Chest Drains Can Be Awkward

As mentioned before it was difficult to sleep with all that was happening.  Add to that the fact I was on drugs that kept making me think there was someone standing over me whenever I closed my eyes and the chest drain I had stitched into my ribs just under my armpit and I’m sure you can see how it might be difficult. 

The chest drain was there to suck the air from my chest cavity.  It wasn’t working as quick as they hoped and it was horrible having the thing in 24/7, but at least it relieved the pain a little.  Trying to shower with it, trying to go to the toilet with it.  I was worried I would stand on the tube trying to get up out of bed.


One of my main concerns was about sleeping however.  I have a history of doing stupid things in my sleep.  I like to sleep on my side with my arm up beside my head and I can sometimes be quite fidgety so it was hard to adjust and get comfortable to lying on my back and not being able to move.  I would sometimes wedge my hand down the side of the bed in the hope it would help me stay in a safe position all night.


One night close to the start my stay, the plan to wedge myself in position didn’t really work.  I was constantly in a panic that I would pull out my chest drain.  The doctors told me it was very unlikely.  Maybe that’s why I did what I did, to prove them wrong.

One night I had been sleeping for a few hours and woke up feeling like my lung had collapsed again, I was in a panic and thought I had pulled out my chest drain.  I rang the bell for the nurse again for the 50 thousandth time since I got there and the sound male nurse that was on nights the first few nights came in.  He asked what was up and when I said I thought my chest drain had came out he clearly thought I was just panicking like usual.  He decided to oblige and have a quick look though just to make sure it was OK.  It wasn’t.  He took a quick look and then went off to get a doctor.  She then sent me for more xrays to see if the tube inside my chest had moved.  It had.  I must have pulled at my chest drain or snagged it on something in my sleep.  It wasn’t a nice feeling.

After a while of having about 4 or 5 doctors and nurses standing over me discussing it in the middle of the night they decided I needed to have another chest drain put in and the old one taken out.  So they took me through to a small room that had one of those beds you see in the doctors office.  I was asked to get onto the bed and propped up a bit so the doctor could get into the position to get in about to my ribs again.  I was asked to put my arm above my head so my armpit was exposed.  Now the first time I had this done I was under the influence of some pretty powerful drugs so I don’t remember much.  This time however they didn’t give me the drugs even though I wanted them.  They instead just gave me a local anaesthetic in the area I was getting it.  Then a young doctor stepped forward to prepare all the tools.  She sterilised the area and got me ready to be cut.  Then the clearly more senior doctor asked if she felt confident to do it herself.  At this point I panicked and asked if she had done it before.  She said she had done it once before, on a cadaver.  Great.  She started to feel around for the exact spot to make the incision.  You can’t feel anything being cut as such but you can feel something and know when you’ve been cut.  The feeling of the blood dripping onto the parts that aren’t numb also let you know it’s happened.  Then she readied the tube and started to slip it in.  I was sweating heavily as she put it in and my arms went a bit wobbly.  One of the male nurses asked if I wanted him to hold my arm up to help take the strain off.  I said no, but the doctor told him to anyway.  When the guy felt the how much sweat was on my arm he must have been disgusted and then he’d have understood why I said no to him helping me.

As the tube went in I could feel it worming it’s way into my chest cavity.  It was horrible but I was happy it was going in.  They double stitched it into my armpit to make sure I wouldn’t pull it out again but all I could think of was that more stitches would hurt more being pulled out.

Once they had finished cutting me open and inserting tubes into my chest they sent me back through to my room and gave me oxygen for a while.  I just sat there thinking about life and where mine was heading while I breathed into a bag.  Again, not fun.



Hospital routine

After a couple of days I began to work out the routine. Around 8am was breakfast time and time to change the bed.  I cant remember if the first round of meds was before or after breakfast but it was around that time. Then the doctors did their rounds.  An hour or so after that you would see a cleaner.  I would usually have a nap after that until about lunch time or just before when they would give you another round of meds.  Lunch was usually some horrible thing they were trying to pass off as a normal meal.  They would have things like braised steak and tatties, steak pie, chilli con carne on the menu.  The thing is though, when they came the dishes that you maybe thought you knew were not what you expected.  The braised steak was more of a gravy/soup.  I don’t like my chilli spicy but the chilli was so mild and flavourless even I thought it was weak, but it was probably the best meal they had.  Other than those I tended to ask for sandwiches and baked potatoes as these were harder to mess up.


