Friday, May 30, 2008


May I speak frankly with you about sinuses? They are those air-filled spaces on the front of your face, designed to act as a face buffer (i.e., If you get punched in the face, the sinuses cushion the blow. Helpful, no?). We never notice our sinuses on a daily basis, just like we never notice an empty wastepaper basket or an empty jacket pocket. They are just there.

That is, they are just there until the day you hear a strange rushing sound like running, echoing water. You naively think, “Did someone leave the hose running?” And then you realize the running sound is inside your face, and your sinuses are filling with an odd, unnamed fluid. It’s like a mechanic is changing the oil in your brain and draining the old oil into the sinuses behind your forehead (frontal sinuses) and under your eyes (maxillary sinuses).

For several days thereafter, your face feels sloshily full. Generally, you’re fine if you sit or stand erect and stare straight ahead. The problem comes when you inadvertently change your head’s position:

Bending Forward: All the fluid in your sinuses now gurgles forward like high tide on the beaches at Normandy. This changes your center of gravity making the front of your face the heaviest part of your entire body. People have been known to pitch face first off tall cliffs or eight-story buildings, giving rise to the notion that sinus problems lead to suicide. Not true—just a lost sense of balance caused by swashing fluid.

Lying Down, Face Up: All the fluid in your sinuses now spreads out to cover your entire face, exerting pressure on the frontal lobe of your brain, the part that controls language and reason. People with sinus problems who are lying on their backs should not make political speeches or major decisions. They should leave that to people whose sinus cavities are completely empty.

Lying Face Down: This is similar to bending forward in that all the fluid pools in the front of the face. But since bending is usually temporary and lying down is more long-term, the fluid has a chance to press longer and harder, creating a severe headache. This headache feels like a drunken cowboy has mistaken your face for the left rear flank of a steer and is pressing a branding iron against your forehead. It is not recommended that you lie face down during a sinus episode unless you want “Double ЯR Ranch” seared on your face for a few hours.

Flying on an Airplane: Flying on an airplane is possibly the most painful challenge a person can face while having a sinus episode. In a pressurized cabin, especially during takeoff and landing, the sinus fluid swells and sets like cement, causing the passenger to experience a childbirth-labor-like face pain. The passenger fears that 1) his/her face may explode and he/she will die, or b) his/her face won’t explode and he/she will continue to live like this, or c) his/her face will actively give birth to an alien parasite like Sigourney Weaver in Alien (Remember, “In space, no one can hear you scream.”)

Although normally functioning sinuses are helpful as a buffer during fist fights, they are definitely a pain in the face (pronounced fass) when they’re malfunctioning. I long for the day when my sinuses are mine again, empty and ignorable. In the meantime, does anyone have a Kleenex?

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