Chapter 29: Lung Drain (#1)

“I don't believe in astrology; I'm a Sagittarius and we're skeptical.”
Arthur C. Clarke

My hospital bag is once again packed, I have my best slippers, my smartest jim-jams and my cherished Harris tweed wash bag all ready to go. I just need the phone to ring and the hospital to tell me to come on down. The hospital, however, do not call me on Tuesday at all. Never mind, they’re bound to call tomorrow. Wednesday morning and Wednesday afternoon pass without any of my communication devices being troubled by the hospital. We have dinner, watch some TV and resign ourselves to yet another days waiting. At 10pm on Wednesday evening however the hospital finally rings and the beds manager tells me that they now have a free bed and could I come in straight away.

My lung capacity means that I’m fairly immobile now and need to catch my breath after every few steps. Tori bundles me into the car with my overnight bag and we head off to Southampton Hospital once again. We arrive just after 11pm and for once the car park is actually quite quiet and we are able to find a parking space that is actually ever so slightly wider than my car. I make it in stages from the car park to Ward C4 where I have been admitted. Ironically once I finally manage to hobble and wheeze my way to C4, I am immediately offered a wheelchair. It may have been slightly more useful 10 minutes ago but I happily take up residence in it nonetheless. I’m also presented with a cup of tea to keep me company while they work out exactly which bed I will be in.

Before finishing my tea I’m wheeled off to my bed. It’s actually in a treatment room rather than a ward, so it has two big comfy chairs on one side and just two beds on the other. The chairs are obviously empty at this time of night, but the patient in the other bed briefly lowers his mobile phone and introduces himself as Ian. Obviously I’m not expecting my lung drain this evening but I’m rather hoping that with all the pre-checks on Monday they should be able to crack on with it first thing in the morning. I chat a little more with Ian and Tori seems happy that I’ve settled in and heads back home to bed.

For a night in hospital, it’s actually a reasonably relaxed one and I manage to get some sleep. Ian is awake already this morning though and is frantically fiddling with his phone again. He looks over at me and politely asks, “Do you play cribbage?”
“I used to I say, although I played Canasta and Euker more.”
“This is the cribbage app you need”, advises Ian passing me his phone so I can see exactly what it is I need to download. “OK”, I say and quickly locate the same game in my App Store and download it to my phone. After a few games it all comes back to me and Ian and I spend most of our time playing cribbage and trying to beat the computer by a bigger margin than each other.

There’s no sign of anyone to drain my lung yet, but I am sent for yet another X-ray and I have yet another consultation with yet another doctor who reaches the same conclusion that I had thought we had already agreed on i.e. stick a pipe in the side of my lung under local anaesthetic and drain the bloody fluid out. Tori arrives just before lunchtime and settles down in the chair next to me with her crocheting. We while away the rest of the day crocheting, playing cribbage and watching the various patients have their treatment on the big comfy chairs opposite. By 8pm its clear that I’m not going to have my lung drained today, so Tori heads off home again and I settle down for an evening of trying to beat Ian’s cribbage scores.

I’m visited by a doctor early on Friday morning who assures me that the respiratory team will be over to see me at some point today and complete the procedure. Tori arrives as expected just before lunch and seems to spend more time taking to Ian’s wife than me, still, can’t blame her, I don’t think I’m much of a conversationalist these days. In the afternoon however a pair of unfamiliar doctors appear in our little side room dragging and ultrasound machine and lots of equipment behind them. The main respirologists, is a very jolly lady and we seem to hit it off very well. She pulls the curtain around my bed and gets me to sit on the edge of the bed. She uses the ultrasound to see the fluid slopping about inside and marks my side with the point of entry she thinks will be optimal. She injects me with the local anaesthetic and gouges out a small hole in my side with her scalpel. She inserts a thin needle through my lung walls and I feel a dribble of warm liquid flowing down my side before the plumbing is quickly tightened up. The end of the pipe in me is tidied up with some plasters and dressings and the other end of the pipe drains into a special 2 litre plastic container.

As the liquid flows out I can feel my lung slowly re-inflating and I have the ability to take slightly bigger breaths as my lung capacity grows. After a litre has been drained a small tap at the top of the pipe is switched off and the flow temporarily stops. My respirologists explains that it is necessary to drain the fluid off in sections, if they drain it off in one go, my lung wouldn’t be able to cope and I’d go into some sort shock and gasp for air. I don’t much like the sound of that, so I’m quite happy to take an hours break after draining off each litre of fluid. The respirologists seems to think that I’m a pretty switched on type of guy and more than capable of turning the tap on and off myself as required. It’s just a matter of waiting and hour and then turning the tap back on until another litre of fluid has been drained off. Simples. What could possibly go wrong?

