[Draft] Though it is fickle, I love my lung(s): Me and Spontaneous Pneumothorax

This is a very rough draft. Completion date is TBA. The procrastinator will want to drag this out as long as possible (cough). Every single day needs some editing.

Day +2
March 20th, 2017

I left the hospital two days ago, but I can’t stop thinking about my experiences there, and of course, the lung collapse that led me there.

I’m sure it’s perfectly normal to think about something like this — most live every day without giving a second of thought as to the wellbeing of their lungs, and have blissful security that they will work, but I’m one of the people whose lungs failed. At the very least, it’s a jarring experience. I hold no anger or animosity or grief. I’m almost in full health, although I still have minor mobility issues. I can’t carry my textbooks back and forth to school. I avoid bending the right side of my body as much as possible. Those things will go away soon, and bother me little. I have, in just the span of a week, gone through an experience that is permanently etched in my memory, one that has ever so slightly changed who I am and how I stand (not literally — my posture is crooked now, but that will go away once I stop feeling so many sensations in my right lung).

[Skip down two paragraphs if you want to jump to the story of what happened.]

It has always been difficult for me to explain things. I’ve always admired storytellers and their verbal abilities, and professionals who clearly articulate their knowledge share my admiration also. Even on paper, I have the same problem that I do with words spoken aloud. I can’t disentangle myself from the threads of memory and knowledge and experience that cross each other, woven together and knotted up like a bunch of balls of yarn after a group of cats had a string appreciation convention. My thoughts and words are far from linear when I express them, so when all is said and done, a riveting story can become mundane and wearisome when shared from my mouth. It is my ardent intention, in writing this, that I will try to balance my convoluted, verbose, and tepid style with one that is more concise and compelling.

Let’s begin.

Day -1
March 13th, 2017
The Day It Happened

“The main symptoms of a pneumothorax are sudden chest pain and shortness of breath. But these symptoms can be caused by a variety of health problems, and some can be life-threatening. If your chest pain is severe or breathing becomes increasingly difficult, get immediate emergency care.”Mayo Clinic

Frankly, I don’t remember much of it. I’ve been absent-minded and forgetful my entire life. I was in (mostly witness to) a State Championship round (Ohio Mock Trial) two years ago and I’ve already forgotten most of what happened. That was one of the most impressive, unforgettable moments of my entire life. And I forgot it.

It began in the morning, at school. It happened around 4th period (10:04-10:49 where I’m from). Whether it happened shortly before or during is anyone’s guess. It didn’t feel significant at the time. Of course it didn’t, considering I waited 32 hours before going to see a medical professional. It felt like an anxiety attack. My heart rate quickened slightly, and it felt harder to get a full breath. I’d had plenty of run-ins with anxiety for the past few years, so I did some breathing exercises and tried my best to ignore my discomfort, believing it would go away in due time.

[I walked a mile home and barely made it, told parents, went to sleep expecting pain to go away, add more info]

Day 1
March 16th, 2017
Unidentified Chest Pain

“If you have a large pneumothorax, a chest tube will be placed between the ribs into the space around the lungs to help drain the air and allow the lung to re-expand.” MedlinePlus

Every single movement of my body created a flurry of stabbing daggers throughout my chest. I only had moments of relief before another wave of pain would stop me.

Around 5:30, my dad and I headed to a local urgent care center. Around 6, I was seen by a nurse who noted my symptoms.

Ambulance, ekg, x-ray, steve? Blood running down arm, IV bag in trash? Monitor put on finger (pulse oximeter), no need for oxygen tank because breathing was stable

Awake on and off, reading a Nat Geo about endangered sharks

I cried in the ambulance after they said it was ok, they joked the bald (tough-looking) guy would cry with me, the older guy was very nice, told me to tell them if I felt any increase in pain, got misty-eyed when the ambulance guys left

When I told someone I was experiencing increased pain, his/her reaction was basically, “Of course, your lung’s been collapsed and that’s pretty normal.” I bristled a bit at the cavalier nature of the comment, because I figured it could be useful information — I wasn’t trying to complain. The guy never returned.

[lots of fleshing out needed]

Day 2
March 15th, 2017

[Note: I completely avoided writing until Day 5, so these “journal entries” were written post-factum, much later. Because of this, these are an incomplete record of what I experienced — while I know I was in pain each day I was at the hospital, I don’t remember the exact severity at each moment of the day. Because of that, I can’t testify to the pain I was in; just know that I was in pain.]

Friends stopped by around 3PM, after school. Completely unexpected. I didn’t know they knew I was in the hospital. We chatted for a bit, maybe 30 minutes max. I think they felt awkward seeing me in a chair and hooked up to an IV and a chest tube, plus my dad started yapping their ears off, which made all of us uncomfortable. He started telling my story, and he didn’t have a clue about half of what I went through. He wasn’t there when my lung collapsed. Anyway, they brought a beautiful bouquet of orange roses. I’ve loved them since I got one my freshman year as part of a tradition we have in Mock Trial.

My doctor dropped by to discuss my options moving forward. [Blebs and surgery]

My family stopped by in the late afternoon. Brother brought my tablet without any provocation. It was a great, unexpected gesture that let me connect to the Mock Trial team and tell them I was fine. Apparently they got word of my hospital visit on the day of because of Brother. He told friends, and one of those friends happened to be on the team. I didn’t mind at all. It was touching to see that people worried about me and kept me in their thoughts.

[needs much fixing]

Day 3
March 16th, 2017
The Surgery

I wasn’t allowed to eat a single thing until 4:30PM. Thank goodness hunger dulls after a few hours.

Very dry throat. Ice cream helped.

Might’ve been the day I got the IV switched from left to right bc of 9/10 pain at 3am-ish

Day 4
March 17th, 2017

Talked about taking off of IV. 8pm talk with doctor

I think my pulse oximeter was put back on, then taken off, some nurse said, “You would know if you’re breathing or not,” emphasizing “you”. Think she told me I was young and healthy enough not to need it.

[add more info]

Day 5
March 18th, 2017
Last Day, Going Home

It felt like weeks, yet seconds at the same time. Got home around 3:50 [Note: No BM until two days later, but after that, I completely returned to normal in regards to BMs.]

Day +1
March 19th, 2017
Return to “Real Life”

Minutes after I woke up, I began emptying my backpack. It’s fairly common for me to do eccentric things like that. I don’t work up an appetite until sometimes an hour after I wake up. I decided the day before to switch a shoulder-bag to reduce pressure on the right side of my body.

[add more info]

Day +2 (continued)
March 20th, 2017
Back to School

I went back to school the first day I could. I went to school wary of all of the make-up work I knew I had to do.

[Emails to teachers resulted in two “Yikes” and two “Oh no!”s. Add more info]

Day +3
March 21st, 2017
Worn Out

I’m doing really well in terms of my recovery. I haven’t been feeling much pain. The soreness and numbness seemed to reduce after the dressing was taken off. I felt weary throughout the day. I don’t feel like I have an excuse to miss school work or turn it in late, but at the same time that’s what’s been going on. I’m not sure if I’m actually being strong or not. At this point I actually technically haven’t done any make-up work. I want to give myself some space, but I have no idea when enough is enough. Did I give myself too much leeway and waste time that I should have been using to complete school work? I’m just confused. I don’t know what my course of action is or what it should be. I just know that I need to get this work done in three days. I really don’t want to have to drag make-up work through spring break.

I’ve consistently been taking up about three pain pills per day. I did a lot of research today, trying to learn about my recovery and how long it could take, along with different aspects about the workings of pneumothorax and how it is treated — how I was treated. It’s fascinating stuff. I read multiple articles from medical journals. Knowing more about oneself is fulfilling. I also learned that I potentially have nerve damage. I am not very concerned or worried, but this was something I was unaware of and I have no idea what the future holds. That is true in any situation, and I know I have in abundance of strength to support myself and thrive no matter what happens, but I really do wonder how long I will be feeling the effects of my lung collapse. I know in some manner that my lungs’ collapse will affect me for the rest of my life, but I don’t know the extent to which I will be physically affected. Through Reddit I discovered an article about the after-effects of VATS and other similar procedures. I have been feeling numb since I left the hospital, and now I know why. I probably have something called paresthesia. It doesn’t bother me much, it just feels that’s my right side is persistently half-asleep. My right side of my body, particularly my chest, feels like a weight. It still feels like a part of my body, woven into me and forever inseparable, but I feel like I’m dragging a reluctant right lung along for the ride. I’ve had a rather eccentric image in my mind ever since I left the hospital of me wearing my lung like a satchel, one so encumbered that it pulls me down so that my left shoulder is always higher than my right.