After lunch came a little bit more downtime until afternoon visiting.  This was when I found out who my real friends were.  Other than two friends I only had family come to visit.  Out of those two friends one came during the day a couple of times and the other at night a couple of times.  I will always be grateful to them for coming in to see me because it brought a bit of respite from the usual chat.  I could have a laugh and talk about there being pretty nurses on that day or other things you don’t want to talk to your mum and dad about.  It also showed me who my real friends were.  I’ll never look at my friends the same way again.  It really got to me that some people who I thought were good friends didn’t bother to even stop past for 5 minutes or even call me and ask how I was.  I’m sad to say I don’t really talk to one of the friends that did come and see me anymore but I wish I did because he showed up when no one else did.
After that it was the 3rd round of meds.  I think this is the time I would get a warfarin injection into the stomach.  This was to stop my blood thinning as I was lying in bed so much.  The doctors would tell me to get up and walk about which I did as much as I could, but it gets a bit boring when the only place you can go is round and round a ward and the only thing you can see as you do it is people on ventilators. 

Then it was more horrible attempts at what would usually be culinary delights.  I must say, I don’t think the people cooking the food would have meant for it to taste as bad as it did.  I would imagine they were doing the best with what they were given. 


Evening visits was when I would get the most people coming to see me.  We were only supposed to be allowed 2 to a bedside but usually there was 4 or 5 as at this point I had the private room.  My mum, dad, mum’s boyfriend (mum and dad are obviously divorced), aunt, uncle, brothers and cousins came to see me.  It’s amazing how much you see of your family when you’re in hospital.  I wouldn’t change that for the world though.  Visiting time was the highlight of my day, although when I was out of it on morphine I did tell the pretty Polish cleaner “you coming round to do the cleaning is the highlight of my day”. 

After visiting came one more round of meds.  Then I would try to watch a film or some TV to settle down for the night, but like I say, with the meds it made it hard to concentrate and I would just sit and worry about what was happening to me until I managed to get a little bit of sleep until about 1am when a nurse would attempt to sneak in and check my pulse and oxygen levels and make sure I was still alive.  Then it was another attempt to get some more sleep to do it all again the next day.



My second day of waking up in hospital was a Monday.  Being that it was my own room they didn’t really bother me.  They would come round all the wards around 8am and wake everyone up to change sheets and give them breakfast but for some reason they always waited a bit later for me which I was happy for.  Breakfast consisted of a bowl of rice crispies with milk and a slice or two of toast and jam.  The toast was horrible. 

A little while after breakfast the doctors were doing their rounds and came in to see me.  They told me I’d have to wait another day at least. They needed to consult a surgeon to see if he thought it would be best to operate.  This scared me a lot.  It was at this point I started to realise just how serious it was.  The chest drain and the tube going into the middle of my ribs made it serious enough but I thought that would be the end.  Now they were talking about operations and it terrified me.  They said the surgeon would see me on the Tuesday so it was at least another say.   For these first few days I thought I only had a couple of days left in there, then each time someone came to check my progress I’d be told it would be longer. 

I don’t know if it was the realisation of the seriousness or that combined with the cocktail of drugs but I started to get very depressed.  When my mum came to visit me I tried to stay positive so she wouldn’t worry but within 5 minutes I started to moan and cry about how my life was over and things would never be the same.  My mum has supported me so much during my whole life but the love and support I got during that time in hospital was priceless.  She was amazing.

As the drugs they were giving me took hold I started to just lay in bed in a bit of a daze for most of the day.  The times when I could focus and wasn’t drifting in and out of a drug slumber I would just sit there thinking about what I was doing with my life and if I would be able to run again or be properly fit and healthy.  I really knew nothing about my situation and nobody told me anything about the future of people in my predicament.  I just sat there watching rubbish TV and reading magazines about people climbing or hill walking and wondering if I’d ever be able to do the same. 

Looking back now I can see how much of an effect the medication they gave me was having.  It was some strong stuff and I only really perked up when my family and friends came in.  Even just going to the bathroom was a real struggle.  Not just because I had a drain to carry and a tube sticking out of my armpit but because there was a mirror in the bathroom.   Looking at myself in the mirror was horrible.  I was skinny and pale.  The meds were making me feel out of it all the time but now I had even started to look like a junkie. These were definitely some of the worst days of my life.

