As the first spring storms of the season blew through the Twin Cities Metro, I felt that old familiar pull in my chest. It’s a sensation that has become all too familiar over the past ten years whenever it storms. It hadn’t always been there. In fact, much like a storm, how I acquired this ability to sense storm fronts came rather suddenly.
Ever heard of a spontaneous pneumothroax? Unless you are in the medical field you probably haven’t and to be honest at that time I hadn’t heard of it either. In fact it was the furthest thing from my mind ten years ago. On that day I was thinking more about classes, the “four year plan” for college and beyond, how to become friends with a set of cute twin girls who went to school with me, and of course, cosplaying as Anakin Skywalker for the next Star Wars movie with my buddy who was going as the Emperor.
It was ten years ago. I was a sophomore at Bethel University, and had just gotten back from a student teaching practicum. There was more than enough time to kill before the next class of the day, so it was a good time to head down to check the PO box and stop by for a moment to watch the trailer for Revenge of the Sith playing on TV in the old student center. Heading upstairs, I stopped over at the school market area for a quick snack, a pizza stuffed pretzel and Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Just a typical, warm, spring day in Minnesota. After finishing my snack it was time to head out for a quick walk along the shores of Lake Valentine, or as some of the students called it “Lake Mutie Fish” due to the alleged mutant fish that lived in the lake that our school was situated near. And that was when it struck. There was a sharp, radiating pain in the left side of my chest.
Walking it off didn’t work, so I sat down on a nearby bench, hoping it would go away. Nothing seemed to help. My first thought was that I was having a heart attack. It was a logical guess, especially when one does have a family history of heart conditions. To say nothing of my Tuesday night special: a Bacon Double Cheeseburger and a side of Mozzarella cheese sticks. If the genetic lottery and eating that every week isn’t a recipe for a heart attack waiting to happen, I don’t know what else is.
Staggering up from the bench, I made the way up the steps to my townhouse and called mom. I had lost my cell-phone on a family trip out west that past summer, and hadn’t gotten the chance to replace it yet, so there were no other means of calling home. Mom was more surprised that I had walked past the nurses office before calling home and told me to go to the nurse first.
The nurse could detect some problems with my chest, but since a school nurses office is going to lack a lot f the medical technology of a doctor’s office a trip to the doctor’s was needed. After mom was notified, I went back up to the townhouse to wait. Mom’s only request was that I lie still and she would be over as soon as she could.
Sitting on the couch, I clenched a plush Yoda I had bought a week before during a Star Wars toy buying spree and waited, and fought back tears as the minutes seeming to take hours, the pain growing worse. It was something that only can be experienced in a certain circumstance and for your sake, my dear reader, I hope you never do. It feels like your chest is about to burst open, as each precious breath of life nurturing air causes you excruciating pain. Of the things I learned in Sunday School, one of them had been that the word “excruciating” was derived from the word “crucifixion” and that moment I understood why. Let’s just say if Baymax from Disney’s Big Hero 6 were to ask about my pain level on a scale from 1-10 it would have been like a 12.
I also knew I really wasn’t worried as much about my major, or my “four year plan” or what job I would have after graduating .I wasn’t thinking about my practicum, and, surprisingly I wasn’t thinking about the next Star Wars movie. My thoughts drifted to family, friends and what kind of legacy I left behind. As cliché as it sounds, a health crisis is the kind of moment that makes one take stock of what really matters in life and the kind of person they were.
Mom soon came and took me to the doctor. After getting a chest X-Ray my doctor raced back and told me that he was going to send me to a specialist in Minneapolis. It turned out I had suffered from a spontaneous pneumothorax of my left lung. It can often happen to tall and skinny men of my age, even without any history of lung problems. I did not have asthma, and despite accusastions from an annoying co-worker, I never smoked. It was something that just happened, as an air blister known as a “bleeb” formed on my lung and ruptured, thereby creating the hole.
The specialist said I wouldn’t need surgery, as my lung was already starting to reinflate on its own. I was told not to run, lift anything over ten pounds, or sing for two weeks. As this happened on a Thursday, I stayed home that weekend to try and recover, using one of my sister’s cell-phones as a make-shift baby monitor if anything went wrong. I went back to school on Sunday night and already I had spoken with people at work about making reasonable accommodations so I could still do my job. I could still participate in choir by taking necessary notes and following along in my music. I was exhausted those following two weeks and many times after class I’d skip lunch to take a nap.
The real challenge came in terms of getting to class. The doctor had put me on a 10 lbs. weight restriction, and it may sound strange to believe but ten years ago, laptop computers weighed at least a good 15. This is to say nothing about getting books to class. The specialist and my mom had suggested I ask my friends to carry my books, which I was reluctant to do. First of all, I’m a guy and you don’t want to look like a wimp by asking someone to carry your books for you. Second, I didn’t want to be a burden.
Much to say my friends were more than willing to help me out. It was at this time that I really got to see just how loyal my friends were and how much they were ready to help. I saw just how concerned people were for me. It was a reminder that good friends, like family are there to help you through anything. It was also one of the many lessons I learned through it all. Further, I learned that when you need, it, there is no shame in asking for help. After all it is a proud, stubborn man who tries to do it all on his own, even when he knows he can’t.
That pnemothorax was also a wake-up call, or perhaps a reminder, that I am not indestructible, unlike so many of my peers viewed themselves at the time. I now had physical limitations. I could no longer go extreme sports or go bungee jumping or skydiving as it would risk recollapsing my lung ( not that I ever did that sort of thing before). It also meant that, sadly, I could never fulfill my childhood pipe dream of being an Astronaut.
However, it also meant that I could not run either. For a long time, to even try could leave me winded. That was perhaps the hardest part of the whole ordeal: not being able to run, and watching as my friends and even family could go whizzing right by me.
I also made some changes as a result of my medical emergency. Among them was that I stopped ordering that Bacon Double Cheeseburger with a side of mozzarella cheese sticks every week .While it wasn’t my heart, it still seemed like a good idea to vary up my Tuesday night meal. As for getting closer to that set of twins, a few weeks later when I was feeling well enough I was kind of bored and decide to go back to Target to get some more Star Wars toys. While I was waiting for the shuttle I looked over and saw one of the twins was also waiting for the shuttle.
But that’s a story for another day.