Updated Monday April 15: A week ago Sunday at 11pm at night, Emma’s right lung collapsed for a second time, as it had done a couple months ago. Luckily this time, she knew enough from last time to know exactly what was happening to her, and since her boyfriend Luke was home he could take her to Kaiser hospital. What followed was a challenging week that looks to all end well tomorrow, with the problem repaired and future incidences or complications highly unlikely.
It is a condition described clinically as a “spontaneous primary pneumothorax”. It is a rupture of the tissue of the lung that causes it to deflate and allows the chest cavity to fill with air outside the lung making it hard for the lung itself to reinflate. Such a rupture can be a secondary effect of an illness, or the result of some trauma like sudden or extreme air pressure change. But in this case there was no illness or trauma, thus the “spontaneous” label.
When it happened to her two months ago, she was home alone and called the paramedics. They came and checked her out and based on her symptoms at the time thought she probably had a pinched nerve, and the best medicine was just to take it easy for a day or two until it subsided. After two weeks in pain, with a dry cough and growing chest cold symptoms, Emma finally went to Kaiser and they diagnosed that it was in fact a collapsed lung. The doctors inserted a metal tube to drain the air and fluid in her chest cavity so the lung could re-inflate, and after a confirming chest X-ray in the morning, sent her home all better. But for that 24 some hours Emma had the tube in her chest it was very painful, so painful that at one point they were giving her narcotics significantly stronger than morphine to control the pain.
So for this second occurrence the doctors last Sunday night inserted the metal tube again to do the drainage, and Emma and her boyfriend Luke spent the night in the emergency room at Kaiser Woodland Hills. Since this was a reoccurrence, her doctors on Monday decided to do a minimally invasive scope procedure to find the lung tear and repair it so it would not happen again. They transferred her to Kaiser Sunset where the procedure is done, but she had to wait until Thursday for the doctor to be available.
So this meant four very painful days again waiting with the metal tube in her chest, for the procedure which was finally done Thursday night. After trying different pain meds in different doses (and resulting extreme nausea) her doctors finally settled on giving her a morphine pump, so she could administer the dose herself in smaller increments which she tolerated much better and controlled her pain.
The procedure Thursday night was successful and Emma spent the next two and a half days in the hospital (with the painful tube still in her chest and continuing to require the morphine) recovering to make sure the procedure was successful. Emma had an X-ray Sunday around noon, which confirmed that the procedure had successfully repaired the lung, and was finally released from the hospital around 5pm. She plans on being home for the next couple days recovering and catching up on her sleep. But she is also eager to return to her work at her micro-brewery restaurant on Wednesday (on a somewhat limited basis) since she is not supposed to lift more than ten pounds for the next three weeks. After that she should be good (or better) than before!
As you can imagine, quite an experience for Emma and her close family circle. Particular kudos go to her, and her boyfriend Luke who has spent the bulk of his week in the hospital with her, including several nights trying to sleep in a chair in her room. Also to her mom (my partner Sally) for playing the role of Emma’s advocate and addressing different issues that came up during the week, including the whole pain management issue which led to the successful use of the morphine pump. And also to her larger circle of family and friends who gave her all sorts of thoughts and support on the phone, text messages, email and Facebook. Our new world of social networking was a real blessing for a kid stuck in bed hooked to a bunch of tubes but in possession of a smartphone and her hands free to use it.
From my experience as a parent, watching my kids develop and go through the typical illnesses and other traumas, I am increasingly convinced that all such health issues are profoundly developmental. At some metaphysical level they seem to assist us with some profound developmental leap that we are otherwise struggling with.
I went through such a developmental illness when I was 23, which happens to be Emma’s current age. Mine was mononucleosis, and forced me to return to the Midwest after my recent move from my hometown of Ann Arbor Michigan to Los Angeles. I spent four long pensive months living in my parents new house in Dayton Ohio, and struggled with whether to return to Los Angeles, where I had not yet found a life for myself. I finally did decide to return (though I almost did not), and eventually met Sally and we had our two kids, Emma and her brother Eric, and this second 23 plus years of my life have unfolded.
As my dad always believed, and I have come to appreciate myself, life at its best is a series of adventures, not always successful, not always happy endings, but compelling narratives worth living, sharing with others, and spurring our fullest development as individual consciousnesses and as a species.