Virginia’s Story

Virginia’s Story

After her lung spontaneously collapsed for the third time, Virginia needed treatment at Christchurch Hospital but couldn’t fly commercially because of her diagnosis. The New Zealand Flying Doctor Service was able to ensure that she was safe during her flight and got her operation.

On 7th July 2023 I was flown from Wairau hospital to CHCH Public Hospital by the New Zealand Flying Doctor Service, for thoracic surgery.

My story starts in March when I suddenly became breathless and tired. I thought I might have developed asthma. Following a doctor’s visit, an X-ray resulted in the radiologist showing me the way to the Emergency Department where I learned I had a pneumothorax which needed treatment.

A pneumothorax (or collapsed lung) is when air somehow escapes the lung and enters the thoracic cavity where the air pressure deflates the lung over time producing the symptoms. Mine was called spontaneous pneumothorax as it didn’t have an obvious cause. This is more common in young men than a woman of 74 years but as a vineyard owner, living alone, lifting heavy equipment, and a coughing fit one night appear to me the possible reasons.

A tube was then stuck through my ribcage into my thoracic space under local anaesthetic to remove air. Initially the air could be heard hissing out, and the drain was left in bubbling through water until the lung was seen on x-ray to be inflated again.

Following this event, another pneumothorax occurred a month later. This time my consultant at Wairau asked advice from CHCH Public, whose Registrar advised that pneumothoraces can repeat, and the next move might be a thoracic pleurodesis in CHCH hospital. So, following my post-op tube removal yet again I was given an appt in CHCH for a pre-op surgery assessment.

I was advised that the waiting period was several months due to the incredible delays with surgery due to staffing issues in anaesthetics.

But a week later my symptoms of chest pain could not be overlooked and into Emergency again.

Another pneumothorax was diagnosed, every bit as big as the last.

But this time CHCH public had seen me, and was rung, and advised to get me to CHCH ASAP after the drain was put in.

This is where I felt very lucky as without the preop appointment and completed tests they may not have felt equipped to have received me.

Initially when I was told I would be flying to Christchurch, I presumed this might be on a commercial flight. I had been told not to fly with a collapsed lung, but once the drain is in I thought it might be OK. To be told no, the Flying Doctors Service would be taking me, was a surprise. I knew they operated from the West Coast but was unaware they were busy transporting people between other South Island hospitals.

A FDS nurse came to the ward and prepared me for flying the next morning.  I was put on a stretcher and taken to the Ambulance which delivered me to the Blenheim airport. There a small plane with 2 pilots was waiting for me.

The flight was perfect, and I felt incredibly safe on the stretcher throughout with a nurse beside me. We arrived at CHCH airport 40 minutes later and I was transferred again into another ambulance for the drive in to Public Hospital.

I had surgery on the Monday, 3 days after my arrival on Friday afternoon.   This time it was general anesthesia. A small video camera was put into my chest so the surgeon could check my lungs and see where the air was escaping. A large bulla (blister) was removed, the lung stapled, and the lungs were then attached to the intercostal wall by talc. Another drain was put in in case further air had got into my chest through the small holes in my chest wall.

It has been successful, and I returned to Blenheim by car without the drain, with 6 weeks convalescence ahead of me to avoid breaking down the man-made adhesions. I have now healed.

I am incredibly grateful to all the staff I came in contact with in each DHB.  It was all about wonderful professional care, and initially when home I did miss the constant sounds of a busy hospital.

Thanks to the Flying Doctors Service for transporting me south that day. It would have been a long and painful trip had it been by road. I guess they may be used even more in the future with shortages of specialists in different DHBs. And I say, there is no better way to go!!