J: I get lucky with the King of Drains

I ended yesterday 2 kilos lighter in body and immeasurably lighter in spirit.

It was back on 28th July that I went to my local surgery and said “I think my lung is filling up again.” Two days later they phoned with scan results that amounted to “Yes, but it’s the right lung this time. Talk to Urology about it on your appointment on the 3rd.” I did and surgeon Jaspal Phull said “That needs to be drained, I’ll organise it.”

Yesterday (the 11th) I got fed up with waiting. I had become increasingly breathless after the least exertion. On hot still nights I was panting for air. I rang the Macmillan kidney nurses and asked them to find out what was up. They said that Mr. Phull had written to the lung team to get me in. But the snag is that though the consultants dictate their notes promptly they take ages to get written up. It’s not unusual to get a letter on the 31st of a month which says something like “dictated on 1st and typed on 15th.” Licking the stamps seems to take a long time too, quite apart from whether there might be slicker and slightly more modern methods of communication…

So I chucked some things in an overnight bag, drove myself to A&E at Bath (my wife still can’t drive, after her eye operation) and puffed over from the car park. “I need drainage please!” About five nurses/doctors and six explanations later Dr. James Walters passed by my bed and did a double take: “What are you doing here?”  “Just the man I want to see.” I replied, “I need another lung drained, right one this time. Any chance?” “OK,” he said, “happy to do that, give me five minutes”.

Dr. Walters is the one I saw back in February when I first when to A&E with fluid on the lungs and insisting that I had a bad cold. He stuck a drain in and said “Hmm, it’s blood contaminated though, and I’m afraid that is a cancer marker.” And so it all began.

I was delighted to see him again because he is extremely skilled. All the nurses on the wards think he’s great (partly because he actually talks properly to them) and I think he’s great because he is not only very competent but he explains things very clearly, and is careful to distinguish between what he knows for sure and what he thinks may be the case. That’s why I call him the King of Drains. Which probably does him a disservice as I am sure he has many other talents.

Dr. Walters sent me for a quick X ray to confirm things, then, amid the raised eyebrows of the A&E staff said “Look, I know this man, I’ll take him out of here and treat him in my department.” He got me a wheelchair; I grabbed my bag and he wheeled me out of there and to a department where he usually works.

He then proceeded to drain my right lung with ultrasound assistance. Last time the fluid was taken off half a litre at a time to minimise the risk of lung collapse. This time we agreed that as I was not unwell he should take off all that he could so that I would not have to stay overnight. After a litre and a half we stopped for a few minutes as my lung was getting quite tight (it needs time to expand). Then he took off another half litre and decided the rest was best left there – if you try to take it all there is more risk of reactions and there was probably less than half a litre left.

So having arrived at 4pm I was driving home by 6pm. Without bumping into Dr. Walters it would all have taken longer and I might well have been in overnight, so I count myself very lucky and am once again very grateful to him.

It’s not been entirely painless though. The procedure was fine, but by the time I got home my right lung was quite painful when I breathed deeply and very painful if I caught a breath. Dr. Walters said this was possible –  I believe the lung lining and the lung get stuck to each other and need time to lubricate a bit. Now that I am up and moving around it seems to be improving.

It’s hard to tell right now if the breathlessness has gone since I am avoiding getting out of breath while the lung is still twitchy, but I am sure it has. The other question is whether I will need draining again – how much is the pleura still effusing? I was told in February that my left lung would almost certainly fill again and Dr. Walters said it was unusual that it hasn’t. My right lung may be different. It’s certainly slower having taken ten days to build to two litres whereas last time they took off six after just a week.  But it may be steadier, so the possibility of a permanent drain remains, to save regular visits. He also said he’d let the lung nurses know that if I phone up needing further draining they should just fix that up so I will be saved the non-events of the last few weeks.

Long live the King!

Technical notes:

a) I’ve added  a “timeline of events” as another page

b) I’ve added a “print & pdf” button which should appear at the foot of all posts