I had a spontaneous pneumothorax
a few months ago. Well, at least it could
have been spontaneous
. I had an injury
a while ago which may or may not
have made it traumatic
But anyway, I'm male, six foot and 65 kilos. That makes me about a
19 on the BMI
scale, which apparently puts me right in the group most at
risk from the condition. I don't smoke
It was horrible, when it happened. I woke up on a Wednesday morning
and couldn't breathe. At first it felt like a very bad stomachache
. I moved
around for a few minutes and eventually ended up face down on my bed again,
because lying down always helps for stomachaches with me. Well, you can
probably guess it didn't go away. And after a while I thought that maybe
something was wrong with my heart
. I tried scrabbling around for some aspirin
After a few more minutes I staggered down to my housemates. They didn't
make much of it, but after another few minutes they were getting ready
to take me off to my GP
. At first I was going to try making it to a bus
. That didn't work. Every few steps I had to hunch down and try to
take in more air
. I thought I was going to die every few more steps I took.
In they end they called me a cab
, which took us to the GP. I staggered
up to the reception and rasped out
"doctor." She looked at me and said,
"Do you want to make an appointment?"
I rasped again, "now..."
After about 30 seconds worth of inspection
and tapping me on the back
called an ambulance
out. Anybody else find ambulance crews to be
more like a stand-up comedy routine?
Well, at the hospital
I was wheeled into the kiddie cubicle
for any Americans). It was good for me I suppose, because there was
a mural of a giraffe
on the ceiling, and I like giraffe. But another thing
you should know about me is that I have an abject terror of needles
, just thinking about one.
I got x-rayed, and this was the worst part: me sat naked from the waist
up, looking across the room at a group of nurses and doctors looking at
, unable to see it myself, and unable to read anything on their
When they wheeled over a tray full of nasty looking implements
sort of guess what the outcome was. The doctor (a very nice guy) pinned
, and I didn't really read it at first. I could see something massively
, but not as wrong as I first thought. What I first thought was that
the gaping blackness on my right side was a lung
, or something
like that. Then the doctor pointed out my lung, just like a shrivelled
hanging limply from my heart.
First they tried aspirating me. A needle phobic, being aspirated. It
helped that I had a very attractive nurse whose hand I'm sure required
My housemates were allowed in after they finished, and tried making
me think a little more positively, as I'm a tad negative at the best of
times, but this situation just gave me a field day.
I hate being right. Next of course came the chest drain. Well, I had
the nurse again, so I really can't tell you much else, except she had really
incredible eyes (and surgical knives must really be as sharp as they look).
After that I was wheeled into one of the critical care booths (away
from my giraffes and eyes, sadly). I was sat clenching the sides of my
bed, smelling my own blood and meat on my breath. And the sweat was pouring
out of me. I still had my trousers on, and although I never looked, I knew
they were covered with my blood and perspiration.
I must have sat for a couple of hours like that, scared. Everybody in
there was moaning or whimpering. Pretty soon I was doing the same. A massive
and fiery pain was right in the middle of my chest, and it just kept building
and building. It would not stop, and at first I was just whimpering, trying
not to let out how painful it really was. That didn't work very well, because
it kept building and building, like someone had poured gasoline over my
heart and struck a match.
A couple of nurses came over right away when I started screaming through
clenched teeth (it's possible I tell you!). They quickly got a doctor,
who ironically, would be the source of far more pain than she ended up
curing just then. She told me the pain was probably the tube knocking into
my heart. So she took away the bandages and started to slowly pull it out.
She kept asking me, "Any better, any better?" and I kept saying no until
instantly one second the pain stopped and I could focus again. I was patched
up again and left alone, until my housemates showed up. They'd gone home
and got a couple of books for me. I spent the rest of the evening reading
Braudel and listening to a doped up 12 year old girl scream at nurses and
I had honestly thought I would be out in a few hours time. I thought
I was going to recuperate in A&E for the night and be out in the morning.
I was quite shocked when they wheeled me up to critical care around midnight.
