Scorpion Ebook–All Formats, Reduced Price–Read Excerpt

•May 25, 2012 • 4 Comments

Scorpion, my book about my unnecessary turbinate reduction surgery resulting in Empty Nose Syndrome and my subsequent patient blacklisting, is now available in all formats from Smashwords, Inc. and in Kindle format from Because I want everyone to read my book, I have reduced the price to $2.99.

Scorpion at Smashwords:

Scorpion at Amazon:

scorpion book cover fixed

Book excerpt:

Chapter 10

I called Dr. Shark’s office and told Wendy that I wanted to pick up my patient records when I came for my appointment on December 5.

I got the records as soon as I arrived. Before my name was called, I had time to see the term “atrophic rhinitis” on three records—November 7, November 12, and November 26—all of my post-operative exam dates, except for the first one. November 26 was the day that Dr. Shark had accused me of having an emotional problem because, as he’d said, there was nothing wrong with my nose. My fear for my condition overshadowed my feelings of betrayal

Dr. Shark was trying out a new tactic this day. “Tell me how you’re doing,” he said, magnanimously, as if his only concern was my well-being. I skipped over the question and pointed out the term “atrophic rhinitis” on my records.

“Is it true?” I asked.

“Only temporarily,” he said. I knew that atrophic rhinitis was not a temporary condition. It was incurable, but I clung to his words with ragged hope. He asked again how I was doing. I barely heard the question. My universe had been reduced to atrophic rhinitis—“dead moose.” I told him I was better, but that I still could not breathe well or sleep. He checked my nose. He said that the crusts were all gone on the left, three-quarters gone on the right, and that I did not have atrophic rhinitis today.

When I got home, I called Wendy and told her that I had forgotten to ask the doctor if I needed to take any precautions when my two-year-old grandson came to visit on Dec. 22. He had MRSA. Actually, so did Leah. She had gotten it from her son, but the baby’s infection was worse. Wendy said that she would get back to me. Jack had reserved a motel room for Leah and the kids. My apartment couldn’t accommodate them. They were coming for Christmas, as was Laura and her family. For the first time in seven years, Jack and I and the kids were going to have Christmas dinner together.

That evening, I looked through my patient records. The CT report of November 18 stated, “No significant septal deviation is seen.” One of the premises upon which I had based my decision to have the surgery was that I had read that a deviated septum can contribute to the development of polyps because air doesn’t flow normally through the nasal passages. I didn’t have a deviated septum.

The surgical pathology report noted a clinical history of deviated nasal septum and chronic sinusitis. I did not have a deviated septum and when did I get chronic sinusitis? I had never been treated for a sinus condition in my life before I met Dr. Shark. I had gone to him for tinnitus. On the medical history that I had filled out on August 6, following Respiratory—asthma, emphysema, lung–I had written “none.” After Allergic, Immunologic—environmental–I had written “Lyme’s Disease, Fibromyalgia since 1984, hay fever, CO exposure winter 2006-07.” None of these things qualifies as chronic sinusitis. People with chronic sinusitis have miserable noses, they can’t breathe, they use nasal sprays. I had never had a breathing problem or a dry nose, or used a nasal spray, until after Dr. Shark’s surgery.

On the progress notes, dated August 6, Dr. Shark had noted “chronic sinusitis.” I wondered when he had written that. There had been no discussion of sinusitis in August. If we had discussed “chronic sinusitis” on August 6, I would surely have mentioned it on the patient form that I had filled out on the same day. A piece of that form seemed to be missing from my records. Where was the paper that asked why I had come to see the doctor, and asked for a description of my symptoms? I had filled out a lot of these forms lately, and that was always one of the questions. He allegedly noted “infection” on August 6, yet failed to mention it in his August 8 letter to my GP.

On a pre-surgery report, dated October 28, Dr. Shark had written, “She complains of recurrent sinusitis, throat congestion, and extensive sinus disease per her recent CT.” I had told him that I had noticed stuffiness a few times when I cried. This stuffiness had been so insignificant that I had not mentioned it until the day he’d told me that I needed surgery.

