Pneumothorax – 1, 2, 3.

When I had a baby I got such a shock I wrote a book about it to try and make other new mums realise they are not alone, it’s normal to feel mad, sad, exhausted and so on. So years later I end up in hospital. I am a healthy woman. So it came as a real slap in the chops. This blog post is about why and how. Not to dwell on it but to hopefully help others who have suffered  a collapsed lung 1, 2 or 3 times.  Dont bother reading this if you haven’t had one – there is no point. But having googled loads of stuff I found no-one had told their whole story. So in the hope it helps someone somewhere. Here is the first part of mine. Next part tomorrow….


So as I was saying a collapsed lung. I don’t like medical stuff, I really don’t. The mere theme tune to Casualty gives me the vapours and the only time watched ER was when the gorgeous rough hewn Clooney was in attendance in white coat with chocolate brown eyes.


So this post is only for those who have had a collapsed lung once, twice or in this case three times. Or want to know more about it.


The posh name for it is a pneumothorax and it’s condition that usually effects tall, thin athletic men.


Stand up and be counted you say. Well I did – you just didn’t notice as I’m not that  tall, In fact I’m not tall at all at 5 ft 6 inches. And I’m not an athlete  Or a man, Just to clarify.


This is not me. This is a tall athletic man. Spot the difference.

So it can happen to anyone then.

Sometimes for no apparent reason a lung can just go – ‘Bugger it,I have had enough’ and deflates.

It can happen fast and be extremely painful or, as in my case, it can deflate slowly like a sad saggy party balloon.

My symptoms were gradual. The first time it was a slow but sure increase in breathlessness over a number of days. So unremarkable was it that it just  happened I was in at the Dr for something else – I see the Dr about once every 5 years – and just said ‘em  by the way, I might have a chest infection or something’. Thank goodness he had a listen to my chest, tapped it with his fingers and then very calmly sent me to hospital. He didn’t tell me what he thought was wrong he just said I’m going to send you round there for a wee x ray, which s just as well as I would have panicked. The second they took the xray I was wheeched off in a wheelchair and into the emergency room.


So that time they aspirated it. That is they popped a needle into a space between two ribs – local anesthetic meant  I didn’t feel a thing – and my lung came straight back up. Boom! I felt like Pavarotti such air did I feel in my chest and I was out the next day. They said it may happen again but it may not.


Being a writer I ask too many questions. But the answer might help you understand what it is.

If your lung deflates it’s usually as a result of a chest trauma (accident) or a weakness which for whatever reason chooses this moment to show itself. The air in the lung escapes into the cavity between your lung and your chest wall. The air collecting there then exerts pressure on the deflating lung and keeps the lung down. When they pop this needle in  to the area between your chest wall and the lung where this air has collected  the act of removing the air removes the pressure on the lung which allows it to ping straight back up. Whoosh! It can take a little longer. But in this case, in my case, P1, it worked and one night later I was released back ito the wild to continue with life – with a few tips, take it easy for a week or so. No flying/scuba diving for 6 weeks.

No Jacques Cousteau Impressions from me then.


To be honest it all happened so quickly it was the day after  I got out that it dawned on me what had happened and I had a full blown panic attack. The reason I know it was a panic attack? I went back to the GP and described my symptoms.  Convinced that my lung was down again. A sudden rise in heart rate to incredibly fast, regular, fast, fast, fast.  A definite panic attack was the diagnosis.  On reflection I’m not surprised The NHS were brilliant and they reflated my lung instantly – it was the aftermath of mind dominatin matter that knocked me off balance. So days, weeks, months went on and I honestly, being a shallow individual, I forgot all about it.


That was a year and a half ago.


I am not, nor have I ever been a particularly happy flyer. In fact I didn’t actually fly after this first episode until  a few weeks ago. Not because I was worried about my lung just because the opportunity hadn’t arisen and work just got in the way of life.


So I zipped off for a 10 day holiday with my Mum. I felt fine on the way out, a little puggled when out there but I hadn’t had a holiday for 1 and a half  years so that would be expected.  It was when I got home I was  just not 100%. You know when you get back from a holiday you feel like standing on a hill singing ‘June is Bustin’ Out All Over’  well I do. Normally. But not this time. I had a vague sensation of pressure on my right side but  gave myself a good talking to ‘paranoid woman stop it your lung is fine’


A few days later I drove to Aberdeen for business and stayed with an old old friend. When with the friend I had a horrible feeling of anxiety – another symptom of  a pneumothorax  as you have less oxygen in your system than you need. I knew something was up and rather than spend my day doing what I had planned I drove south early. That night I went to Casualty, was x-rayed and much to my horror told yes it had happened again.


