Bronchoscopies and Sputum
The picture is both horrifying and fascinating. The camera barrels down a pink darkening tunnel. You almost get a sense of vertigo, the camera circling around these pink walls, down my trachea to where it splits into the two main bronchi, the main stems of the lung airways which themselves will split and split and split again into countless little tributaries, bronchi into bronchioles into alveolar ducts and finally into alveolar sacs, where oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange. Where breathing occurs.
Only, breathing isn’t occurring. Not in my left lung anyway. The camera never gets past my left bronchi, which is blocked, completely blocked, by a white mass. It looks like a damp cotton ball lodged in my airway. The mucous which lines all of our air passages, to block pathogens, is trapped and blocked up around the white mass, further sealing the passageway like glue.
This is the picture the doctor shows me after the bronchoscopy. There are four pictures actually. Moving counterclockwise from the top left, one is of the mass blocking my left bronchus. The second is of a pinkish glowing wand, emitting a conical blast of white light. It looks like a graphic from a cheap videogame, Harry Potter casting his spell into the darkness. It is a stillshot of the doctors burning the mass out of my lung. The third is a picture of my bronchi after the burn. It is literally charred, patches of black smudges where the tissue had been pink, like the inside of a circular chimney stack. The fourth picture shows my right bronchi, where a tiny white mass has started to form. The doctors singed that one as well.
It’s a wonder my lung had not collapsed already. I had been struggling with breathing for the last couple of months, but this last month had become especially difficult. By the morning of the surgery, I felt as though I weren’t getting any oxygen at all. Today, I’m breathing well. I can’t say normally. I still have some tumors compressing my pulmonary arteries, narrowing them. However, I’m not fighting for each breath the way I was over the last couple of months. It’s like coming up for air after having been underwater for too long.
Dr. Anderson, the pulmonologist who performed the procedure, was excited as well. At least that’s what Dena tells me. He spoke to her while I was still unconscious. For some reason the name “Dr. Anderson” evoked in my
mind an elderly doctor — a stern man, balding and with spectacles. Why? Who the hell knows. That’s just how my brain works, especially when it’s been deprived of oxygen. Turns out he was a young doctor, around my age anyway, with a full head of air and a confident easy-going attitude. I think my wife may have a crush on him. That’s okay. He did salvage my lung, after all.
Dr. Anderson seems concerned about the growth returning, so we’re scheduling another surgical procedure in about two weeks to insert a stent into my lung to avoid its further blockage or collapse.
He warned me that I’d be coughing up some “nasty stuff” after the procedure. Bloody sputum, he called it. Which kind of sounded like some British term of offense.
“Sputum?” I asked.
“Yes, nasty stuff.”
“Like a rotting apple? Spinach? A vicious drunken circus dwarf?”
“Bloody sputum. Bloody mucuous. Some tissue probably. Nothing to worry about, just get it out.”
I told him my family had planned a big trip to Disney World, long before we knew we’d have to undergo this procedure.
“You’ll be okay,” he said. “Just don’t cough up any of that nasty stuff on little kids while you’re there.”