Tori holding the first 2 litres off fluid drained off my lung
After and hour I turn the tap back on a drain off another litre, it is still flowing pretty easily so the litre drains off in around 10 minutes or so. I’ve also now filled the first of my 2 litre containers so I ask the nurse for some assistance plumbing me up to a new container. Like the first, the new container requires 500ml of fluid in the bottom to ensure the pipe doesn’t suck up air before the end of the pipe is completely immersed in fluid. After the new container has been fitted Tori needs to head off home to pick up the boy from college and run a few chores before coming back and hopefully taking me home again later this evening. After an hour has passed, I turn my tap back on and drain off yet another litre. The third litre comes out a little slower and I have to keep my eyes on the fluid level for about 25 minutes before once again turning the tap off and letting things bed down for a while.

Before my next hour is up a porter and nurse arrives and insists that I need to go down for another X-ray to see how he drain is going, check how much fluid is left and ensure my lung is re-inflating correctly. Best leave my next litre of drain until I get back so I don’t get distracted. I’m wheeled down to the X-ray area and left outside until I’m called in. While I’m waiting, my phone buzzes and I notice hat I have a message from Peter saying that he’s heard back from Loughborough University today and that they have made him an unconditional offer. This completes the responses from his 5 university interviews and he has been given an offer for each one, including now an unconditional offer from his favourite. I’m extremely chuffed for him and the hard work he has put in and become quite distracted from my pending X-ray, and my in-progress lung drain.

After my X-ray I’m trundled back to my ward, still attached to my large bottle of lung-piss. It’s well over an hour now since I drained the last litre off so I think it’s time I turned my tap on again. The will be my 4th litre which I a told is more than average so I expect the drain to be much slower this time. I turn the tap on and then reach for my iPhone so I can immediately start bragging on Facebook about my son’s University offers. I feel that quite a long-winded brag is called for, so I start to detail his full list of offers. Before I get to the end of my list however I suddenly have sharp intake of breath, my chest becomes incredibly tight and I launch into an uncontrollable bout of extremely painful coughing. I am able to turn the tap off straight away as I notice the container has passed the 4 litre mark, it also seems to be filling now with blood.

Ian notices my situation and presses his emergency button to summon a nurse. I continue to cough and try and catch my breath, but I am unable to properly control my breathing and feel like I am choking. Ian gets out of bed and wonders off in search of a nurse. He quickly returns with a nurse in tow, but I think I’m already gradually starting to be able to control my breathing ago. The nurse looks at the lung fluid container and deduces the situation. She double-checks the tap is off and then does her best to help me get my breathing back to normal. After 15 minutes or so, I stabilise and vow not to take my eyes of that bloody bottle again when it’s draining.

By the time Tori returns I’ve been fitted with my 3rd 2 litre bottle but the fluid is only dripping out slowly now, indeed, the tap is now permanently open trying to get the last dregs out. I try and manoeuvre myself into different positions like I’m a box of supermarket party wine just trying to squeeze out the last few drops. Eventually my respiratory team turn up again and decide that it’s all out. The pipe is effortlessly removed and I’m immediately patched up before I can accidently start sucking in any air. When all sealed back up again, my final amount is 4.35 litres. Image what it feels like suddenly having 4.35. litres of fluid removed from your lungs? The pain of the fluid pushing against other organs and tumours has gone and my newly discovered pleasure in simply being able to take a large gulp of air is indescribable My discharge papers are prepared over the following hour and I’m finally able to leave the hospital late on Friday night. I wonder if another patient at home will get a late night call informing them that they now have a bed free.

When I get home I head straight to bed. Everything does not seem quite right though. I can certainly feel that my lung capacity has increased dramatically, and I am able to take much deeper breathes. However, when I breathe I sound like someone is pouring milk on Rice Krispies. My lungs seem to be snap, crackle and pop with every breath and I start to convince myself that this is not right. Tori eventually rings the acute oncology emergency help-line and after explaining my symptoms, I’m asked to come straight back in for some more tests. We arrive back at Southampton Hospital and at least the short walk to Ward C4 is a little more achievable with my newly functioning right lung. My old bed next to Ian has already been filled, but there is another in the main ward amongst a lot of very unhappy and complaining old chaps. The night doctor eventually makes his way around to me, I explain my concerns and he takes a good listen to my chest. He doesn’t seem to share my concerns but decides to send me off for yet another X-ray. At 1am there is no one ahead of me in the queue at the X-ray department. Indeed, I’m rather impressed that its actually possible to sill get an X-ray at 1am in the morning. After my X-ray I return to the ward and wait for the Night Doctor to return and assess the new X-ray. After half an hour or so he does return and he is perfectly happy with the X-ray so I can go back home again. I finally get back home at about 3am. I was originally planning to drive to Cornwall in a few hour’s time to visit my friend John, I think however I’m going to have to postpone for now.