I had never discussed a sinus problem with any doctor in my life. I had gone to the same doctor’s office for five years. Nowhere in those records was there a single complaint about a sinus problem–nor in any previous medical record. I had just been approved for Social Security in March. I had filled out copious medical forms. Nowhere was there a mention of a sinus problem, detailing and evidencing my medical history since 1984. How did he think he could get by with this?

My patient exam report of November 12 noted not only atrophic rhinitis, but “chronic rhino sinusitis.” This was the second time the doctor noted atrophic rhinitis, and now, he bestowed a chronic rhinitis condition on me, which I assumed was something worse than sinusitis. He was ramping up the diagnosis. Was he inventing chronic conditions to explain why I had atrophic rhinitis two weeks after his surgery?

According to the surgical pathology report, this was removed from my nose and sinuses: multiple pieces of flat bone and cartilage, in aggregate measuring 4.0 x 4.0 x 0.2 cm. Also some gray mucoid soft tissue measuring 2.0 x 2.0 x 0.6 cm. I ran to my bedroom and got a ruler. 4.0 cm was larger than 1 ½ inch. Suddenly, I was wearing a little cage and I was falling down a dark hole in my cage. This was why I had atrophic rhinitis. Turbinate “tissue” was bone. This was why the poster on the ENS forum had told me that turbinates did not grow back.

The surgical report was full of words like “power dissector” and “mocrodebrider” and “blade” and “trocar obturator” and “Killian knife.” I couldn’t look straight at it. I peered at it, through fingers covering my eyes. Near the end of the report, I saw these words, “This left a markedly deformed septum.” Was this why he’d told me that I had a deviated septum, reinforcing the verdict at every exam? Had it been a necessary part of the diagnosis because he didn’t have the skills to operate without destroying the septum?

Now I knew why Dr. Shark had told me that he would start me on Premarin soon. Premarin is a treatment for atrophic rhinitis.

I thought back to Dr. Shark, on November 26, complaining that other people had worse noses than mine and were not suffering that much, asking me if I had an emotional problem. I thought of him knowing full well that he had brought terrible suffering upon me for the rest of my life with an unnecessary surgery and trying to shame me into silence. I started to cry, but it made my nose feel so horrible that I had to stop. My nose was ineffectual. It couldn’t even produce snot.

Scorpion: The True Story of a Woman’s Victimization by the Medical Industry

•December 1, 2011 • 12 Comments

My book about my unnecessary turbinate reduction surgery resulting in Empty Nose Syndrome and my subsequent patient blacklisting is now available from Amazon Kindle.

Download a free app for reading Kindle books on a PC:

An Unnecessary Surgery

•July 14, 2009 • 4 Comments

When I went to an Ear, Nose  & Throat doctor for ringing in my ear, I ended up with radical sinus surgery and a nose job. I was made a nasal cripple, my face and my health were destroyed. I was shocked to discover that other doctors didn’t care. In fact, they covered it up. And I couldn’t even sue. It could happen to anyone. It could happen to you.

Medical Despair Ends in Suicide

•May 3, 2015 • 2 Comments


Medical despair ends in suicide

By Misti CraneThe Columbus Dispatch  •  Sunday May 3, 2015 6:32 AM
Brett Helling suffered from “empty-nose syndrome.”
Brett Helling could no longer find solace in the music.

It didn’t touch his soul as it once had, he wrote to his friends and family. It couldn’t rescue him from darkness.

“Nothing feels the same anymore. Nothing feels like anything. It’s like I’m on one side of the river looking at everything across it, but the bridge is out,” Helling wrote before he killed himself in February.

“I think if I could still listen to and make music, I could survive this thing: but without that, I don’t really stand much of a chance.”

Helling had much more that he wanted to do, the 36-year-old told his friends and family. He wanted to crack wise and play badminton, to struggle over the crossword in the Sunday New York Times. He wanted to sleep on his uncle’s couch in California. He wanted to play the guitar with the hand-me-down strap that he left behind for Preston, his nephew.

In the months before he died, Helling became singularly focused on the fallout from what was supposed to be routine sinus surgery. He lived with the constant sensation that he was suffocating, went days with little or no sleep and complained of pain and nasal dryness.

