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My rare lung condition caused a buzz in hospital

Out of the blue, Holly had a pneumothorax when she was 18.

It all started when I felt intense pain in my left shoulder while I was at work. I thought I’d pulled a muscle again as I’d previously injured it playing volleyball. But the pain became incredibly uncomfortable and I had to take a break. 

By the time I got upstairs the pain had increased dramatically. In floods of tears I rang my mum. I told her I was having problems breathing and tried to explain how I felt. My mum came and drove me to A&E. By then, my arm was numb with pins and needles, and my hand was cold and clammy.

I told the triage nurse I’d injured my shoulder. She took a blood test and an ECG. Both came back normal, and I was sent for a chest X-ray. This didn’t make sense to me – how could there be a problem with my lungs when the pain was in my shoulder?

The X-ray results showed my left lung had started to collapse, but it looked to be stable. I began to feel better but was still having trouble breathing. I was given the all clear to go home and told it would sort itself out in a couple of days. 

It didn’t sort itself out

The next day, I could barely move. I was struggling to breathe, eat and drink. I felt fragile and slept for most of the day. The hospital told me to take paracetamol to manage the pain. But this wasn’t enough and my GP prescribed naproxen. I took this but was still in intense pain.

I woke up the next day and felt much better. But as the morning went on, I started to get a pain going up the left side of my neck, and my face felt numb. My GP was concerned and told me to go to hospital, ready to apologise for wasting their time. 

My left lung had nearly collapsed

I’m so glad I went, because my left lung had nearly fully collapsed, even though I felt better. The nurses said that my right lung was over-compensating. There were lots of discussions about what to do, and it was finally decided to drain my chest. This would remove the excess air outside my lung, which was causing my lung to collapse.

I was amused that this caused a buzz of excitement. The doctor said pneumothorax is rare, especially in a young woman. I agreed a large team of nurses and doctors - including trainees and senior staff – could carry out and watch the procedure.

I was awake, but had a local anaesthetic in my left side. I had to be awake so I could tell them how I felt. It took less than 30 minutes to remove 1.5 litres of air that was in the wrong place in my chest! 

I’m so grateful to the NHS for their amazing support

I recovered well afterwards. After 2 weeks I went back to hospital for an X-ray. It showed my lung was now nearly fully attached to my chest. This was when they calmly explained what had happened and told me how to look after myself following the procedure. I’m so thankful they gave me all the time I needed. The doctors were impressed by my speedy recovery and said I could now carry on with everything I usually did - apart from scuba diving. They also said I would be ok to fly to Portugal 5 weeks later! My tiny scar is nearly invisible.

I couldn’t be more grateful to the amazing team who looked after me. They made a daunting procedure seem completely normal, and at points even enjoyable.

As a singer who writes about life experiences, it felt natural to write them a song following my experience. My song, Take a deep breath, tells about my shock and fear that something so unheard of was happening to me. 

I can’t thank and support the NHS enough for what it does. Each of those amazing people go far and beyond every day for people like me.

Want to know more about pneumothorax? Our online information covers causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment. 

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29 October 2019