I had my first pneumothorax while playing ultimate frisbee about 4 years ago. I got this weird pain in my back that felt a lot like a muscle cramp of some kind -- I played a few more points, excused myself to the sideline to go try to stretch it out. It was weird, it felt like there was a muscle somewhere in my back that was cramping up, but nothing I could do would stretch it out, and it kept getting worse. I walked over to another field to ask people for some asprin, took some, and promptly passed out. Woke up on my back with an ambulance on the way -- It turns out later that something about a collapsed lung and the associated pain cause an intense drop in blood pressure that can cause you to pass out if you're not lying down. Got an IV, was rushed to the hospital for the first in a long, long series of chest x-rays. I had suffered an extremely minor pneumothorax, small enough that I didn't need anything except observation overnight. The lung resealed itself, and I was sent home safe.
Second pneumothorax was caused by biking quickly up a hill in sub-zero degree weather. Breathing hard and fast and all of a sudden something very definitely wasn't right. Got off my bike, laid down on the sidewalk for a whille to make sure, and eventually ended up knocking on a stranger's door to ask if I could call my parents because my lung was collapsing. Parents showed up, I was taken to the hospital, and kept overnight for observation once more. This time, however, the lung was more deflated, not less after a night on oxygen. It was time to party with the chest tube.
One of the bad things about being kept overnight for observation before having a tube inserted is that you get the procedure done in the clinic, not the emergency room. Why is this a bad thing? Well, they can't give you any hard painkillers in the clinic. Morphine? No way. It's done entirely with local anaesthetic. They were kind enough to let me listen to music during the procedure, or I don't know what I would have done. Probably screamed and gone crazy. The best part is perhaps when you feel them poke the tube through into your chest cavity and you can feel yourself involuntarily taking air into your lung, more than any normal breath. Then you cough like crazy for reasons passing understanding.
The third time my lung collapsed, I was lying in bed doing absolutely nothing. It's to the point where I know all the symptoms, everything. You can just tell, y'know? I have 100% success rate so far self-diagnosing pneumothoraces, so... I call my mom up, telling her that I've had another collapsed lung. (She's a neurologist, and a pretty darn good doctor herself, but...) She tells me that there's no way I could possibly have another collapsed lung, and that if I really want, we can go in in the morning (It's about 2am) and get me some X-Rays. She hangs up, I call 911, get an ambulance to the hospital, and end up with another tube in me by 6AM. Score? Me 1 Mom 0.
This was the start of a long and loving relationship between me and the doctor. I'd have three or four more collapses in the next few months that required tubes, to the extent that I would actually be put on a little tube connected to a resivoir box that I could strap to myself and attempt to continue my normal life. To those of you who get these in the future, I have a word of warning. They're not too bad most of the time, but be 100% certain to never, never unstrap them for any reason. I went to sleep with mine unstrapped once, and woke up in what was easily the worst pain of my life. The box had dropped down the side of the bed and the tube inside me had twisted around so that it was rubbing up against a bundle of nerves, or something. I was upstairs in my house, woke up at 3 AM as the drugs wore off, the drugs were out of reach, my parents were out of earshot, and it took me literally 45 minutes of trying to get out of bed and stand up enough to take more drugs. I was unable to sit up, so I had to sort of slither myself out of bed and fall to the floor, then work up from there. Don't do that. It's bad.
However, it was an amazing sensation when I got that tube removed. Was wheeled into the office in a wheelchair -- I was in too much pain to walk or stand up or anything, even on a full dose of pretty hefty painkillers. Doctor checked the X-Ray, made the decision to pull the tube, grabbed and yanked as usual, and... bliss, pure bliss. The lack of pain can be as pleasurable as anything else, really. To go from being unable to do the most basic things to feeling like a million bucks with such a small, seemingly insignificant change... it was crazy.
Anyways, somewhere around this time, the doctor decided I needed to have at least one of my lungs permanently stabilized. I was scheduled for surgery -- Laproscopic something or other, meaning they wouldn't be making a gigantic incision and peeling the side of my torso back toa ccess the chest cavity. My lungs collapsed due to, they think, a large number of blebs along the top surface of the lungs, because I'm tall and skinny and my lungs grew quickly, or something. They sandpapered away the blebs on the top and let the top of my lung adhere to the top of my chest cavity, preventing disastrous collapses in the future. Spent a while recovering from that, and while I still had the stitches in from that operation, my other lung collapsed. Doctor decided that I needed the other side done, too, so I got that done as well.
Morphine drips are your friends. They give you this little button you can press every few minutes, and each time it gives you more morphine. This is where I found out that morphine wears off on me about twice as quickly as other people, it seems. They'd give me a shot of morphine, it'd feel like I had a shot of adrenaline, and I got very warm for about five minutes, then I'd be right back where I started. They eventually ended up giving me a stupidly large dose every four minutes or so in combination with oral anaesthetic. I still think that the History Channel was more effective at keeping the pain away than any painkillers they gave me.
After the two stabilizing operations (one on each side), I don't know. Every once in a while, I feel something that feels exactly like another pneumothorax. The difference is, all of these have healed without the need for a tube. I still have nerve damage on my left, but I hardly notice it anymore -- the left side of my chest tingles when it's touched, that's about it.
So yeah, I've had something like 10 collapsed lungs, mostly over a period of a year nearly two years ago now.
Oh, yes, I almost forgot. Pictures of my stitches!!1