Those first couple of days

The first day I was in hospital the severity didn’t really sink in or even the fact that I might be there a while.  I still thought I’d miraculously heal and be out the next day. I think that’s what I even told my boss at the bar.  When my mum came back in to see me later that day she brought in a bag full of my belongings like my phone, kindle, laptop, some clothes and an e-cig as I knew I’d be dying for a cigarette and had the good sense to know I wasn’t going to smoke a real one ever again. 

They gave me a room by myself which at first i thought was for the best. In Aberdeen Royal Infirmary you have to pay to use a private TV that is attached to your bed so my mum paid for a couple days use.  My buddy Louis came in to visit me for the evening visits and you could see he was a bit panicked.  He said “I looked it up on the way and this is serious shit”.  We joked about a bit and then took the elevator down to the shop at the front of the hospital to grab some sweets and juice.  I was carrying my chest drain and people were looking at it, probably to suss out if it was actually a bucket of piss, I got annoyed and stared right back at people with a bit of a challenging glare.  Louis laughed and asked what I was planning on doing with only one lung and a tube sticking out of me.  I said “hey I’ve still got one good side”.  I think those painkillers must have been doing something to my senses. 

When we got back up to my ward the doctor or nurse, not sure which, came up to me in a panic.  She said I shouldn’t have left the ward because if my drain had been pulled out it would have been bad news for me.  I didn’t realise this as no one had said.  I went back into my room and chatted away to my mum, her partner David and Louis.  I don’t think my dad came to visit on the day I got admitted because it was nearly past visiting hours by the time I told him what had happened. 

When they left I was still kind of in a daze about the whole thing.  I think I spent that night watching some of the extortionate TV and reading on my phone about what a pneumothorax is.

The next day, a Sunday, when the doctors came round for the morning check I expected them to say they were going to take the chest drain out and send me home, that never happened.  I was sent for an x-ray where they found that there was no change in my lung.  It wasn’t returning to normal.  They told me I would have to wait a day or so longer to see if it was going to inflate on its own.  I called everyone I needed to and said I would be staying a day or 2 longer. 

I was in a lot of pain by now and they were giving me a lot of painkillers.  Whenever they gave me something with morphine I would be sick about half an hour later.  Oromorph was the worst.  It’s a shame because it felt good being out of it while in there and not having to think about it.  God knows what else they gave me but I kept hallucinating.  When I would finally be able to drift off to sleep I would wake with a jump thinking someone was standing at the end of my bed, but nobody was there. 

With all the medicine I couldn’t keep any food down.  I was around 9st 8lbs when I went in and I was losing even more.  I looked skinny and frail.  When I asked the doctor why the pneumothorax had happened he said it was probably because I was tall, skinny and smoked.  Apparently the most common people to have a spontaneous pneumothorax are young, tall, skinny, healthy, smokers.  I don’t think healthy and smoking go together but that’s what they said.  One of the nurses that took my meusurments said I should be about 11st 6lbs because I was around 5 ft 10in.   I weighed no where near that.


When I got to hospital the paramedic who was with me took me into reception and spoke to the person at the desk for me.  I can’t remember what was said between them, I just remember sitting down in the waiting area and saying I was in a lot of pain.  The paramedic said she was going to sit with me until they took me through but after what seemed like a lifetime but was probably only a minute or two she said something that probably went like “I think you should probably be seen to quicker than this so I’m just going to have a word with the lady on the desk” but what I actually heard was “they aren’t taking this serious enough, you’ll die if not seen in the next 3 seconds so I’m going to give the receptionist a bollocking”.  She came back and about 10 seconds later a doctor came out to get me. 

They took me through to the room and by this point my mum was arriving and came in with me.  She wasn’t looking as panicked as I expected.  I don’t think she understood how much pain I was in.  The thing I found strange was that my brother wasn’t there.  I can’t remember if he said why but I can understand why he wouldn’t want to.  He maybe didn’t think it was serious or he maybe just didn’t want to dredge up bad memories. 

My mum came into the room with me while the doctor checked me over.  He took one listen to me and said he was pretty sure it was a punctured lung.  I can’t remember if I got the painkillers now or later but as soon as I got them things went fuzzy.  The order of events might be a bit off but this is what I remember.  I was panicking, they gave me painkillers to stop the pain but also to calm me down, I think I got diazepam but I’m not sure.  He asked if I would allow students to come in and have a listen to my chest and I obliged. 

