Rebecca Steinbauer went to a lot of doctors. Tony Blakstad wouldn’t go at all.
Dr. Gerard O’Halloran helped them both. On the same day.
Rebecca and Tony share an office at All Flex in Northfield. Rebecca had suffered from face pain and headaches for years. Tony had trouble breathing from a broken nose years ago. Both had trouble sleeping.
They both had surgery – on the same day – with ENT specialist Dr. O’Halloran. Different conditions, same result: Pain-free breathing, and healthy sleep.
Rebecca spent seven years trying to figure out what caused her headaches, facial pain, fatigue, and dizziness. “I was tired a lot; I couldn’t work out anymore because I’d get really dizzy. I couldn’t do yoga because I had so much pressure in my face, and I was getting headaches all the time,” she says. Rebecca saw a cardiologist and neurologist; she had blood tests and scans and exams, always coming up empty.
Finally, Dr. O’Halloran had some answers. “He saw three things going on,” Rebecca recounts: A deviated septum and bone spur, plus one very narrow sinus; meanwhile, misshapen tissue blocked her nasal passage and pushed painfully on her face.
Surgery could correct them all.
“He said, ‘I think surgery will take away your headaches and help you sleep better. Go home and think about it, and decide what you want to do,’” Rebecca recalls.
Meanwhile, Tony struggled with trouble sleeping. Several years ago, a doctor told him he must have broken his nose as a kid. (Tony – and his mom – don’t know when that might have happened.) At the time, Tony chose not to have surgery. He’s slept badly ever since.
“I’m very hesitant to go to the doctor, so I thank Rebecca for all the stuff she was going through,” Tony says. “It made me think, ‘Gosh darn it, I’ll just go to Dr. O’Halloran too and see what he has to say.’”
Dr. O’Halloran told Tony it was one of the worst cases of deviated septum he’s seen. “He examined me and his first comment was, ‘Woah, that’s pretty bad,’” Tony laughs.
A CT scan confirmed it, and showed also that Tony’s turbinates were inflamed, blocking his breathing even more. Tony’s options: Live with it; try medication; have surgery to straighten the septum and trim the turbinates.
“I definitely didn’t want to take medication for the rest of my life,” Tony says. “If I could do something more permanent via surgery, that’s what I wanted to do. If it can help even one of my symptoms, it’s totally worth it.”
Both surgeries went well. For Rebecca, Dr. O’Halloran snipped away the misshapen tissue, removed the bone spur, and enlarged the small sinus cavity. For Tony, Dr. O’Halloran straightened his septum (the cartilage wall between the nostrils) and trimmed his turbinates.
Changes measured in millimeters made a big difference.
“I immediately slept better, and I have not had a headache since,” Rebecca says. “It’s night and day. I wake up and feel like, “Wow, I slept last night.’ It makes a huge difference.”
Tony’s sleeping better, too. Surgery was quick – “in less than five hours, I was headed home” – and his energy is back.
By coincidence, they scheduled surgery for the same day. “We could have carpooled,” Tony laughs. (They didn’t.) During their few days of recovery, they did swap advice. “We could compare notes with each other if something felt not quite right,” he says.
Dr. O’Halloran and his staff “were fantastic, really helpful,” Tony adds. When a sneeze made Tony’s nose bleed, a quick call to staff reassured him not to worry. When Rebecca wondered if it was OK to get on a plane, a quick text to Dr. O’Halloran gave her the thumbs up to fly.
“They get back to you so quickly, which is important when you’re anxious about something,” Rebecca says.
That caring attention builds trust.
“It’s nerve-wracking to have surgery on your face – by your brain and your eyes,” Rebecca explains. “But Dr. O’Halloran is so knowledgeable and his demeanor is so reassuring that it makes you feel comfortable. And the whole process was a lot easier than I was expecting.”
Tony agrees: “Dr. O’Halloran even gave recommendations to have surgery early in the year – before cold and flu season, and to take full advantage of your health insurance if you need some follow up care. That advice was really helpful. His honesty made me really comfortable with him.”
Dr. O’Halloran gave them all the information to make their own decisions. “I didn’t feel pressured to do anything at all,” Rebecca says. Tony adds: “It was completely on my timeline, which felt great.” And Dr. O’Halloran and staff made the process seamless: “They gave me a packet of information and told me what to expect,” Rebecca says. “I didn’t have to think of the things I should be asking.” Tony agrees: “I went in with a list of questions and as Dr. O’Halloran talked I just kept crossing them off, because he covered everything before I even had to ask.”
Their advice? “If you have pain, get it checked out,” Rebecca advises. “It’s not worth just living with it. I wish I’d gone to an ENT six years ago.”
Tony agrees: “It’s not worth toughing it out.”
Learn more about Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT).