First signs of trouble

This is the story of my first lung collapse. While it was scary, unexpected and weird for someone my age, 38 at the time, we didn’t think it was going to be life changing.

At the time, I smoked off and on. I had smoked off and on since I was about 18 or so. There were periods where I’d go years not smoking, then start again for dumb reasons, just like most smokers I’ve known.

Back in spring of 2014, there was a team-building weekend for work. We were headed for Charleston, SC.

On the way there, I felt fine. When we arrived, we went out for dinner, then back to the house we had rented to hang out. While we were hanging out, I started feeling like I was getting sick.

I didn’t think anything of it. I tended to come down with a chest cold twice a year, one in the winter and one in the spring/summer, almost like clockwork. Since I didn’t think it was anything major, I did what I always did, hunkered down in a bed and tried to sleep my way through it.

I slept pretty much the whole team-building weekend and still wasn’t feeling any better on the ride home. I probably should have hit up a doc-in-a-box or something while I was in Charlston, but I didn’t think what I had was serious.

Once I was home, I fell right back into bed. The next morning, while I was coughing and sneezing, all of a sudden, it felt weird when I moved. Like painful weird. Whenever I rolled over or sat up in bed there would be a pain in my right chest. I stayed in bed the whole day and slept on it.

The next morning, the pain was still there, so I went to see a doctor. They said I had a wicked chest infection and since I had chest pain, they thought we should do an x-ray.

Lo and behold, my right lung had collapsed about 30%. They said I should get to an ER right away. The local hospital was only 5 minutes away, so I drove myself against their advice. I had driven myself to the doctor’s already, another short trip would be fine. The doctor called ahead to the ER and sent over the x-rays they had taken. I got in the car, called my wife, Shannon, and headed over.

Once I got to the ER, no one really believed that my right lung had collapsed. I was only 38 so it seemed crazy, even with whatever the doctor had sent over. To be honest, I don’t think they even looked at what was sent over. While I was in the ER, they took me to get another x-ray.

Shannon found one of our friends watch our four kids. She arrived while I was waiting for the results. I can’t even imagine what must have been going through her mind at the time.

The fun thing about the ER is that you can sit around and wait a looooong time, but as soon as they see you as the highest priority, things are a blur. Once the results came back, the ER doc took Shannon out to look at the x-ray. When they came back in, the ER doc said they were going to put a small tube in my chest. Luckily, I didn’t need the one that goes in your side, that’s way bigger than the one I got. I got the small one that they can put in your upper chest.

I say I was lucky because I got the small one. It still hurt like crazy going in. Sure, I was on some pain medication that, according to Shannon, made me imagine “onion bunnies diving into a flower,” but there’s just no way that someone pushing a small tube into your upper chest isn’t going to hurt.

Once that was done, we waited around a bit before we got a room at the hospital. While the collapsed lung was the worst of my issues at the time, I also still had a raging chest infection that wasn’t getting better.

We finally went upstairs after about an hour or so where they started me on broad spectrum antibiotics since they didn’t know what the infection was and it wasn’t getting better. They expected me to be in the hospital for about two or three days to get rid of the infection and make sure my lung would stay re-inflated.

I asked the doctor why my lung had collapsed. Her best guess at the time was that the infection weakened the lung and it just popped. Sure it was uncommon in someone my age, but not unheard of. Stop smoking and don’t exert yourself too much for eight weeks were the take home instructions. Of course I stopped smoking for a while, but eventually started again down the road.

I had a follow up visit with the doctor that took care of me in the hospital after 8 weeks and thought that was that. But of course it wasn’t. It would be a little over a year later that the lung collapse would recur. But that’s a story for next time

Welcome to our lives!

Matt was diagnosed with Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency in the fall of 2015.  But it has affected our lives for far longer, starting with the loss of Matt’s mom to bronchial pneumonia when he was eight years old.  When we learned of his diagnosis, of course we turned to the internet for answers. There are lots of answers out there.  So many, many answers.  Answers that contradict or mislead, cookie cutter answers to questions that require specifics.  We were told that Matt, as a carrier, could expect to live a relatively symptom-free life.  Why, then, had his lung collapsed twice by 39?  We were told not to bother testing our kids unless they showed lung symptoms.  But if we don’t know, how do we know to avoid seemingly innocuous things like bonfires that people can comfortably trust their lungs to breathe through?  The intent of this blog is not necessarily to answer questions, but to share our story of having questions, seeking answers, and maybe sharing experiences that others can learn from.  We will begin sharing the details of our journey, from onset and diagnosis, testing our kids, and dealing with every new twist as it happens.  We hope to make this a forum where people who are living with Alpha-1 can share their journeys and we can learn from one another, or at least feel a little less alone.