Helling had been miserable after a couple of years of lingering sinus problems, including infections that moved into his ears, and had the surgery in February 2014, said his older brother, Paul.

Helling saw a surgeon with more than two decades of experience and expected relief following what is considered a low-risk procedure, said his mother, Carol.

In rare cases, people who have had sinus surgery — particularly surgery that includes removing bony structures in the nasal cavity called turbinates — experience the sensations that plagued Helling. A Mayo Clinic doctor coined the term “empty-nose syndrome” in 1994 to describe it.

Although some doctors are skeptical, researchers have published several small studies about the syndrome in recent years, and an increasing number of physicians are thinking more seriously about how to explain and avoid the life-altering condition.

Mrs. Helling said her son’s discomfort began last summer and that, by October, he felt he could not breathe.

He saw ear, nose and throat doctors, including his original surgeon, who told him he was healing fine, she said. He was sleepless, having panic attacks and rarely leaving the Hellings’ home in Worthington.

Mrs. Helling said she’d carry his guitar to him sometimes.

“Everybody has something in the world that is their center. He would always go back to the music,” she said.

But he wouldn’t play.

Helling died frustrated that nobody warned him about empty-nose syndrome. He was convinced that there would be no relief.

“My heart still has a lot of music to make and a lot of love to give. I desperately want to get old,” he wrote. But to breathe was, in his words, “Torturous … Absolute hell.”

Empty-nose syndrome is not well understood, and most of what experts know comes from patients’ descriptions.

You can’t see it on an MRI or pinpoint a spot where a surgeon should never tread. Two people could have similar operations, and one might feel great while the other wishes he never went in for surgery.

And there are those who contend it’s psychological.

“Patients hit a lot of roadblocks. Surgeons say they’ve never seen it. No one has any answers for you,” said Dr. David Poetker, an associate professor of rhinology and sinus surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “You can’t measure empty-nose syndrome like you can bone density.”

Poetker is among those who believe that the syndrome is real and that it wreaks havoc physically and emotionally. Patients should hear about the risk before surgery, he said.

There were 606,000 outpatient sinus surgeries and 196,000 turbinate-removal operations in the U.S. in 2006, the most-recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has data.

“It has such a huge psychological and psychiatric impact on somebody’s health,” Poetker said, comparing empty-nose syndrome to tinnitus — chronic ringing in the ears.

The nose’s job is to warm and humidify air, Poetker said. A rich blood supply ensures that happens. When surgeons remove tissue from the turbinates, which are like shelves inside the nasal cavity, they reduce the surface area inhabited by blood vessels and nerves.

Poetker said that’s where things probably go wrong, but he added: “Nobody really knows exactly what’s going on.

“They say that they are unable to breathe through their noses, but their noses are wide open. It’s very paradoxical.”

Poetker said surgeons must balance the potential benefits of getting that tissue out of the way with the potential harm, adding that he’s conservative about removing turbinate tissue.

There’s no good way to figure out who is most likely to have complications, he said, and empty-nose syndrome is hard to study, in large part because it affects relatively few patients.

When his symptoms worsened, Helling saw two Ohio doctors who have taken a particular interest in the syndrome: one in Cleveland, the other in Columbus. Both declined requests for interviews.

Helling praised both doctors but wrote that he left their offices without much hope, other than an expensive and experimental implant surgery that he wasn’t optimistic would help.

In his final words to those he loved, Helling said he was terrified, bitter and self-involved. He said he’d lost his empathy.

Helling spent a week at Ohio State University’s Harding Hospital after a particularly bad spell of sleeplessness in October. After his release, he saw a number of specialists, including mental-health professionals, and tried several medications for depression and anxiety, Mrs. Helling said.

“The psychologist gave him a book on how to cope with your pain,” she said.

Mrs. Helling researched homeopathic treatments, including modified diets and humidifiers, and she sought advice from an online community of people who have empty-nose syndrome.

“Please hold on, we’re going to get more help,” she recalls telling him.

