After experiencing chronic nosebleeds and severe congestion, humor writer Steve Bean Levy goes to the doctor and discovers he’s got Sino-Nasal Squamous Cell Carcinoma — a cancer that attacks the nose and sinuses. In a poignant (and graphic) personal essay at MEL Magazine, Levy recounts his treatment and what it’s like to live life without a nose.

On March 2, 2017, Blackwell and his team performed a schnozophomy. That’s Yiddish for rhinectomy, which is English for cutting your nose off. I was in surgery for 12 hours, from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. They removed my nose, my tumor, my upper gums, all of my upper teeth and two-thirds of my upper palate. Soon thereafter, in preparation for radiation treatments, the majority of my bottom teeth were also removed. I was left with a total of four teeth, all on the bottom.

But for the moment, I want to tell you about the hole in my face. I want to tell you about The Wound.

And I can really look IN there. There’s a vast space here. This was my sinus cavity! This is the interior of my skull! To examine The Wound for the first time, I began by removing my plastic nose. It’s more of a nose-shell, really, with a nose-shape in the center, partial plastic cheeks and a bit of upper lip. Beneath the shell, I was delighted to find that Dr. Blackwell had built a very realistic nose out of gauze! It was a little crude, but quite nose-like, really very well done. He had built it skillfully, and I imagined, quickly and expertly, the way a seasoned balloon-artist might make a balloon animal, finishing off with a flourish, saying, “There ya go, little fella, it’s a nose!”

As I disassembled the gauze-nose, I was again impressed, this time by the sheer quantity of gauze that Blackwell used; there was enough for five noses. I became a vaudeville magician, “The Wizard of Gauze,” performing my take on the Endless Handkerchief Trick. The more gauze I unraveled, the more there was to unravel.

Today, I’m like Eleanor Rigby — I wear a face that I keep in a jar by the door. Actually, I keep mine in a pile in a drawer, but McCartney has written the superior lyric. We’ve all heard a woman say, most likely in an old-timey TCM movie, “I have to go back inside to put my face on.” I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked out the front door without my nose and had to turn back and go inside to “put my face on.” Nor can I count the number of times we’ve been about to head out, and I’ve had to say to Caroline, “Honey, have you seen my nose anywhere?”

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