Day +4
March 22nd, 2017
These Lungs Were Made for Walking

I’m a speedwalker. Yet, if I walk quickly, I run out of air in a way I never used to experience. My lungs keep limping along, grumbling under their breath and resisting making a serious effort to function. What drama queens.

[Add more info maybe]

Day +9
March 27th, 2017
No More Pills

I woke up today feeling mildly uncomfortable, but it certainly wasn’t worth hydrocodone-acetaminophen. I ended up not taking a pill all day. I still feel odd tingles around my wound site/right lung, but I’m expecting those to stick around for a while.

[more info needed]

Day +10
March 28th, 2017

I feel like some sort of wonderkid, one of those one-in-a-million people to ooh and ahh at. Don’t get me wrong here, I don’t expect nor want that to happen. What I mean is, the fact I haven’t taken a single pill for pain in the past few days feels abnormal. Just a few days ago, when doing research on my pneumothorax and treatment, I read about people who suffered after-effects for ten years, and here I am, walking around like someone in their thirties who’s perfectly-healthy-albeit-in-need-of-a-chiropractor. My posture’s still a bit weird. I’m entirely capable of standing up straight, but I still lean to my right side. It’s not as bad as it was a week ago, at least.

Day +11
March 29th, 2017
Pill-free Day 3

Honestly, I sort of got used to being in pain in the morning. I would gingerly lift myself off of the two pillows I’d propped myself on (just like I did at the hospital) and gently roll my body over to the edge of the bed and swing my legs off to propel myself out of the bed. That’s still my daily morning routine, minus the “gingerly”. I’ve even laid on my right side before — I still avoid that because it’s uncomfortable and feels unnatural, but it doesn’t make me want to run to take a tablet of hydrocodone, either. Pain? Practically 0. Feeling uncomfortable is not the same as feeling pain. A kid with a knee scrape is hurting more than I am.

“I can’t remember what the pain was like in the early days. I can’t remember what it felt like to walk around w/a chest tube for the first time. The memories are gone now. I’ll just have to do the best I can.” —A quote from my real journal about the difficulties in writing about my experience post-factum, written today as I write the “journal entries” of my first few days in the hospital

Day +12
March 30th, 2017

I hope I don’t have a virus, but I have been up since 4AM, so my immune system might not be its best today. I think my insomnia is the cause of the fever, since I barely have a temperature. I tried to resist using Advil for as long as possible, but I’ve got work to do, so I took one tablet to try and get rid of the headache, which, by the way, didn’t eliminate it. I’m never quite sure if Advil works on me. I know I should really try using two tablets, but I never do. I did the cold towel on the head method my mom has used since I was little, and that helped bring my temperature down a lot. In the evening, I got very warm again, but after an hour of constant re-application of a towel that is re-wet every few minutes (thanks mom!), my temperature went down again and I was able to sleep.

Day +13
March 31st, 2017
Oh What a Fever

No fever, but I still have a runny nose.

Day +14
April 1st, 2017

The runny nose is mostly cleared up, which makes me glad because my trash can was starting to fill up.

I’ve been experiencing some itchiness around the incisions in my chest. This is apparently a sign of healing, and it comes and goes. It’s hard to ignore when I feel it, but thankfully it goes away. Today, I’ve felt the most discomfort I’ve felt in about a week — in addition to itchiness, I feel something akin to light squeezing when I move a certain way, and I feel a bit of what I can only call jiggling. (No problems with breathing.) I know this is all after-effects of the pneumothorax and the surgeries in particular, because none of these feelings are replicated in my left side. As usual, there’s no ‘bouncing’ sensation near my left lung. I hate to call it bouncing or jiggling because I don’t think it’s accurate to say that my right lung is dancing a jig in my chest, but there’s an odd sense of movement that’s pronounced when I go down stairs. Going down a flight of stairs is usually when the bouncing feeling occurs, but today it’s been heightened, and I feel it while simply walking. It’s not painful, just odd. It’s also made me quite reluctant to pick up anything weighing more than a few pounds.

I haven’t thought to mention this, but since it’s been two weeks since I left the hospital, I thought this would be a relevant update. All numbness is gone except for numbness in over 60% of my right boob. It’s a bit TMI, but I’ve gotta say wearing bras is a bit uncomfortable for prolonged periods — mostly because it rubs up against the surgery areas, but instead of providing support, to my right boob it feels like constriction more than anything else. This is the reality of a pneumothorax, I suppose, and considering that males are the most likely to be affected, I figured that such information isn’t exactly readily available, so for any other lady lung collapsees (yes, I made that up), there you go.

