“Oh Lung that Keeps Collapsing” by Robbie Maakestad

Issue 9 / Spring 2017


Oh lung that keeps collapsing, you are stretched long and thin by your own weight, categorized as a health risk for any tall, skinny, Caucasian male. “Stretched like a water balloon,” the surgeon said. “The weight of the liquid pulls the top of the balloon dangerously taut.” As I’ve grown taller and lankier, you’ve extended with my torso, almost a foot and a half long. You perplex x-ray techs who attempt to fit your entirety onto radiographic film, but fail—they’ve never seen such expansive lungs. You are crowned with blebs: weak bubbles bulging like an over-inflated plastic glove, gouged by children to make more “fingers.” Your blebs fill with leaking air; they wait for an excuse to fissure. With what fervor you collapse, sending me to the hospital three times. Such verve; ER nurses measure 100% oxygen levels even when you are sixty or even eighty percent collapsed. Nobody knows how you manage. You have a proclivity for inflation when surgeons insert chest tubes to vacuum escaped air—a flat tire re-inflating beneath my sternum. With what resilience you collapse while still at the hospital, stymieing the surgeons’ attempts to avoid major surgery and multiplied hospital bills. You stay inflated after surgeons slice out your bleb-pocked sections and glue you shut. But only for a while. You stay inflated after surgeons use a metal shard to shred your outer lining until you look like Jesus in The Passion of the Christ. But only for a while. You stay inflated after surgeons pack acidic talc powder onto your abraded tissue, creating internal bleeding and gobs of scar tissue to bind you to the chest wall. But only for a while. A temporary fix, but oh what a fix it is. You’re adhered to the ribcage, unmoving, cemented, unlike other lungs which jostle in response to human motion. Until your stasis, I didn’t know that lungs move. Oh lung that keeps collapsing, you are mysterious, defying the ten percent chance of recurrence three years later for no apparent reason. Once, you collapsed mid-basketball game. Twice now you collapsed while I sat on the couch. You are an anomaly—you mystify even top lung specialists. They shake their heads and say, “No, no, no. This should not have happened,” when they see that once again you’ve returned me to a hospital bed. You require special treatment. You are a prima donna. Surgeons dissect your CAT scans and x-rays, analyzing what could be wrong. They hypothesize that you’ve developed more blebs, and they are right, something they don’t know until mid-surgery. Though your scar tissue was supposed to grip the chest wall, you ripped yourself away, sagging like a soggy potato chip, and causing much discomfort. Yet, again you responded to the surgeon’s work. To get to you, he inserted a jack and ratcheted ribs apart. Sliding his hand within my chest, he squeezed the air from you to locate the leak. You indeed had a ruptured bleb; again the surgeon removed a lung slice and glued you closed. Then he tried the only applicable medical procedure not yet attempted—he pinched the pleural lining and ripped it out, though replete with nerves and blood vessels. Before closing the chest up, the surgeon crammed more talc between you and the raw, oozing ribcage to create even more adhesive scar tissue. What a comeback you made post-surgery, though. The operation you endured was supposed to be ten times more intense than the first, but within three days you no longer required pain medication. You amazed the surgeons. You recovered so well that within a week you were cleared for vigorous physical activity—within a few months, high-altitude flights. The only thing you cannot survive is scuba-diving. You, oh lung that keeps collapsing, are now a time bomb with a one percent chance of detonation and a ninety-nine percent chance of a timer reading ?.


Robbie Maakestad is a creative nonfiction MFA candidate at George Mason University and the Editor-in-Chief of Phoebe. He has been published or has forthcoming work in The RumpusFree State ReviewBethesda MagazineThe MacGuffin, and Mojave River Review, among others. In 2017, Robbie was shortlisted for the Penguin/Travelex Next Great Travel Writer Award. Follow him @RobbieMaakestad.

1 Comment

  1. Dave

    How is the lung that keeps collapsing? My dad is currently in the hospital. His lung has collapsed three times this month. This time was a partial collapse but all three times they have inserted chest tubes. He’s 64 with COPD, so he has blebs too but for a different reason. He also seems to have pneumonia each time he goes to the ER, so I think he had it the first time and it hasn’t ever cleared up yet. You mentioned the talc powder; in my efforts to find a solution for him, I read about this online. When we mentioned it to the doctors, we were told that this isn’t used in the US.

    I hope the lung that keeps collapsing has not collapsed again.



Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *