Wednesday, February 17, 2016
When a Major Organ Lets You Down
There’s been a long period of radio silence in this location, for which I apologize. Unexpected medical emergencies can do that to a blogger. It’s all good now, but if I could offer one bit of advice before moving forward, it would be this: If anyone offers you a collapsed lung, don’t take it.
On the positive side, there’s nothing like a serious malfunction of a major organ to clarify a man’s thinking about what’s important in life. I haven’t figured that out yet, but I’d like to believe I’m contemplating it more, and more clearly.
It began innocently with a trip to the heartland. On Monday Jan. 11, Linda and I flew out to Nashville, and from there drove north to Ft. Campbell on the Tennessee-Kentucky border. The occasion was our son’s return from an overseas deployment, during which he was almost daily flying over hostile territory in a Blackhawk helicopter.
Cabin Pressure Decreasing
The homecoming was great. The troops flew in on a chartered 767, marched into a hangar, and had to stand at attention for about 10 minutes of speeches and band music. After that, everyone was dismissed to spend the rest of the day with family.
We spent pretty much a day and a half with Nick, catching up on what his deployment had been like and helping him get set up in his new quarters (nicer than before). We also took him shopping at the PX, the commissary and WalMart. We had dinner at a burrito joint he favors and at Blackhorse Pub in downtown Clarksville, TN, which was a bit more posh.
Thursday, we flew home, little knowing what would happen when we arrived. As I’ve subsequently learned, the sharp decrease in cabin pressure as a plane descends for landing is one of the leading triggers for a collapsed lung. The descent into San Jose is apparently what pushed mine over the edge.
But It Doesn’t Hurt
When we got off the plane in San Jose, I suddenly found I couldn’t walk more than 150 feet without feeling as out of breath as if I’d just finished a marathon. With no training. I’d had some shortness of breath in Tennessee, but had attributed it to the cold weather constricting breathing passages. And there was no pain; I’d always heard that a collapsed lung is intensely painful.
So I talked Linda into going home, with a promise that I’d call the doctor first thing in the morning. The doctor was not as copacetic about the situation as I’d been and ordered me to the ER, where I was a) quickly diagnosed with a collapsed lung, and b) informed that in a small percentage of cases, there’s no pain. Just lucky, I guess.
On the other hand, the lung had collapsed in an area where I had some damaged tissue from a previously diagnosed and treated pulmonary ailment. A look at the cat scan convinced the doctors it needed to be cleaned out, and the sooner the better, so at 7 p.m. on Friday night of a three-day weekend, I was wheeled into surgery and remained in the hospital until Monday night.
No fun, but a month later, I’m nearly 100 percent again, and there were two positive side effects. One was that the surgery knocked me out for 13 hours and wiped out my sleep debt from the trip. The other is that the surgery means there’s a fair chance the repaired lung will be good for the duration, and I won’t have to go through this again. I sure hope so.