When Your Lungs Collapse, So Does Your Faith In Your Own Body
Image credit: Dr Rogers! In between my two lung collapses I managed to make it out of the house a few times, as far as Leuven
I felt really generally ill for ages. I kept sneezing, coughing, feeling exhausted and I overall felt rough from late September onward. I went to a walk in clinic in Tottenham because I couldn't be bothered to wait for an NHS appointment with a GP (in London this can take up to 2 weeks). I had already cleared out the over the counter medicine of the local Tesco superstore and guess what: cough syrup really is a scam, because I was still feeling like death warmed up. The GP's office should have been enough of a warning - there was nothing in it except a laptop and a creaky desk. He told me I didn't have a chest infection, that I should 'drink more tea' and stop worrying. This appointment cost me £80, but that was a drop in the ocean of what my final hospital bill turned out to be.
I skyped my parents and begged them to let me come home for a week, so I could rest and recuperate before coming back to London. My dad actually drove to Ashford from Brussels the next morning because as he said I really 'looked like shit,' and this was cause for concern. 3 days after coming home, I was sitting at my computer when I felt a shooting pain start in my left shoulder blade, and travel down my arm and up my neck. I assumed it was just a standard muscle ache so I took a bath to try and ease it. The pain was becoming worse, and soon I was gasping for breath - every inhalation felt like I was being stabbed in the stomach. I was taken to A&E where they confirmed I had experienced a Primary Spontaneous Pneumothorax, and they laughed when I asked if I was going to be able to go home that evening.
I spent 8 days in Hospital the first time, I had a small chest tube inserted under only local anesthetic (least pleasant feeling in the world!) then I had to have that tube readjusted, again under only local anesthetic. When that tube didn't work they then has to insert a larger tube, which will result in a larger scar and whose removal is far more painful and risky. I've never spent time in hospital before so it was scary on so many levels. I've had a lung infection before age 6 but it was so long ago that I can't remember what it felt like to scrutinize every breath I take and even back then I was never hospitalized. You know something isn't right when your 86 year old nearly immobile grandmother keeps phoning up worried about how you are coping with everything!
I was discharged, recovered for 3 weeks, then in Ikea it happened again. Back I went to hospital, but this time I underwent thoracic surgery, in which the side of the lung is glued back to the pleural wall using an antibiotic power (I believe, I'm no expert). I had an epidural before the operation which was probably one of the worst things I've ever experienced - I can only be thankful that the nurses were so helpful and reassuring because I honestly felt like I was going to die. Luckily recovering from this in hospital was fairly easy because of the morphine pump that went directly into my spine. I was discharged 6 days after my operation and I've been recuperating at home ever since. It's a lot harder to relax because I'm constantly scared of a relapse, and even though I know it's probably nothing fatal, treating collapsed lungs is notoriously painful.
There was good and bad news when it came to discovering the cause of my PSP: the good news was, there was no cause. My blood tests came back perfect, I wasn't deficient in anything, I had no infection and no cancerous tumours. The bad news was, there was no cause. It was diagnosed as 'idiopathic' which essentially means that it was either a hereditary condition or I was simply the unlucky 1 in 100,000, although the doctors told me that taller, thinner young people were more likely to fall victim to it. It's frustrating to know that this happening was not down to anything in particular, but it's also reassuring to know there is nothing inherently 'wrong' with me.
I found several support groups on Facebook run by people who have experienced this condition chronically - they have been invaluable in my recovery as they are familiar with the constant panic that the condition brings out in even the most rational people. Even though everyone's experiences vary, and many people on the groups probably experience more serious PSP than most (hence why they seek out the community), it has helped me to realise that this condition is not only common, but also just something one learns to live with. I really recommend these groups to anyone who is struggling with either the [pain or the psychological aftermath of a PSP, just type in "Spontaneous Pneumothorax" into the search bar on facebook and several groups will pop-up.
Anyone who says that boys and girls can never just be friends is talking bullshit, because aside from my parents, the only person that made both my horrible hospital experiences bearable is my friend Alex. He came to see me almost every day, despite being in the middle of studying for his very important medical exams and was reassuringly nonchalant about all the pipes running in and out of me. This in my opinion is as selfless as it gets, and the sign of someone who is going to make a great doctor, because just their presence is calming. Alex is the sort of person who it is impossible to dislike, and is amazing to have around. Kindness isn't even a conscious decision for him - kindness is simply his nature. You learn who is really on your side when you are in hospital, who takes a couple of seconds out of their day to wish you a speedy recovery, and who doesn't bother. Someone even decided it was appropriate to use the guise of wishing me a good recovery to boast about how superior their life is - guess what buddy, there's no point in doing that to someone whose just become to aware of their bodies own fallibility that they are grateful for every unobstructed breath of air they take.
All I can hope for now is to stay out of hospital for good, and to put this experience down to bad luck. If anything, the inability to shower for 10 days almost eclipsed the pain of the actual medical procedures...