I Had a Spontaneous Pneumothorax

The story behind one of the scariest days of my life
So What Actually Happened Last Week With My Spontaneous Pneumothorax...? Personal essay about when I was unexpectedly hospitalized with a collapsed lung + the wake up call that is inspiring me to make some changes in my life going forward. #selfcare #realtalk #personalessay #pneumothorax

Oh hey, remember me? It’s been a while since I posted… maybe the longest amount of time I’ve ever not been active here on the blog. Even when I broke my leg, I had posts scheduled out for a week or two. It feels weird coming back to ‘work’ and trying to write a blog post after so long away, to be honest. I’m still very, very tired from my super-cool spontaneous pneumothorax (aka randomly occurring collapsed lung), but I actually miss being in this space and connecting with my readers. I’ve gotten lots of questions about what happened, so I figured now is the time to share.

So What Actually Happened Last Week With My Spontaneous Pneumothorax…?

This whole ordeal actually goes back to the time before our wedding… on the Wednesday before our wedding, September 4, I woke up with very intense chest pain and some shortness of breath. I immediately thought it was heart burn, so I popped an antacid and tried to go about my business. After all, with our wedding in 3 days, I had a LOT on my plate. The antacid didn’t do anything, so I just sort of powered through. I also had some shoulder pain, like a sore muscle, so I used a heating pad to try to relax my muscles.

On the day of our wedding, I thought I was just having a hard time breathing because there was such a whirlwind of activity and some mild nerves. Not to say I was nervous about the marriage or anything, but more that I wanted it to all go off without a hitch. As I was getting into my dress, I even got really worked up and had a hard time catching my breath… and AGAIN thought it was nerves!!

Our wedding took place at an elevation of 7488′ and anyone who’s spent time in the mountains knows that the air is thinner up there. I was so amped up on adrenaline and excitement, that I barely noticed that I was having trouble breathing… and I thought it was just that my dress was tight! After the wedding, the shoulder pain started up again and, again, I thought it was just stress-related.

Flash forward to September 18 when I went to spin class. Somehow, I got through the class even though it was really freaking hard. Afterwards, I was talking home and had to stop many, many times to catch my breath. I knew something was going on, but I thought it was just the start of a bad chest cold or something. That night, Sean wanted to go sailing and I had to finally tell him everything that had been doing on. YUP, I HADN’T TOLD HIM ANY OF THIS. That night, I came clean about the chest pains, the intense shortness of breath, the cough that sounded like a walrus… and immediately got worried. When I said it all at once, I realized that something was amiss.

The next day I made an appointment with my primary care doctor. A friend had to drive me the 7 blocks to it because I literally couldn’t say 3 words without needing to catch my breath. I didn’t eat breakfast that morning or put on a bra or even feed the cat because I thought I was going to only be gone for an hour. My doctor ended up ordering a chest x-ray ‘just in case.’ I had to pee before I went in for the x-ray, so I ducked into the restroom immediately after the images were taken. When I came out, there were 5 people in the room waiting for me with a wheelchair. I was told to stay very, very calm because my lung had collapsed and I could pass out at any time and that they were taking me immediately to the ER. Naturally, I freaked out and got very upset. It’s hard to stay calm with that type of news!!

It turns out that my right lung had completely collapsed and my heart was in the process of being moved because of the additional stress. Once in the ER, they inserted a chest tube between my ribs. If you’ve never had one inserted, I’m here to tell you that you’re lucky. A chest tube is a special kind of painful hell that I never knew existed until this moment. After lots of pain meds, more tests, and monitoring, I was transferred via advanced life support to a bigger hospital.

So What Actually Happened Last Week With My Spontaneous Pneumothorax...? Personal essay about when I was unexpectedly hospitalized with a collapsed lung + the wake up call that is inspiring me to make some changes in my life going forward. #selfcare #realtalk #personalessay #pneumothorax

A few days later, on September 22, I had a surgery called pleurodesis. I’m not a medical professional by any means, so I’m not going to get into detail about what the surgery actually did. That link is a good reference for it. I was discharged on September 24 after it was shown that my lung stayed inflated and fixed to my chest wall, meaning that I could breathe on my own and not need a machine removing fluid from it. YAY.

So now that I’m home, I have to rest… a lot. I didn’t really post last week because I was barely awake for most of the time. I also really just needed the time to mentally process the fact that my lung collapsed spontaneously and with pretty much zero cause. It’s been a bit of a mindfuck, to be honest. I’m still very much processing… but I cannot believe this actually happened to me. I worked so hard this summer to get back into climbing after my traumatic accident and was SO looking forward to maxing out my mountain time this fall. The wedding was behind me and all I wanted to do was focus on doing the stuff that I love in the mountains with my new husband.

So What Actually Happened Last Week With My Spontaneous Pneumothorax...? Personal essay about when I was unexpectedly hospitalized with a collapsed lung + the wake up call that is inspiring me to make some changes in my life going forward. #selfcare #realtalk #personalessay #pneumothorax

The recovery has been slow, but steady. I go for short walks 3 times a day and I have noticed improvements each time. The first thing I did when I got home was put on normal clothes and go to the beach with Sean and the dogs. It was exhausting, but the salty air felt so damn good.

In terms of the big picture for my recover, now I can’t go above 4000 feet for a while and I can’t hike or climb. I’m not even allowed to pick up anything over 10 pounds for 6-8 weeks! And I can’t even fly for a while. If you know me, you know how frustrating this is. Sean has been an absolute trooper through all of this, but at the end of the day, I’m an independent person and really want to be able to get back to my old life. I have my first follow up appointment tomorrow, so I’m hoping to be cleared to add more activity to my life.

So that’s basically what happened and why I took an unexpected hiatus from blogging. I can’t promise that there won’t be additional gaps in posts here because I’m still pretty low-energy from the whole ordeal and playing a bigggg game of catch up. I’m also in a place where I want to make some big changes to my life. This was a huge wake up call. I’ll be sharing more of what that journey is here on the blog, of course. I want to take you along on every step of my evolution and so deeply appreciate all of your incredible support through this.

XO, Joanna

Behind The Blog

Joanna Hawley-McBride is a Pacific Northwest-based social media strategist, content creator, and former textile designer. Joanna is the founder and editor-in-chief of Jojotastic, a lifestyle blog focused on Joanna’s work-in-progress cabin, finding the best pair of underwear through #UnderwearThesis, and empowering women to explore nature — all in her signature unfiltered style. Her work has been featured in Domino, CNBC, and Eating Well.

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  1. 1.25.22
    Shay said:

    Hi, just came across your blog looking for info on this Pneumothorax. I too just had(12.28.21) a spontaneous pneumothorax, in the hospital for 2 weeks. How and what did you to to help in your recovery? I’ve been in the dumps with this happening to me out of nowhere, and feeling like I’m not progressing . Any advice would be helpful. Thank you

    • 2.4.22
      Joanna said:

      I am so sorry you’re experiencing the same thing, I hope you recover soon!! Honestly, I recommend talking to your pulmonologist about recommendations since every body is different and I’m not a medical professional. I wish I could give you more insight, but I just followed all of my doctor’s orders and made sure to rest and take things slow. Feel better soon!