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Pneumothorax Audio: Personal Experience

My pneumothorax and treatment happened a little over a year ago, and thankfully I don't have to think of it too often these days.

My first episode happened during the night, while I was asleep. My girlfriend at the time was over, and said that I was wheesing through the night as I breathed and making some awful sounds. I woke up and gave her a ride to work as usual, felt some mild discomfort in my chest. Being a smoker at the time and a lifelong allergy sufferer, the discomfort wasn't anything too much out of the ordinary, I wasn't concerned. However, after dropping my girlfriend off at work, as I drove home I started to experience some startling pain, and began to have difficulty breathing. I actually thought (because of the referred pain in my left arm) that I might be having a heart attack.

I was treated at the major hospital in town, the area I live in has maybe a quarter of a million people. I had a hard time getting admitted to the emergency room, I was alone and obviously in distress, but I didn't have anyone there to speak for me. I imagine the admitting nurse thought I was on drugs or crazy or something, the difficulty with which I was speaking to her. What disturbed me was her seeming lack of concern and her reluctance to do something about a medical emergencey that was developing right before her eyes.

Once I was in the ER it then took six hours to admit me to the hospital. I was amazed at just how long it took. I was treated with a chest tube, they observed me for four days, and when my chest cavity had been sufficiently evacuated of air, I was discharged.

The treatment didn't take. A day after discharge, my lung collapsed again. Though I don't remember the percentage, it was down even further than before. Having just been through the same ordeal of the emergency room and admissions, having some idea of what was happening to my body, I had a little better sense of humor this time, and I was recognized by the staff,and the process went more smoothly.

This time I was operated on. The surgeon performed thoroscope assisted pleuridesis, he made two incisions in my back where he inserted a tiny camera and his instruments for manipulating my lung and chest cavity walls. The procedure involves taking a mechanical abrasive and damaging the chest cavity and lung tissue just slightly, enough for the tissue to scar and bond together - "gluing" your lung to the inside of your chest. In addition, a surgical steel staple was used to close the ruptured bleb that caused my lung to collapse in the first place. A new chest tube was inserted, this time an enormous one though a new site on my chest.

I was observed for five days after surgery, and was discharged with a sucking chest wound despite my protests. The surgeon who operated on me had been forced to reveal to me that the thoroscope that had been used in my surgery had not been properly sterilized, and was uncomfortable with me in every interaction we had afterwards, I believe that he was concerned about his legal liability. When I was dischaged, he unceremoniously yanked my chest tube out of my chest, and did not properly dress the wound or ensure that it was airtight. Further, I was not kept for observation after the chest tube had been removed, I was asked to leave the hospital. Three days later my lung was down, my body was in awful shape from being subjected to the surgery, and I was despairing.

Rather than dealing with the ER again, I went to a local urgent care clinic and demanded an x-ray to determine that my lung really was down. I told the doctor there the story of what had happened, and tthat I did not want to return to the major hospital again, wait for hours in ER, then get operated on by some hack. He arranged the best treatment I could have ever hoped for.

I went to a small hospital outside the center of town and was admitted immediately into the hospital. The surgeons who I spoke to were regarded as some of the best in the United States, and although surgery wasn't necessary, it was reassuring that they were there. They were unable to retrieve records from the first hospital I had been treated at because the surgeon who did my pleuridesis had taken a vacation immediately after I left, providing no records. So they spoke to me, asked a number of detailed questions, and treated me based on the information they had. What this amounted to was re-inflating my lung, dressing the wounds properly, and discharging me when it was appropriate and obvious that I had healed, based on observation and x-rays. I was there for a week, and in contrast to the large hopital, I got to know the staff because they weren't rotated from floor to floor and shift to shift on a daily basis.

This story might seem frightening, but the outcome was that I learned that you have to make good decisions about where you get treatment, and there are always some riske even if you make good decisions. I'm 24, and I spent the better part of last year playing tennis, indoor soccer, jogging, biking, skateboarding and snowboarding. I've learned to appreciate every opportunity to do something active, because for a time I worried I was going to be handicapped and unable to ever be really active again. I still feel discomfort in my chest sometimes but it doesn't slow me down a bit (honestly and objectively).