Memoirs of another spontaneous pneumothorax

So, my lung collapsed again Monday.

After a month or so of feeling lousy (see last post)  I had a sneaking suspicion something in me was going to give, and give it did. Good old trusty lungs always there to take the fall for me.

I have to say, for being so troublesome, my lungs have served me well over the years despite their spontaneous, mischievous behavior.  And I’ve gotten to know them quite well.

So well, in fact, that Monday morning I knew exactly what was happening….and then proceeded to plunge headlong into full-fledged denial.

After waking up to a strange and sharp pain in my side I knew all too well, I called M to tell him my right lung was on the fritz, but assured him that it would go back to it’s proper place without any outside involvement.

This has worked for me before in most cases though not all cases, which is the plight of the optimist I suppose. Being the stubborn little utopian heart that I am, I hardly had a choice really.  It was painful to a degree, but I just kept telling myself that it would resolve on it’s own like a good little lung should. I had plans that day for the salon and some relaxation away from the office, and I’ll be darned if some dysfunctional lung was going to stop me.

By mid-day I was walking around a shopping center in Huntington Beach clutching my side, feeling reasonably woozy and looking rather ridiculous.  I felt as if I let go, my lung might just flop right out of me onto the sidewalk.  The breathing wasn’t so good either, but I kept trudging along with a smile, coffee in one hand, lung in the other.

By the third store I knew I’d better call it quits and headed home to rest, hoping that would do the trick.


After doing my best to make an appointment to get a chest x-ray at my regular GP but being told they were full for the afternoon, they transferred me to a nurse on call.

Nurse: “You need to go the ER.” 

Me: “Hmm. Ok, thanks for your recommendation

Nurse:  “Mrs Fanning, Are you going to the ER?”

Me: “Um…well, not right now. Have a nice day!”


I made it to the evening, at which point M took me to urgent care where they confirmed a spontaneous pneumothorax and promptly sent me to the ER.



My request to avoid a chest tube surgery was met with a pat on the shoulder and a shake of the head by both surgeons.  I warned them that my body was resistant to medication, and to please ensure I was sent to la-la land before they got in there.  My last experience with this hadn’t gone so well, as I was no where near la-la land and felt every bit of that damned tube going through my chest.

They assured me that this time I would be far far away.

I was not. I was right there with them the whole time. The whole damned time.

But in all honesty I do not blame the doctors. After 16 mg of morphine and who knows how much versed, I felt like I’d not had a dose of children’s tylonel.  The doctors kept looking at me wide-eyed wondering how I was still alert and functional.

It was as  painful as I remember it, but the surgeons were as kind and gentle as one can be when probing a tube into one’s ribcage and pushing it down through your lung cavity. There were more tears than I wanted there to be, and since you have to be awake and restrained during the process, I did my best to hide my face under the blue sterile drape, as I detest crying in front of anyone and find that hiding is my best relief.

That and cursing. Poor doctors got an earful.

Mike could watch, but he couldn’t come near me, which was rather torturous for us both. At one point I looked up to see tears in his eyes as he watched me, and I could hardly stand it.  I think that broke me more than the physical pain.

Pain is a funny thing. The more you resist it, the more difficult it is to bear.  Once you let yourself acknowledge it’s there, your mind can go to another place and help you focus on something else.

And do you want to hear the really fun part?  When the doctors were finally done and I was just beginning to adjust to the pain, they took a chest x-ray only to find that the tube didn’t go where it was supposed to.  My lung was still down and they had to do it all over again.

I won’t tell you the word I used at this moment, but please use your imagination.

At this point it was three in the morning and I told Mike to go home to the dogs. The whole evening I was more concerned about them than I was about my lung, and I didn’t want him to watch any more of the nonsense I was going through.

The second time they didn’t bother to give me any more pain meds, as they weren’t making a difference and my heart rate had dropped too low.

When they moved me from the ER to admit me to the ICU upstairs, I saw the sun coming up from outside the window.

I don’t remember much after that, as they gave me Benadryl to help me sleep, and sleep I did.  I awoke to both M and sweet sister sometime later that day, doing their due diligence in making me laugh at just about everything.

I do recall feeling some relief when I realized it was my right lung and not my left, where they would have had to dig right through my side tattoo.  Thank God for the little things, perhaps that hummingbird is holding that side upright.


My last collapse they went in through the front, upper chest, not from the side. I think the latter was far more painful, personally.

A previous collapse, circa 2007

Anywho, good times.  They eventually discharged me with the chest tube, which they were able to remove several days later…to my delight and relief.  Doc says if one more lung goes down they will need to go in and do whats called a full VATS surgery where they basically glue your lungs up.

Glue. Do you hear that lungs, DO YOU? You stay put.

Here’s to breathing, good friends, and still believing your lungs can be good even when they’re unruly little bastards from time to time.



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