This time they inserted a chest drain.


Well one sensible picture illustrates it pretty well

The  job it does is similar to the needle described above but in this case a tube is inserted between two ribs into the cavity where your lung should be. The chest drain is in for a day or two though it’s not an instant fix like the first time.. The other end of the  tube is put into a container full of water and you can see bubbles emanating from it which shows  the unwanted air from your chest is leaving and your lung is reflating. Over two days.  But bloody hell that drain is sore.  Really. As  soon as your lung comes up the tube is rubbing against the lung which frankly makes childbirth seem a little like a dull throb.  On strong painkillers, oromorph, codeine, paracetamol it dulled the pain but ooocha. The sorer it is the better the result as it means the lung has come back up.  In the bed opposite me was a 24 year old girl – we kept each other sane – her lung had just gone down really fast for no reason he had been sitting watching TV with her mum. Whap. Just like that.  And it was bloomin sore. So even between the two of us there were few similarities in how it happened. So cut to the chase a  few days later chest drain was wheeched out, lung reflated I was off again.


This time I was told it if happens twice, it will happen again. It is just a matter of when. This was not what I wanted to hear. The thought of another chest drain was enough to drive me to drink – well when the painkillers were out of my system. But as the last one took one and a half years then who knows this one might take longer.


But of course. It might not, I was tentative. Waiting. Of course  So every day. Every night I thought about it. When would it happen again. At night alone. On  a plane in two years.  In the middle of presenting a TV show. The thoughts whizzed round my head and it seemed no matter what the scenario it was not going to be good. As fate would have it  I didn’t have long to wait at all.

10 days passed but I just had a feeling….an instinct, an inkling. On the Saturday I cancelled going to a friends birthday party up north and as I have said to my teenwolf since he was born,  never ever  ignore your gut because  bang the very next day I had that sinking/deflating feeling. I waved at the long suffering husband one and called the ward that had taken care of me twice– this time they sent me to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary – the other side of town, new shiny one soon with a shaking Aberdonian on a gurney. I was in with the big boys this time. Heart and lung or Cardiac &  Thoracic  Ward as they call it.  Beam me up Scottie . I said BEAM ME UP SCOTTIE. I shouted.  Nope that didn’t work…so here goes….


You may feel sick now.

Or worried.

Or bored.

So I am going to stop now and write up the next stage in a separate page.

Pneumothorax III The Return.

Maybe of interest may not – up to you.

  • Lynne

    My god Alison. You have been through the wars but so glad you are through the worst. Really hope to see you soon Much love X

  • Anonymous

    Mr Clooney – swoon indeed.
    Mr Forsyth – Phwoar!

    Good to see you back blogging again Alison. And you’re photos are as good as ever.

  • Mr Forsyth indeed! Ha!  An an excuse to blog a pic of the divine Mr C who I have just watched in Up In The AIr….swoon. That takes the wind out of my sails never mind my lung! Thanks for your support Lizx

  • Liz Forsyth

    Great blog raising awareness about a very serious, and much understood issue Alison. Bravo

    BTW – that second pic. OMG. Since when did Mr. Forsyth start modelling for you?

  • Ha – Date stamping trauma! What on earth was the penny test? Of course they wouldn’t do that to an Aberdonian like me or I’d obviously eat them – though that would keep my mind off the dreaded lung. Delighted yours was a one off and imagine not telling your folks! I bet they would have been livid. 

  • Douglas

    I only had it happen once – 40 years ago when I was 18. Doing holiday relief at a post office in Glasgow ‘manned’ by 4 women. I was complaining of a sore shoulder – thought it was all the date stamping. They told me to go to and see the doctor that night, which you could do in those days.
    He sent me off to the Western with a note (he actually tod me to get my parents to take me and I didnt tell him they were on holiday).
    I was kept in for a week and sent home after my lung had recovered by itself – still have no idea wht caused it, but enjoyed all the visits from medical students having a go with the penny test to discover if they could her the air escaping.