Maybe this was worse than accident and emergency even: utter silence on
the ward. Sometimes it would be broken by an alarm going off and crash
carts flying down the corridor. The odd death here and there I think…
I read about ancient Islam until five in the morning when I took another
trip: this time to a specialist chest care unit. My home for the next four
or five days. People weren't dying on this ward (at least not visibly so)
but everybody on there is probably dead by now. Tracheas to the left of
me, TB to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with my drain. All old
people too. Nobody under about 75 or 80 years old.
I didn't sleep. I was still scared. The worst was still to come though,
when I was taken for my first 'post-op' x-ray. I wanted the best, but I
guess I could feel it wasn't coming.
Like I said, the doctor who temporarily relieved my pain actually ended
up lengthening it. The tube had been pulled out too much and the lung was
still an apricot. I was told I would have to have an entirely new drain
put in. This time I was wheeled down the corridor to a small operating
room. And I didn't have a nurse this time. It was far worse. I had a trainee
doctor. She held my hand, but actually made it worse by just intently staring
at what was going on underneath my arm. I think I came close to blacking
out when the doctor unceremoniously stuck her finger in me while she readied
the new drain. Eventually it was over, but I could not move for the pain.
I had to go straight down to x-ray to check the pipe was in place, and
in time I managed to inch my way off the table and into a wheel chair,
complete with oxygen (hadn't been off oxygen since I had got into the ambulance).
Thankfully the porter was very careful manoeuvring around the corridors,
because I couldn't move or mutter a sound with the numb pain coursing through
my entire chest.
Back up to the ward half an hour later, and luckily it was in, and seemed
to be working. I've never been so thankful to hear someone tell me I'm
'swinging' in my entire life.
Once I was settled for the night (and started on Ancient Africa in Braudel)
they told me they were going to put me on suction to speed up the process.
Fair enough I thought. They can't do any worse than what I've been through.
I woke up as if it was all happening again sometime in the very early
hours. This time it wasn't like in A&E when my moaning got slowly louder.
I went straight for the full pitch this time, because instead of just pouring
gasoline over my heart, someone was now shoving red-hot needles into it.
The nurses came pretty sharpish even without me pressing the emergency
button (they ignored it anyway; the guy next door literally pressed it
every few seconds, in between banging the switch against his bed).
They got me syringes of morphine to be taken orally, and I swilled them
down like water. A male nurse sat next to me, shouting at me to stay conscious,
and I really do believe his hand was x-rayed afterwards. I was totally
immobilised with pain. Absolutely rigid. I tried shifting me knees, from
ninety degrees to more like one hundred and twenty, but that was it. I
think I was like that for a few minutes, maybe fifteen at the most. It
seemed like hours. I must have fallen asleep again finally. The morphine
may not do anything for the pain, but it sure knocks you out.
As I found out the next morning (after the doctors had finished standing
at the bottom of my bed, discussing me with a clinical eye) the suction
they had put me had been put too high. It was supposed to be ten; I was
on thirty. A nurse told me that if they hadn't disconnected it as quick,
it would probably have killed me as quick as my original pneumothorax.
But after all this, the days went by and I got progressively better.
In fact, on the last night, I even seem to remember asking the nurses if
they wanted to come and have a party in my cubicle (they did, probably
to get away from 'Fred', the button pusher next door).
What I really want to know is how many needles I eventually had stuck
into my side in total. I should have kept count. It would have been quite
amusing. Must have been somewhere in the vicinity of twenty at least.
But I got out. Dazed, but I didn't really feel much pain. What was worse
is what comes after I guess. Not being able to exert yourself. No flying,
And now I can't do things that I had wanted to, like scuba dive. I've
started exercising properly again now, but it seems whatever I do I'm always
thinking about my lung. Will it, won't it? Like some kind of bad television
programme where characters have will they, won't they romances, my lung
now has a will it, won't it relationship with me. The chances of it happening
again are still low. Just ten times more likely. Sounds like a lot, but
it still isn't much percentage wise.
But it'll always be there, that chance, just like the long scar which
runs underneath my arm.