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Irrational Musings on a Mid-Night Nose Bleed

I rarely get nosebleeds. I have friends who have them frequently and react to them with the same concern as a headache.  I understand the kind that comes from a blow to the face; they are a type of general injury, like a cut. Spontaneous nosebleeds are more disturbing to me because the cause and effect is not clear. It looks like violence without reason.  So when I woke up some months ago at 2AM feeling wetness on face, I was shocked to see myself in the bathroom mirror with my pajamas full of blood.  It was not a few spots of blood on my pajama top, but it looked like an aftermath of a violent attack.

Not wanting to wake my wife, Kathryn, I decided to perform my own triage.  I took my shirt off and set it aside. I tried to remember how people stop nosebleeds; I found some tissue and pinched my nose.  Is it better to use a cotton ball or tissue?  Was it with head down or head back?  It seems like the advice has changed since I was a kid.  I went to the living room (where the floors are bamboo) so I wouldn’t have to worry about blood dripping on the carpet. But as I turned on a lamp, I saw a trail of blood from the bedroom, going from room to room and on both carpet and bamboo. The light switches that I touched were blood stained too.

I found a wooden stool and placed it in the middle of the room, sat down with my head forward and pinched my nose, timing it for the three minutes that I had heard was needed to stop a bloody nose.  I hoped that this would be the end of my situation, but when I released the pinch the accumulated blood flowed out all over the floor.  Because I had to keep one hand on my nose, I couldn’t manage the clean up just then.

I still didn’t want to wake Kathryn; pride got in the way of rational thought and the night distorted my logic.  I regularly pass out when I give blood and this tendency has never gone well with the way I was raised.  I played sports and worked on construction sites, and fainting didn’t fit my secret persona. Men are stoic; they don’t cry in public and they certainly don’t pass out at the sight of a little blood.  But I do pass out and nurses have learned to preemptively lay me down for what is always the inevitable result and they always get the blood in the end.  When I was in junior high school I had a series of tests, including a spinal tap, because of my tendency to lose consciousness around blood. The doctors thought there must be something more to my fainting and that I might have a neurological disorder.

That night I was not passing out; I was too busy solving my dilemma.  How do I get my nose to stop bleeding and clean up the scene? I wondered. I needed a resolution, but didn’t think driving myself to the emergency room in the middle of night would be feasible.  Also, our cars had standard transmissions and I would have to somehow steer with my elbow, holding my nose, and shifting with my right hand. I was still resisting waking Kathryn to admit my predicament, so I turned to the Internet for help instead.

I looked for a second stool and pushed it next to me with my foot, and then put my laptop on it. With my free right hand I opened a browser window and I pecked out the search string “Is it normal to have a bloody nose for an hour?”  I discovered that there was no consensus at all on the question. One blogger mentioned hemophilia and leukemia; another talked about brain tumors.  WebMD was more circumspect.  “There are many causes for nosebleeds, most are not serious.”  Normally, the words “most are not serious” would have comforted me, but it was nearly 3AM in my deadly silent home and I was giving the blogs more due than I would have in the bright light of day.

I searched further and found the venerable Mayo Clinic website.  “If bleeding does not stop after five or ten minutes, try packing your nose with cotton.” What does packing mean?  The site gave no further explanations or links to help clarify the comment.  I did find a YouTube video that looked like it was done in somebody’s kitchen.  I stuffed my right nostril with a cotton ball and pinched.  Five minutes. Ten minutes.

Should I wait for fifteen minutes just to be sure?

 I released. No blood!  Relieved, I began to clean up the scene, but as I bent to pick up a pile of blood soaked tissues, the downward pressure caused my nose to start bleeding again.  Discouraged and worried, I thought of the possible blogger prognoses.

What would be worse, a brain tumor or Leukemia?  Do I have my financial documents in order if this goes really fast?  Does Kathryn know all of my secret passwords?  Oh no, my journal is password protected! My family will never know all of the nice things I thought about them, but didn’t say.

I had never really been seriously sick and was not good at accepting health abnormalities. I did have an emergency appendectomy when I was 35 and I told people it changed my life.  Most thought that an appendectomy was not tragic enough to be transformational and some friends accused me of theatrics.  But I am the antithesis of dramatic by day and in the presence of other people. I am known as the voice of reason in my family and as the one who calms nerves and fixes things.

I needed to calm my nerves and so turned on the television:  Home Shopping Network, LATV-Spanish, and a Perry Mason murder mystery.  Even the Christian Broadcast Networks did not help in my search for distraction as the preacher talked about lepers.  I shouldn’t have dropped cable, I thought. I flipped to an alternative medicine infomercial. They talked about a product with all kinds of benefits, including “supporting good cardiovascular health.”  I looked for an upbeat classic movie and found a western dubbed in Spanish.  Watching a Spanish Clint Eastwood in “Fist Full of Dollars” gave temporary distraction, but the cultural dissonance began to wear on me after a time. It was not the comforting Clint that I knew.

At 4:00AM I was still bleeding off and on. I decided to try a double nostril pack for extra pressure, and this time for twenty minutes for good measure.  Still no luck. The Mayo Clinic site said it may take multiple attempts to stop the bleeding.  Another twenty minutes. Breathlessly (really breathlessly) I released the pinch on my nose.  No blood!  I positioned myself over the wastebasket that I had set up for the used tissues and carefully removed the cotton from my nose. Still good.  My spirits buoyed, I now felt that I would at least make it to a dignified visit with my doctor.

 4:45AM and finally the situation was coming to an end.  Squatting like a weightlifter keeping my head level, I removed the blood from the floor. I began to clean as if I was scouring a violent crime scene. I don’t want Kathryn and the girls to be shocked when they wake up, I thought.

 I sprayed the light switches and the counters with household cleaner, removing the evidence of the night’s ordeal.  I packed up a bag full of tissues and cotton balls and put them in the trash. I changed into clean pajamas and put all my blood stained garments in a tub to soak in the laundry room. I carefully lay down on my back in bed so that I would not traumatize my nose and start bleeding again.

Although I had lost a number of people close to me, including my parents early in my life, I had never thought much about my own mortality.  Now in that surreal moment in the early morning hours I could think of nothing else.  Is a person less likely to die if he is awake or asleep?  Maybe I should bump Kathryn so that she will wake up.  That would break the spell and keep me going until daylight.  I began to identify with children who think that keeping on the lights will keep away monsters.  I wasn’t worrying about monsters, but I was fighting my own sort of demons.  Artificial light gave only artificial hope and I wanted to see the sun, I drifted to sleep and woke at dawn while my wife was getting up. I felt my face.  No blood.

“How did you sleep?” Kathryn asked.

“Fine,” I replied.

“Can you take Sara to school?  She asked.“OK” I said.

“I have some things soaking in the laundry tub.  Would you mind putting them in the wash?  On cold cycle,” I continued thinking about a “cleaning anything” blog that I read a few hours before.

“Anything wrong?” Kathryn asked, sensing feebleness in my voice.

“No, I am fine,” talking myself back into normalcy. “I will be home a little late–– around six.”

Should I make a doctor appointment?  I wondered.

No, everything is fine. 


November 28, 2013