Since I can remember I had an indent in my chest (the medical term for this is Pectus Excavatum) - I’m very slim anyway (as I can eat pretty much anything and not put weight on), but the indent made me look incredibly thin.
During my teens and into my twenties I was uncomfortable changing in front of other people (gym, swimming), and on holiday this year whilst in the pool I wore a vest, despite no clothing being allowed except swimwear.
It wasn’t just my body confidence that was an issue, though - I had seen a Doctor back home about being short of breath, dizzy and having a tight chest, and was told if it happened again to go back. It didn’t happen again, until a couple of years later...
I visited my GP pretty much exactly two years after seeing my GP back home, in 2015, and discussed the same problem - I was concerned that the pressure potentially being put on my lungs was affecting my health. I was referred to the Cardiology department at the University Hospital of South Wales (UHW).
I had my initial consultation in early July 2016 with Cardiothoracic Surgeon Ms Kornaszewska. I explained my situation and asked what my options were - she told me that she believed the NUSS procedure (explained below) would be the best for me, explained the risks and benefits, and then added me to the year-long waiting list.
The following month I had an Ultrasound, a CT Scan and a Lung Function Test at Llandough University Hospital. Following that, I received a call from Ms Kornaszewska’s Secretary, asking my availability for the next 3-5 months - the waiting list was clearing quickly!
Just over a week later I was called by a Nurse Case Manager to arrange a chat about the operation and to have some more tests (blood pressure, height, weight, MRSA swabs, an ECG, an x-ray, photos and more bloods) - this took place on September 21st.
Going Into Hospital
I was called on September 28th and asked if I could come into hospital two days later.
My partner took me in at around 3pm to have my bloods, height, weight and blood pressure taken, before I stayed in overnight. It was then that I signed the various consent forms and had a discussion with the anaesthetist - all of the hair was also shaved from my top half!
My parents arrived that evening and returned before my operation the following day (October 1st).
After having a shower and changing into my sexy gown, it’s safe to say I was pretty nervous to go down.
After a brief visit from my surgeons Ms Kornaszewska and Mr J George SpR, I was taken down to be put to sleep, before the operation began.
The procedure - which took around two hours - involved an incision being made either side of my chest (around 2-2.5″ long) in order for the bar (in my case they used two) to be fed through, beneath my sternum, and bolted into place. The bars instantly forced out my sternum, giving me a ‘normal’ chest.
It’s worth mentioning that this procedure can also be used to correct Pigeon Chest (Pectus Carinatum) - the opposite to my indent, where the chest is outward.
After the Operation
I don’t remember ‘coming round’ to be honest, as I had a morphine button which kept me out of it, but I do remember being hooked up to a drain (to take any fluid out of the area), a heart monitor, oxygen and two drips.
I was sick (potentially from the anesthetic or morphine) once, and that was incredibly painful.
Physiotherapists there would help me with my breathing, coughing, moving about and taking the stairs.
I slept sitting up the whole time I was in hospital, as it was the most comfortable for me. It would turn out that I’d sleep sitting up at home for a further month and a half, until I felt able to lay down. At one point I tried to lay down one night at home, managed it, but couldn’t get back up for 40mins - my phone was out of reach. I've been laying down to sleep now for nearly three weeks, which is bliss.
After losing count of the amount of times my blood pressure had been taken throughout the course of my stay, I left hospital on October 6th, after finally being detached from the chest drain and drips - they sent me on my way with Codeine and Paracetemol - which I’m still on.
It was a bumpy ride home in the car with Joe, but I was glad to be home!
When someone tells you you’re going to be in a lot of pain it’s so hard to put that into perspective until you’re actually put in that situation.
I won’t lie, it had been very painful, and still is - not being able to lay down initially, coughing, sneezing, being sick, trying to get out of bed in the morning - despite still taking pain killers, but I am still slowly adjusting.
I’m able to make car journeys, but I’m still not really able to take the bus, as people like to use their elbows to move you, and my sides are what are really hurting me at the moment!
I had a follow-up appointment with my consultant on November 3rd, during which an x-ray showed some fluid on my left side. I have also had an assessment with my physiotherapist - I’m working on movement, posture, starting to lift things with my physiotherapist, and that will all take time. I’ve only just started being able to lift my elbows above shoulder height.
I can do little bits around the house, and can shower myself, but when I first came out of hospital I was unable to do very much at all - I was short of breath, sore and heavily bruised.
I’ve been signed off work until the middle of February, but I’ve had the chance to see people from work, and visit work, which was lovely.
Whilst I’ve been away from work I’ve been Christmas shopping online, I followed the US Presidential Election and have been watching Designated Survivor (Netflix) and The Crown (Netflix) - it’s also great to have I’m a Celebrity... back. The X Factor has been quite underwhelming this year, but I’m enjoying Strictly a lot! The Grand Tour (Amazon) is also great!
All that being said, I’m very happy with how my chest now looks.
The time from referral to operation was about thirteen months.
Still to Come...
In two or three years the bars will be taken out, and my chest will stay in its rightful place unaided - thankfully shop alarms are not set off by them, but I may set off airport scanners!
I’m due to see my consultant again tomorrow to see if the fluid is going away by itself. I’m then seeing the physiotherapist on Friday, so I will post an update about both appointments this weekend!
I’ve now posted a follow-up blog detailing my latest hospital appointment and my physiotherapist appointment - you can click here to read that.
If you have any questions about my experience, feel free to drop me an email through the Contact page!