I still haven’t needed a single tablet of my hydrocodone, which is quite good. I find it odd, though, as I have almost 80 tablets left (I took at most 3 a day for 8 days). I need to find out if there’s some way I can donate them. Err, nevermind, after some research, I guess they can only be taken to a designated location and be disposed of. It seems like such a waste, but I’ll just be grateful I don’t need them anymore. It isn’t safe to keep something like hydrocodone (or any prescription medicine) around if I’m not using it. I remember when I had my wisdom tooth surgery in August, I ended up having to use all 20 of my hydrocodone pills. (I didn’t remember the medication; I still have the bottle because I’m a packrat like that.) Hmm… upon further examination, it seems like the dose of hydrocodone-acetaminophen I got after my wisdom tooth surgery was stronger. (Well, I did need them if I wanted to eat or talk without pain.) Anyway, I didn’t feel much pain toward the end of my hospital stay, so it makes sense that I haven’t needed any.

I’m a spry youngin, after all.

1 Month Later (Day +27)
April 14th, 2017
I Suppose I’m Back to Normal, for the Most Part

Today marks a month since I entered the hospital. Yesterday was the one month anniversary of my lung collapsing. The 18th is the one month anniversary of when I left the hospital (that’s why it says “Day +27” instead of “Day +30”).

For weeks, I had to avoid lying on my right side because it was too uncomfortable. There’s still a bit of discomfort when I do it, but I can easily lie on my side at certain angles for an hour or more. (I haven’t tried sleeping on my right side because I only did it occasionally even before the pneumothorax.) There’s still numbness in the bottom half of my boob, but there’s an incision right underneath it, so it makes sense to me. I believe my whole boob used to be numb, but the top half isn’t anymore. I haven’t had any pain-medication worthy pain ever since I stopped taking my pain medication. If I puff my chest out by taking as deep of a breath as I can, I feel a sensation in my right lung right around where the under-the-boob incision is. I’ve felt that for a while. I feel the same sensation when I bend my right side or stretch. I don’t know what to call it. It’s not tingly (as one might assume when reading the word “sensation”), and it doesn’t hurt. I’ve taken several long walks and don’t feel that I wear out more easily than I should. My endurance seems to be the same as it was. I seem to be back to normal, in terms of day to day functioning.

My four “wounds,” as I call them, are mostly healed. I have smooth new skin, and only one of the wounds still has (what I think is) a small scab. I don’t feel itchy in those areas. I don’t feel discomfort when wearing tight clothing, like a bra. (I normally have a snug fit, but for a while, I had to wear the loosest bras I own, which weren’t very loose.)

A couple of weeks ago, I ordered a lung lapel pin from I Heart Guts. (I’m a bit of a pin collector, though I only have a handful.) I really like the design of their products and I’ve heard they’re good quality (by word of mouth and by online reviews). The pin is exactly as advertised. I’ve worn it a few times and it looks great. I like that the lung is flexing; it makes me think of lung strength. I’m pretty tempted to order the lung plush, but maybe farther down the road (because it’s $20). I also bought a pair of heart socks that were on sale. They’re comfortable and seem to hold up.

I know these posts are mundane, but it is something to be grateful for, as it means that I’m doing well. I don’t need to bore anyone any further, so that’s it for today.


Why I Did This: The Inaugural Post

Image courtesy of Unsplash on pixabay.com

I write. That makes me, at least in simple terms, a writer. I love design and websites, so I thought it was time for me to make myself a site for my writing, a digital notebook of sorts. I don’t want to launch into a long-winded life story, but this really was a long time coming. I’ve kept digital and physical journals for years (regularly for about 4 years, to be precise, though those years are not consecutive). I work as the Online Editor for the WNHS newspaper and manage the WordPress site for the digital arts publication, The Silhouette. I used to make Weebly sites for fun (yes, Weebly leaves a lot to be desired) in adolescence. All of my passions can be combined into one simple WordPress site. I’m absolutely thrilled to have this space to share my projects with people and keep a record of the here and now for the future.

This site will evolve as I grow into it and strike different paths throughout my life. I hope that I will post content that is worth my enjoyment, and hopefully yours. I am nearly breathless with the possibilities the future holds (well, considering my recent spontaneous pneumothorax/lung collapse)…

Thanks for being here.

Notes 2