“Matt Takes Tests” Week, Part 1

Yesterday marked the official beginning of “Matt Takes Tests” week, as I went in for my pulmonary function test to  measure the fitness of my lungs for the traditional ABVD chemotherapy regimen that my oncologist suspects I will be receiving.

This is the first of a four-test gauntlet I will be running for the next week that will culminate in visits to two oncologists for opinions on what stage of lymphoma I have and what the best treatment option will be.

In my previous post, I had characterized the pulmonary function test as the easiest of the tests I would undergo this week, as it just involved me breathing into a tube. As soon as I got into the room and saw the Willie Wonka glass elevator in which I would be breathing into said tube, however, I realized it might be a bit more involved than I thought.

Nurse Lisa, one of the first medical people I’ve encountered so far with an actual sense of humor, obliged to take a photo for posterity.

Ready to snorkel

The test itself involved a series of seven breathing “exercises” designed to track my lung capacity. Donning nose plugs and wrapping my mouth around the larger-than-comfortable end of a tube, I performed these exercises under Lisa’s educational instruction. She referred to the first exercise as “birthday candles,” because I had to take the biggest breath possible and then blow it out as fast and hard as possible. When it seemed I could blow no more, I had to keep straining because apparently there is some sort of vapor that is still escaping from your lungs at this point. This one wasn’t so bad.

Gag!The next one was my least favorite, and I actually never really completed it satisfactorily. It involved breathing in deeply through my  mouth and violently pushing the breath back out as quickly as I could–“in-out-in-out-in-out-in-out!”–for 10 seconds. Give it a try and let me know how you like it. Then imagine you’re wearing noseplugs and have a tube in your mouth. For some reason, the repeated breathing in through my mouth would dry out my throat and cause me to gag or cough after about four “in-outs.” It wasn’t pretty. Lisa tried her best to motivate me, giving me water, an alternate tube mouthpiece (which made the gagging worse) and multiple chances, but I just couldn’t do it. She said that part of the test wasn’t typically done anyway though, so hopefully it didn’t cost me anything.

For the next sequence of tests, she closed the door of my glass elevator and I found myself in a completely sealed, soundproof enclosure. This test involved me inhaling a gas mixture of carbon dioxide, oxygen, methane and carbon monoxide. There might have been more ingredients, but I stopped listening when I heard she was going to spray my lungs with carbon monoxide and methane. A poisonous gas and farts? Sign me up! The object of the game was for me to inhale deeply and see how much of this stuff I could blow back out. There was a technical term for this that escapes me  now, but it was something about how well things go through my lungs and come back out again without being absorbed. Anyway, I exceeded the benchmark on this one and spit more of it back out than she expected. I guess I really don’t want farts hanging around in my precious lungs.

While the door was closed, she conducted another test in which I panted into the tube, then she closed the back of the tube (stopping the airflow) and I had to continue to try to pant against the nothingness to test my lung’s power of resistance. I think I did pretty well on that one, too.

The last portion of the test was to redo the first two tests (birthday candles and gag-on-the-tube) after she gave me four inhaler shots of albuterol, a “bronchodilator” that increases airflow to the lungs by relaxing lung muscles. Apparently it starts working after about five minutes and keeps working for about four hours. The drug allowed me to go all Mark McGwire on the birthday candle test, and my lung capacity increased by five percent. The drug also allowed me to go all Sammy Sosa on the gag-on-the-tube test, as I almost immediately started choking.

When it was all said and done, I feel like I made a true medical professional friend in Lisa, my lungs got a major workout, and she rewarded me amply for my effort. “Not everyone gets one of these, just the special people that I really like.”

I'm a winner.

This is way better than a sticker. And I got to keep the noseplugs! If this is what I get for blowing into a tube, I can’t imagine the riches in store for me when they remove some of my bone marrow on Tuesday. Stay tuned!

P.S. Last call to join the St. Peregrine Novena for Cancer Patients.
It starts Monday—->http://goo.gl/Ovzs0I

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