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  • Olga Roman

What Collapsed Lung Taught me about Emotional Pain

Photo by Yuris Alhumaydy on Unsplash

As I spent more than 50 hours in the emergency room dealing with a collapsed lung, I experienced severe physical pain. At the same time, I realized that physical pain could cause emotional distress. The stronger the physical pain is, the more intense and unbearable emotional pain grows.

About two weeks before the ER visit, I woke up with some strange pain in my upper arm. I thought I just pulled a muscle and didn't pay too much attention to it. However, in a couple of days, the pain intensified. It started radiating to the chest and back. I didn't feel it too much while sitting, but I felt stabbing pain when I walked.

Over the weekend, I realized that I couldn't work out due to shortness of breath and decided to make a doctor's appointment.

The doctor checked my vitals and listened to my lungs with a stethoscope. Everything seemed to be okay. I also got an x-ray done along with multiple blood tests.

About 15 minutes after I left a doctor's office, I got a call from the doctor. She told me that the x-ray showed a collapsed lung, and I needed to get to the emergency room as soon as possible.

A collapsed lung (pneumothorax) occurs when air leaks into the space between your lung and chest wall. This air pushes on the outside of your lung and makes it collapse. It can be a complete lung collapse or a collapse of only a portion of the lung.

A pneumothorax can be caused by a chest injury, smoking, or lung diseases like asthma, cystic fibrosis, or tuberculosis. In some cases, a collapsed lung happens without any cause, so-called spontaneous lung collapse. The probability of unexpected lung collapse in women is less than 0.01%.

I was puzzled.

I live a healthy and active lifestyle. I haven't got any injuries. I don't smoke. I don't have any lung issues. The lung just collapsed without any apparent reason.

Treatment for a pneumothorax usually involves inserting a chest tube between the ribs to remove the excess air. It was done under local anesthesia and was very painful. The person who performed the procedure was apparently rushed and didn't wait till the anesthesia started working. The pain of having a tube inserted was excruciating.

After the procedure, I was supposed to be moved to the hospital from the ER. However, all beds in the hospital were occupied, and I had to spend more than 50 hours in the ER.

The worst part of staying in the ER was the lack of attention from the nursing staff. I couldn't get up because my chest tube was connected to a suction machine, and I couldn't get any help.

I pressed the call bell multiple times to get a nurse, and nobody came to check on me for over an hour. Then it took another hour before a nurse came back with some pain killers. One more hour of waiting to get the nurse to help me use the toilet.

I felt miserable. My whole body was aching. Pain in my chest and my back was unbearable. I loathed the feeling of helplessness when I depended on a nurse to care for my basic needs.

As I was dealing with the physical pain, I noticed the growing emotional pain.

I felt sad, disappointed, and angry at the situation. I also felt resentful and scared about the possibility that I might need surgery to restore a lung. I couldn't stop my mind from racing thoughts that intensified my emotional discomfort.

Why did it happen to me?

I'm a healthy person.

I exercise consistently and keep my diet clean.

I didn't do anything wrong to deserve this pain.

How would this impact my life?

Your thoughts and feelings cause emotional pain. It doesn't have any specific location in the body, but it feels as real as the physical pain. You can't quickly fix it. You can't take any painkillers to make it go away. You can't ignore it.

The only way to deal with emotional pain is to embrace it.

First, you need to become aware of your pain. Awareness entails recognizing and understanding the emotions you are experiencing without judgment or guilt. Feeling emotional distress is not a weakness; it's part of being a human.

You have two options to choose from in most life situations: you can either accept what's happening or fight against it. Acceptance means experiencing life just the way it is. It does not imply feeling weak and giving up.

You might still want things to be different in the future, and you might want to take action toward the desired outcome. Yet, in the present moment, you accept reality as it is.

Once you acknowledge and accept your emotional pain, it's easier to determine your course of action. You can never completely control what happens to you, but you can control how you choose to respond to life situations.

One week after the emergency room visit, the lung collapsed again. I met with a different thoracic surgeon to get a second opinion and decided to get surgery done.

Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery involves making several small holes in the side of your chest. These holes allow the surgeon to pass a small camera and instruments required for the operation.

Blebectomy removes part of the lung affected by damaged air sacs. Pleurodesis is a procedure that sticks your lung to your chest wall. It eliminates the space between your lung and chest wall, so fluid or air no longer builds up between them.

The surgery went well, but I might have a long journey of recovery process ahead. I recognize that it will be a slow process, and I need to be patient to let the lung heal properly.

When we face life challenges, it’s easy to fall into a victim mentality. You feel like you have no control over the situation. You feel like the world is out to get you.

While it's natural to have an occasional pity party, the victim mindset will keep you feeling stuck and helpless.

It's within your power to shift your perspective and decide that life is happening for you, not to you. When you go through physical and emotional pain, it might be challenging to make this mindset shift. However, changing your attitude is necessary to start a healing process and move on with your life.


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