Friday, February 10, 2006

Spontaneous Lung Collapse - Part 1

So you may have noticed that I haven't posted anything in any of my blogs for a while (especially if you're coming here from I've got a good excuse - three weeks ago, my left lung collapsed.

This is the second time this has happened. It's called a spontaneous pneumothorax, and while it can be life-threatening, it usually isn't. My first pneumothorax happened about six months ago, and was extremely scary. You see, for about the last fifteen years, I've had heart palpitations that have themselves caused more than a few doctor's visits (they never find anything wrong). I've also on occasion felt pressure in my chest, and thought these might be related. One morning, I woke up and felt an odd sensation in my chest - sort of a "fluttering", with a feeling of intense pressure, but no pain. Stupidly, I waited, thinking it might go away on its own - remember, I'd been to the doctor about this sort of thing several times, and they'd practically laughed me out of the office each time. I had developed a reputation as something of a hypochondriac, and had started to think of myself that way too.

But the feeling didn't go away, and when I woke up the next morning with severe chest pain, I immediately told my wife to call 911. I ended up in the hospital where the ER doctor gave me some good news - I had not had a heart attack, and in fact my heart was fine. I was diagnosed with costochondritis - literally arthritis of the chest wall - and sent home.

The pain lessened over the next week but never went away. I was having trouble breathing during this time and eventually made an appointment with my primary doctor. He did a chest x-ray (the hospital didn't) and actually became angry when he saw what he had immediately suspected - a pneumothorax in my left lung. Calling it a "classic case" due to my build and saying the hospital doctors were "stupid idiots" for missing it, he immediately sent me to another hospital and informed them that I was on my way with a partially (around 30%) collapsed lung.

If you're wondering what could cause such a thing, it's apparently fairly common in tall, thin males aged 20-40. Nobody's sure why, but they think it has to do with the lungs having too much room to move around in the chest cavity, which results in air "blebs" - literally air blisters on the surface of the lung, fed by tiny holes in the wall of the lung. When and if these pop, the lung may or may not collapse from the air pressure that's now outside the lung in the chest cavity.

The way your first spontaneous pneumothorax is treated is with a chest tube. You may have heard doctors on the TV show "ER" asking for this as they treat injured patients, but you probably don't know what it is. For an otherwise healthy and alert person, it is a nightmare in itself. The doctor first numbs an area on your side, then slices through your chest wall and inserts a 1/4" tube into your thoracic cavity (where your lungs are). During this process, you're rolled onto your side and your hand is literally taped to the bed above your head so you cannot move. The tube is then hooked up to a machine that provides suction, allowing the air that has caused the pressure in your chest to escape, and re-inflating the lung. The moment the suction is turned on is an interesting sensation, to say the least. Within seconds, the pressure is gone and the lung re-inflated - forcing an involuntary deep breath followed by uncontrollable coughing. Then the excruciating pain starts as your lung becomes reaccustomed to its natural position, and it only dissipates over about the next 30 minutes. But the chest tube itself causes a dull ache that never really goes away.

I was put in a room and kept on the tube for a day - my hospital stay was short ironically because I had delayed treatment for two weeks, allowing the hole in my lung to heal. The chest tube was removed and I was monitored for an additional day before being sent home. I moved around gingerly for the next few weeks, afraid of a recurrence and in pain from the incision (which eventually had to be treated with a steroid to calm it down). But eventually, I returned to normal - always cognizant that it could happen again, but actually a little relieved to know that it was not my heart and that it probably was not going to kill me.

But it did recur a few weeks ago, and this time was much worse. Read on for Part 2 and see what I'm going through right now.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Anonymous2:37 PM

    i have had this exact problem, ever since my growth spurt in junior h.s. Every time i spoke to my doctor (a general practitioner) he would tell me that nothing was wrong. i pretty much gave up on finding out what was going on until a week ago, when my friend told me that he found people complaining of the same problem online.

    i'm 5' 11" and skinny. would it be possible to avoid further occurrences by bulking up?

    it's good to know this isn't just me imagining a health problem.

  3. I was told that once you get a pneumothorax, bulking up isn't going to help. The damage, whatever it is, is already done.

    Believe me, I asked the same question!

  4. Anonymous4:08 AM

    I have had 2 pneumothoracies occuring on my right lung. I find it funny because fate had really lead me to live.

    I was supposed to go hiking the day after it had happened and I would hate to think how worse it would have been since the altitude would have been drastically different. Also, my lung was 90% collapsed the second time around.

    In addition. I had a procedure done on my right lung, which roughened up the lung itself and the blebs were cut away. Painful yes, it still hurts. This happened about a week and a half ago. I am still recovering.

    But a side note. I had a freak accident. Not sure if there are others who had accidentally pulled the tube out. My tube was rather large and protruding from my back/side of my rib. I was a bit drugged up after the surgery and tried to adjust myself in bed not knowing my hand was on the tube then I heard a pop and blacked out.

    Luckily, my brother was there...he called out my name but I did not respond. I was thrashing and convulsing he said. A sight he never wants to see ever again.

    He hit the call nurse button and one came in, turned on the lights and to their surprise, saw blood just pouring out from the tube.

    Apparently I ruptured a vein inside...I lost 800cc's in 10 minutes..not sure if that's a lot, but I was fading. Needless to say, I am here. I just had a brush with death this past week. I really want to prevent this from ever occurring...not sure if it is worth persuing.


About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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