The Collapse of the Lung

Did you know that your lung can spontaneously collapse? You don’t even need to be shot, stabbed, hit traumatically, attacked by an alien, whatever – it can happen by the way you sleep.

I, however, didn’t know about the vulnerability of my lungs. Why? Because I, like most Americans, educated myself on medical issues through the television. I’m particularly fond of House, but grew up on ER. I’ve even watched the occasional Grey’s Anatomy episode.

But, from what I remember, there was never a plotline about a twenty-one-year old woman going into the ER for acute shoulder pain only to be hospitalized for a partial lung collapse (Pneumothorax).

Which was what happened to me Monday morning. After waking up with such acute shoulder pain that I cried, I went to the ER assuming something was broken and found out that my lung was 20 percent collapsed. My shoulder was perfectly fine though!

I had been lucky. My ER doctor knew from experience to look at lungs. If he hadn’t caught that frightening detail, well, I don’t even want to imagine what would have happened.

Yet, the question is: why? I’m a relatively tall, thin, and healthy woman. I haven’t even taken any nasty falls lately. So, why was my lung collapsing?

Well, that’s exactly it. If you’re tall, if you’re thin, and (sadly) if you’re a woman, you’re more likely to collapse your lung. Why? Well, I haven’t figured that out yet.

My doctor says that the way you sleep is often the reason. If you’re folded up, scrunched up, twisted up, or whatever when you sleep, you can hurt yourself.

What happens is there’s a build-up of air (like an air pocket) between the lung and the chest cavity. The pressure of the air causes the lung to collapse. This can either be traumatic or spontaneous (as mine was).

From here, things can go differently. You can wait and see if it’ll heal on its own, or you can have surgery (I had this).

The surgery is relatively quick and consists mainly of a tube being inserted between the ribs and into the chest cavity. The tube is then hooked up to suction and spends the next couple of days working on getting the air pocket out.

So, really, you spend the next few days eating (to keep the pain meds down) and lying about in the hospital with a tube jammed into you.

And, if you’re like me, your reason is spontaneous and boring. You don’t have any cool stories to tell the nurses and your visitors. All you get to do is mumble, shrug, and apologize for smelling (you have a tube sticking out of you, so you can’t shower).

However, if you took a “fall” off a stationary bike the week before, everyone’s going to blame your collapse on that. I don’t agree (neither does my doctor!), so sometimes it’s best not to have a story to tell.

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No Comments on "The Collapse of the Lung"

  1. pantone175c
    27/02/2009 at 10:56 am Permalink

    OMG! that is creepy…

  2. cassie
    03/03/2009 at 10:58 am Permalink

    Wow. This is really interesting! I’m glad you are okay!

  3. Mel
    12/03/2009 at 1:45 pm Permalink

    Oh, but the stationary bike fall is the BEST part!

  4. Brian
    20/03/2009 at 5:29 am Permalink

    One of my friends has managed to collapse his lung four or five times now…

  5. Arianacodo
    13/05/2009 at 6:16 pm Permalink

    great post hope to see some additional comments next Tuesday…kisses

  6. Stuart
    31/07/2009 at 1:30 pm Permalink

    Had my first lung collapse a few weeks ago. 5 days on a chest drain later, i was out. Only to get swine flu! Brilliant!!

  7. megan
    06/10/2009 at 7:15 am Permalink


  8. J
    18/10/2009 at 2:37 pm Permalink

    Hi, im also a LCS and it happened just like this woman story. I just got of bed to go to work with a really bad pain in my right side chest. Turns out, i had a lung collapse, they put the tube in and it didn’t heel on its own so the decided to operate me. I spend the last 9 days ona hospital bed from that scary experience and the best part was the way they take the tube out. The tube is all the way inside and the top of your lung and they tell you to breath in and hold and on one pull the tube comes out. Now im home recovering from the operation, but it is scary and its a long procedure.

  9. Lily
    25/10/2009 at 11:11 am Permalink

    just hope you can heal soon. no operation please, no pain, no breathing problems…very good luck and pray for you.. be happy.

  10. chad
    13/01/2010 at 7:28 am Permalink

    I am currently in the hospital with the same thing. Mine collapsed after going outside (-7 degrees out) the once I walked the door and sat down. I’m a tall (6″7″) healthy male. I’m not terribly skinny (222 lbs) and very active. By the time I finally went to the ER, my lung was 95% collapsed. I’m on my 4th day in the hospital. Hopefully I go home today.

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