Side effects of the psychiatric medications were a problem; some heightened his anxiety, she said. And the pills didn’t take away the sensation that he was suffocating.

He took each prescription for an average of five to seven days, Mrs. Helling said.

It’s impossible to point to one aspect of a person’s life — a firing, a breakup — when trying to explain suicide, experts say.

But chronic illness can inflame pre-existing mental troubles and lead to new ones, said Jill Harkavy-Friedman, vice president of research for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Helling had a history of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention deficit, and he “managed it, more or less,” he wrote to his family and friends before he died.

Several of those closest to him characterized Helling’s low points as no more than what you’d expect in times of trouble.

“When your stress system is on alert, that affects your mental health. It affects your sleep, your appetite,” Harkavy-Friedman said.

She stressed that although it might seem as if the suffering won’t ever diminish, “there are things you can do even if it doesn’t take away the condition.”

Routines and tools that give you a sense of control can help, and a good therapist can guide a person to figure out what those might be, she said. Medications can take more than a month to be fully effective, and sometimes it takes awhile to figure out which one, or combination, works.

People with conditions that can’t be measured and aren’t well-understood can feel alienated and dismissed, Harkavy-Friedman said. “Nobody can feel what you’re feeling.”

In his final words, Helling wrote of the support he felt from friends and family, even when the conversation lingered on the same set of complaints.

Helling’s friends said he was at once introspective and a cut-up, someone with a particular talent for developing and maintaining friendships.

In pictures they’ve shared on Facebook, you can see the kind of smile that makes you like a person before he has uttered a word.

In their posts, you learn how much they miss him — at rock shows, when they play albums he gave them, when they drink Bloody Marys that aren’t as good as his.

“He was kind of shy, but the more you got to know him, he could talk your ear off,” said Nick Barger, a friend since kindergarten who played with Helling in the Cabdrivers and the ’80s cover band Fisted Mister. “Music is really where he started finding his own thing.”

But by last fall, “he was just so clouded by what he was experiencing,” said longtime friend Craig Turner.

“It became disturbing and painful for us. The hardest part is there was nothing that could be done. It was very much out of our league as friends and family.”

Eventually, Helling stopped doing the things he loved. He missed work at Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza, where he tended bar, and was not spending time with the people he adored. He wasn’t playing the guitar that was like another limb.

“He just totally, totally changed,” said Helling’s dad, Henry.

Brett Helling played in five bands. He played mostly guitar but also was exceptional on bass, said Kyle Sowash of the Columbus band the Kyle Sowashes.

At Sowash’s urging, Helling practiced with the band in early February. They had a special performance coming up, and Sowash wanted him to be part of it.

Although Helling hadn’t been playing for months, “he sounded great. It was like he never put down the bass. But I don’t think that he could hear that. It just wasn’t the same for him.”

A week later, on Feb. 16, they were waiting for him at band practice when they got the call. Helling had jumped off a bridge.


Michael Jackson had Empty Nose Syndrome

•February 15, 2015 • 1 Comment

A doctor who treated Michael Jackson for addiction talks about the cause of his insomnia and anxiety, saying that a part of his nose had been removed, during cosmetic surgery, causing Empty Nose Syndrome.

A Call to All ENS Patients

•February 4, 2015 • 1 Comment

This was sent to me by an ENS patient:

For all the ENS patients. We have hope to cure ENS now, but we need everyone to be active. Dr. DAi, the top scientist in China is investigating the number of ENS patients. If the number is large, it will be possible that Chinese Academy of Sciences will launch the research of ENS treatment and get findings from Chinese government! Now Dr. Dai is collecting information of ENS patients. Everybody please send your information to

The information should include:
Your email address
Your computed tomography before and after surgery
The history of surgery
The photo of nasal endoscopy diagnosis
History of treatment
Current syndromes

Please share this information with all the patients that you know, and and encourage them to send their information to the email address.

