turn I didn't expect to be taking and I certainly didn't expect that a snore would have a decidedly more complex root cause as mine does.
I get to be a patient. As a clinician - that's going to be a *fun* experience.
You know what they say about nurses and doctors making the worst patients...