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Male with Two Surgical Treatments for a Pneumothorax

My story started in 1997, when I was beginning my final year of high school. I was driving back home from a trip to Calgary, Alberta were I had gone for Thanksgiving break. As I was driving I seemed like I couldn't sit still, my back was really sore. This was common to me but the stabbing pain in my chest was different. After many rest stops I finally arrived home near Peace River, Alberta. Thinking it was heartburn from Thanksgiving I went to school the next day. I made it half the day and returned home with back pain and heartburn. Fearing some heart problem I went to the hospital.

I fully expected to be told to take some antacid and go home. After listening to my chest, my doctor ordered some chest x-rays. After taking some x-rays, which I thought where for my back pain, he took me back to the emergency room. By this I was total confused why my heartburn was getting so much attention. He told me he had been waiting for someone with this condition, I had what he called a spontaneous pneumothorax or air around the lung as he explained it to me. It generally affects tall thin men between 20 and 30. I was the prime candidate at 17 years old, 6 foot 4 inches tall, 160 pounds and a male. The only thing I didn't do was smoke and never been around much second hand smoke either. Now he wanted to insert a small tube to drain the air around the lung, a chest tube. What's a chest tube I asked? So he showed me the needle saying I insert this into your side. Well that's about all I remember because I passed out after he showed me that thing. After I came to, he decided to let it reabsorb on it's own. I would need to be hospitalized mainly because I passed out, but also for observation reasons. During the stay in hospital the decision was made to have a VAT operation in Edmonton, Alberta as soon as possible.

A few weeks later after it reabsorbed I was in Edmonton about to go into surgery. After surgery I was in the hospital heavily doped up, flat on my back with a chest tube for a week before the tube was removed and I was
released. I remember the tube coming out. I asked is this going to hurt and all the doctor said was you're going to experience child birth for about 2 seconds. It was a deep breath in and blow out and with blow out,
out he pulled the tube. It hurt as it was coming out, but the feeling after was wonderful. I remember saying, I never want to do this again. That would bring me to now. In November 2001, I was attending University in Lethbridge, Alberta finishing up my semester. While playing basketball, I started getting slight pains in my chest. I checked out and went off to rest. As the pain stayed after I cooled down, I started to wonder what it was. Feeling a check up couldn't hurt; I went to the hospital to get looked at. I told the doctor I had a pneumothorax about 4 years ago on the same side and had surgery to repair it. He listened to my chest and poked around. Finally he said he didn't think it was a pneumothorax only a pulled muscle in my breastbone. It happens after the rib cage gets hit just right, like from a basketball to the chest. I was to put some ice on it and take some painkillers if needed. I was so relieved to find out I was ok that I felt a little stupid that I had even thought it could be another pneumothorax. The pain soon disappeared and I was back to normal. One week later I was back playing basketball, when all of a sudden a sharp pain in my chest hit. I couldn't breathe, I couldn't move, I just stood there motionless for a few seconds. Then I started taking shallow breaths and slowly moved off the court. I walked home slowly, thinking I guess a pulled breastbone muscle needs more then a couple weeks to heal. That night I could hardly sleep, sleeping in the chair felt about the best. For the next 3 days I tried to let it heal, taking painkillers and putting ice on it. After the 3rd day it became apparent that this wasn't working. I went back to the hospital hoping to get some better advise on curing a pulled breast bone. The nurse listened to my chest and I again explained about my previous pneumothorax problems.

The doctor showed up almost immediately after the nurse left, took one listen to my chest and said I think you have another pneumothorax. I couldn't believe it, because this time I was prepared for a pulled breastbone, not what I had feared the first time.

Looking back it was determined that the first time I came in it was a pneumothorax not a pulled breastbone and that the doctor had been in a rush and neglected to order a chest x-ray that would have showed exactly what I had feared. After the x-ray confirmed what the doctor thought a chest tube was ordered. Oh no I said, your going to have to knock me out to do that. I explained what happened the first time and the doctor said I could be heavily sedated, but either way they had to put a tube in. What the doctor couldn't believe is how I put up with this for 3 days. I don't really know either just that I thought it was a pulled muscle. After the sedation wore off and the tube was in, I was back in the hospital, flat on my back wondering what was going to happen next. I again had it explained to me that surgery was the best idea to prevent this from happening again. I said ya that's what they told me the first time I got this and it obviously didn't work. They now were sure that this as the second pneumothorax in the past 3 weeks and it would probably keep occurring if I didn't have something done. This time I was to have a thoracotomy done. No scope this time, a full incision and they would have to remove part of my rib to prevent cracking open the rib cage. I agreed knowing the scope hadn't worked and something else would have to be tried.

After surgery they always seem to want to rate your pain on a scale of 1 to 10. Right after the thoracotomy,
one of my first memories was someone asking me can you rate your pain for me between 1 and 10 and I managed to grunt out 11. It worked out great I got a little button that I could push for a morphine shot whenever I wanted it. I was in the hospital for a week, flat on my back again, with a new chest tube before having it pulled out and being released. Both hospital recoveries were similar. I have to say though that the thoracotomy is more painful afterwards.

Now I'm recovering from that surgery reading up on this condition of mine. I understand about 9 out of
100000 people get this and out of those that have the VAT surgery to repair it only 3% have it happen again in the same lung. Wow don't I feel lucky. It's never slowed me down though. I passed all my courses in my senor year of high school and am continuing on in University through makeup tests. I fully intend to get back to doing everything I did before, including a little basketball. I think my odds of getting a third surgery are pretty low, but if it happens down the road I'm sure this time I'll be ready for it.