Thursday, April 30, 2009

Breathing in a box is hard to do

Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking a pulmonary function test, the one where you put a clip on your nose and then inhale and exhale with your mouth placed on a tube, kind of like you're snorkeling, only minus the scenery and the fun. I've taken this lung function test before, as I believe several readers have also done.

It's a special kind of torture usually guided by oddly enthusiastic technicians. In the past I've sat at a table near the window, but this time they put me in a glass box like a phone booth.

The first two tests involved different combinations of taking a deep breath and blowing out for as long as possible. The technician cheered me on using a volume favored by crazed parents at hockey games. 

"In in in in in in in IN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"


Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the line going up and down on the machine that made a real-time graph of my performance. I got kind of dizzy. Then, when he closed the door, I got nervous. So I switched to my yoga breathing, concentrating on belly breaths as I made patterns with my breath, clip on my nose and tube in my mouth. I took a few regular breaths and then a few more after he shut off the air to the tube (this really felt like a kind of torture). Then in in in, hold, hold, hold, and out out out after he turned the airflow back on.


The technician opened the door and told me I wasn't doing it right because I had exceeded the short amount of time allocated to this test, and the machine was stopping mid-way. The reason? "You're too relaxed," he said. "You need to breathe faster."

OKaaaaaay, so you're closed in a box,  you succeed in relaxing, and it gets you into trouble. We did it again, and this time I breathed more quickly and forgot about relaxing. We did it a few more times until he finally let me out.

Diane had come with me and was watching all of this with wide eyes. Since the testing lab is just down the hall on the same floor as my room, we were allowed to walk there and walk back. My walking is improving, but on the way back I was unsteady. I wonder why. I don't know if I "passed." I assume I did, although I didn't get any official report.

I did finally get a report on the doctors' plan for what to do with me. Although the CAT Scan showed the area on my lung to be slightly larger, they are optimistic that I am improving. I haven't had a fever since Sunday, and I feel better. The thinking is that the spot on my lung might shrink as my symptoms improve. So...they are going to put me on an oral anti-fungal and antibiotic, watch me for 24 hours in the hospital and set me free.

Which means I might be out of here by the end of the weekend. Here's hoping.


Howard said...

Your posts are really a pleasure to read. I hope you'll take it as a compliment that sometimes I for get you're the one in the uncomfortable position, and just enjoy the read.

I hope the docs are on the right path about the spot, and soon you'll be out, out, Out, OUt, OUT!

Susan C said...

Great description of the "breathing in a box," Ronni.

I had the same experience a few weeks ago. They've also added the clear box at City of Hope. As if the whole thing isn't pleasant enough already, I get claustrophobi when they shut that door.

So . . . yoga breathing works!

Jim said...


Wonderful writing and even better news. Don't let the screen door hit you ... in a good way!


Wendy S. Harpham, MD said...

I went to medical school in the days before CT scans and PCR testing. I remember a lesson from a superb clinician that I believe still holds true (no matter what the fancy-dancy tests show): "If the patient looks better and the patient sounds better and the patient tells you he or she feels better, there is a good chance the patient IS getting better."

With hope, Wendy

Anonymous said...

I know we should not complain- but I would rather have a BMB then do those pulmonary function tests. First of all, I feel caged in and I never get the directions correct and I can see the disdainful look in their eyes. I feel like I need to practice before doing those things!!

Keep breathing- all good signs.

PJ said...

Oddly enthusiastic technicians--perfectly described. Guess it's better than having a fascist meany put you through the paces.

Ann said...

How is it we all get the same pulmonary tech in different parts of the country?

Glad to hear that you may be getting out soon. My fingers are crossed.

pam said...

Dearest Ronni,
i went through the same boxed-in breathing tests a few times last Autumn, and you are soo right! The tech was a crazed opposite of cheerleader -- i felt i was failing the test, not breathing right, and i did not know yoga! then passing the test meant actually failing, health-wise...(Great, you're dizzy! having more trouble breathing!-- you've got asthma! as if i won something!
Anyway, you will be out among the yoga-breathing soon, and running on air! xop

donna said...

Several members of my family have had to endure such a breathing test for asthma. I always picture a comic strip drawing of a big, angry, north wind cloud blowing wind lines out of its huge puffed up cheeks and mouth. With the white coats cheering you on to "Keep going", You NEVER think you're doing as well as you should be doing it. Your writing is great and the comments are funny. Keep up the good healing, friend!

Nelle said...

I hated that test and when I get enclosed anywhere I start to hyperventilate. I am SOOO hoping you will be released soon and glad to hear the fever is gone. Soon I hope the lung will be clear again.