From a Chinese ENS patient

Dr. Dai:…/db/200907/t20090721_2130961.html

2014 in review

•January 2, 2015 • Leave a Comment

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 19,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 7 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Dr. Houser ENS Podcast: Form Vs. Function

•December 5, 2014 • 2 Comments

Dr. Steven Houser on Empty Nose Syndrome

•November 16, 2014 • 1 Comment


Letter From a Suicidal ENS Friend

•November 15, 2014 • 6 Comments

I was operated on and permanently injured by an ENT. I was naive and trusted him not to hurt me. He froze, cut, and resected two vital organs in my nasal cavity called inferior turbinates. My ENT destroyed these organs to the point where they no longer function. As a result, I now average 3-4 hours a night for the last 6 years.  I feel like I am suffocating 24/7. I no longer produce mucous to humidify the air for my lungs.  I have chronic anxiety, depression and a complete loss of well-being.  I cannot focus or concentrate.  My condition has progressed to a point where I am completely disabled.  Despite my efforts, there is not a cure for my condition.

Before this happened, I never even heard of turbinates. They are the key organs in the nasal cavity, shaped like small fingers. Their functionality is necessary to well-being and a good quality of life. They perform many functions, including humidifying, heating and cooling the air for the lungs. They are rich with neurons that send signals to the brain regarding gas exchange, information about sleep, and provide well-being. As a result, I have a crippled nose, sinuses and nasal cavity, that do not produce mucus, do not sense airflow, and do not function. I have severe maxillary nerve damage as well.  The nerves that line what is left on my mucosa are damaged so I feel like I am suffocating 24/7.   My subconscious mind cannot sleep through the suffocation. As a result, I sleep a few hours a night and never feel refreshed.  When I am awake, I experience what only can be described as torture. My anxiety and level of well-being are terrible. Humans are hard-wired to experience anxiety when they feel like they are suffocating.  All of the pleasurable sensations that come with breathing are absent.  My sinuses are dry.  The quality of my life is gone.

I saw Dr. Steven Houser in Jan of ‘09.  He diagnosed me with ENS. The condition is nicknamed Empty Nose Syndrome because, when you look at a CT scan, the nasal cavity appears empty. This silly-sounding condition is chronically debilitating. Dr. Houser mentioned it was a potential suicide condition. There have been numerous suicides due to ENS, as documented by Dr. Eugene Kern, formerly from the Mayo Clinic. My good friend, John, with whom I spoke every day for a year, had ENS and ultimately took his life a few years ago. I realized I was having suicidal thoughts because the symptoms exceeded my ability to cope with the condition. I had a friend in college who took his life. I remember thinking to myself–what could be that bad that he would go to that extreme?  I did not understand it then, but I understand it now. I hate that option. I want to live. I do not want to take my life anymore then the next guy. I do not agree with suicide on principle. It is a terrible legacy to leave my children. They need me as a father. So I have been fighting the urge for many years. However, I feel I have no hope and things are not improving, but rather getting worse. I am not sleeping hardly at all, and my mental anguish and anxiety are terrible. Years of sleeping just 3 hours a night, and the complete loss of well-being, and the torture ENS brought to my life have become unbearable.

One thing that makes it tough is there is no escape. Since it is breathing related, it is constant. The lack of nerve signals being sent to the brain makes it torture. That is the hardest part to explain. I was so sleep-deprived, and sleep is such a motivator, I would do anything for it. My friends and family cannot comprehend my suffering, and cannot understand why I cannot transcend my problem. I would like nothing more than to successfully cope. I have two beautiful children that need a healthy father. I want to feel better so I can be there for them. Other than the physical symptoms, I suffer from a complete loss of well-being. I have severe depression and anxiety. I always excelled in school and work and, overall, things came pretty easy for me. I was so very capable. Now everything is so hard. Little tasks are hard. I spend my days trying to not lose it mentally. When I discuss my problems with my friends and family, it is very hard on them. They cannot help the situation so they do not know how to react. I try my best not to burden anyone anymore. As a result, it is a very lonely condition. Only my fellow ENS sufferers, who I met online, can comprehend what I go through. I confide in them. This is not my suicide note.  Although I am suicidal. Every day, I feel the urge. I force myself to make it one more day. I have been saying that to myself for years. I have never imagined such pain could have been brought to my life to ruin it.


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