Wednesday Sep 12, 2007

Pneumothorax Recovery - 2 Month Recovery Diary

Just to recap: 4 Spontaneous Pneumothoraxes in under a month (frequent enough that I called them "not so spontaneous pneumothoraxes"), 2 thorocoscopies (surgeries that go in and staple your lung then permanently "glue" it to your chest cavity), 6 chest tubes, 4 hospital stays, and 2 sessions of "aspirating the air and liquid" under a CAT scan machine. Its been about 2 months since my last surgery and try as I might, I haven't found ANY decent descriptions of recovery periods on the web.

So, I'm going to deviate from my normal "blog tenor" to document some of my own recovery. To start with, though, a few notes:


  • Everyone is different, listen to your Doctor and your body
  • My case appears to be much worse than the normal pneumothorax, so what I say may be worse than what you are going through
  • I fully cannot understand why someone would choose to wreck their lungs with smoking or any other lung-destroying activity...

So, two months along, I just came from a checkup with Dr. Hofer. I still have 200cc's of fluid (approximately) in the bottom part of my chest cavity. The fluid comes from the irritation and scarring of the lung to the wall of the chest cavity when they put in the sterile talc...gross huh? I've been very, very careful over the last couple of months...I have 8 obvious scars along my side from the procedures and innumerable other holes from needles from the aspiration sessions. My first 3 weeks after the second surgery were completely miserable. Lots of fevers, very uncomfortable laying down, and a favorite chair to lay in. As of right now, the fevers are long gone and I got myself off pain medication as quickly as I could and onto Advil. After about 3 weeks I was off the Advil completely and by now I've been Advil-free for quite some time. Discomfort still reigns, I've switched from sleeping on my back prior to the surgeries to sleeping face down...the weeks after the surgery I slept on my back but propped up on pillows. If I do one of those "half runs" where you are late to school to pick up the kids so you sprint out, I have to stop in about a block cause it feels like someone is squeezing the bottom part of my lung, yech.

Around a month I went out for a bike ride, 7 miles total. I'm not a biker at all so it was a change of pace. I went on a road bike but switched to my mountain bike for the next time out. I am usually a jogger/runner, but the biking was a lower impact and the mountain bike even lower. My first few bike sessions I came home with a "stitch" in my side and I had to do some serious sleeping. In all, I've done about 4 7 mile sessions, a 20 mile session and a couple of 12 mile sessions. The bike is where its at for athletic recovery in the first few months...I'll tell you that.

I have seriously thought about giving up running altogether, but for me it is a nice release. Further, to do an apples to apples comparison on my recovery, I figured I had better do some running. Dr. Hofer gave me the thumbs up for running today so I was off to the races. To give you some idea of where I'm at, prior to the first thorocoscopy, my "inspired volume" for my lung capacity was around 4,250 mLs. Now I'm around 3,000 peaking at 3,250. I am also seriously out of shape. My weight also dropped precipitously to below 135, I was 142 before the surgeries and now have a goal to push my weight to a more healthy 155 or so. For those of you who do not know this, skinny does not equal healthy and skinny does not equal in shape. My goals for my first run were pretty simple:
- Jog over a block
- Keep my heart rate down in my normal running range (approximately 155) and go as slow as I have to for maintaining it
- Stop if I hurt at all
- Don't push it

To be honest, the recovery is going to be as much mental as physical. I've turned into a complete lung hypochondriac...

It turns out I did FAR better than I had hoped:
- I jogged about 5k (a little more). I promised I wouldn't time myself but to give you a ballpark, my Bolder Boulder time (my personal best) was 10k in 42 minutes...I ran my 5k today in about 35 or so minutes...so not fast, but steady
- My heart rate spiked towards the end to 172...ouch, I pulled up at that point and walked. The recovery period was very long too. A high heart rate probably reflects both my lower lung capacity and my being so out of shape
- I didn't hurt. After the first block or so that eery feeling of someone being inside your chest squeezing part of your lung was basically gone...for the first time in months! It did feel creepy on my right side still, but the glued up lung is supposed to not be felt at all. Dr. Hofer mentioned the nerves are pretty messed up on my right side so these feelings are to be expected. In some cases for my rather long hospitalization, he is saying about a year to be completely back to normal "nerve" wise.
- I didn't push it, 5k was good and not too much

And that, my Spontaneous Pneumothorax buddies, is the 2 month recovery diary. There are more people than you think who have been through this, so don't be shy about talking to people. As far as I can tell, everyone has recovered fully, even with the glued lung!!!!! Feel free to email me if you want to know some more about what I'm going through to help yourself, or if you want to sponsor my recovery (I'M JOKING).

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