I went for some x-rays.  When I came back he confirmed for sure that I had suffered about as severe a collapsed lung as you can get.  He explained he would have to put a chest drain in.  I panicked some more, thinking it would be like the one Mark Wahlberg’s character gets in Three Kings.  Looking back I would have been lucky to get that.  Instead he gave me a local anaesthetic (I think) and then under my armpit a couple of ribs down he cut open a hole and slid a tube through my flesh and into my chest cavity.  The tube going into my chest was connected to a drain type bottle at the other end.  The tube went into the bottle and under the water so the air from my lung was sucked out and into this drain, or at least that was the idea.  I freaked out a fair bit at having a chest drain in because it looked horrible having this thing stuffed in me connected by tubes to a bucket that was slowly starting to look like a bucket of blood with all the funky stuff coming out of my chest. 

I was so out of it that I asked for my mum to go get me a burger because I was hungry.  She told me the doctor said I couldn’t ear, so I said “OK then a chilli hot dog”.  Somehow I thought that wasn’t food.  When I sobered up a bit more I was placed in what I think was the respiratory ward.  I was told I’d be here for at least a couple of days until my lung started to hopefully inflate itself and stick to the lining in my chest cavity.  

The Beginning.

Growing up I was always the small kid.  I had asthma, a heart murmulr and I was anaemic.  Those things aren’t exactly conducive to being an excellent athlete.  I never really thought about it much until the past couple of years, but I’ll get to that later.  I didn’t let my lack of athleticism get to me, I still played football with my friends every night until I was about 15 and then took up skateboarding and rollerblading.  It was around that time I started hanging out with the stoner crowd. 

A couple of years later I was smoking weed and cigarettes all day everyday.  I never had the healthiest of diets either.  Sausages, burgers, chips, pies, egg sandwiches and biscuits of any kind were pretty much all I ever ate.  This went on for a number of years until I was about 25 at which point I started to try other foods.  I still ate terribly but I’d at least started to try other foods. 

A month after I turned 27 everything changed.  I woke up on March 22nd 2014 and didn’t notice a thing.  I got up, went to the toilet then went back to bed where I chilled for a bit to browse Facebook for a while (I was working nights in a bar so didn’t have much to do until later).  When I went to get up the second time to go out back to smoke, I noticed a sharp pain in my back.  It felt like I had pulled a muscle so I called my mother and said I would call NHS 24 and ask what to do as it was really painful. Then I just carried on outside for a smoke thinking I would have time for a quick one before calling.  As soon as I inhaled and the smoke hit my lung I knew something was wrong.  I hurried back inside as quick as I could.  By the time I’d made it back in I couldn’t take more than 25% of a breath in without being in excruciating pain.  I thought I was having a heart attack.  I called out for my brother in between breaths “Kyle……”.  I was unable to say more and could hardly breath at all but my brother Kyle who was upstairs at the time knew instantly what I was trying to say, I need a phone for an ambulance.  He was scared and handed me the phone, he probably could have called for me but for some reason I wanted to do it myself, until mum walked in the door and I handed her the phone and said “ambulance”.  She had sensed something was up after getting off the phone and head straight home.  By this point I was bent over struggling to breathe and my head was starting to pound and go a bit dizzy, probably with panicking so much.  On the phone the woman who answered the 999 call was saying I should take paracetamol.  I knew we didn’t have any so I went to ask the neighbour.  It’s funny looking back, I could hardly breathe and thought I was going to die but I couldn’t sit still, it was like I thought to myself “if you stop and sit down you’ll die, save yourself”.  I knocked on the neighbours door but no one answered.  I went back in my own house and sat down bent doubled trying to get a breath.  I remember thinking “mum and Kyle have been through a lot, don’t die!”.  That went through my head over and over.  A lot of it is a blur and I think I remember wanting to sit on the front door step because I was worried the ambulance driver would miss our door without there being a number on it. By the time the ambulance got there I was sweating and panicking even more. They asked all the questions to see if I was having a heart attack and this made me worse. 

Eventually they put me in the back of the ambulance and off we went to hospital. They kept saying I would be fine and that they weren’t sure what was wrong.  They were both great and I couldn’t have hoped for a better pair to be the first responders, looking back I realise that they knew what had happened but weren’t telling me as they saw how panicked I was already. They listened to my chest and must have heard that one lung was working and the other wasn’t.