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My experience was a pneumonectomy (complete removal of my right lung) by thoracotomy (a large incision on the right side of my chest). Removal of an upper lobe if performed by video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery or VATS is a less traumatic procedure. Even less invasive is a relatively new technique called a robotic surgical lobectomy. Here is a more complete explanation of all these types.

My experience was a successful surgery and discharge after 5 days. While I had a chest tube placed after surgery to drain fluids, it was removed a couple of days after. I was encouraged to get out of bed and started lapping the hospital ward with assistance of a physical therapist, then as I gained strength I lapped dragging my IV pole on my own. I was also introduced to a spirometer, a device that exercised breathing, by the hospital respiratory therapist and was encouraged to use that device many times a day. My trouble started after hospital discharge. Well intended friends visited with their children and I picked up a bug that morphed into a very bad chest cold. I was re-admitted to the hospital to treat the infection and during that treatment, the sutures along my bronchus stump ruptured.

Here are my lessons from my thoracic surgery experience.

  • Ensure your physician knows your complete medical history including all your sustaining medications. If you take say Norvasc for high blood pressure and you do not report it, the medication won't be given to you in the hospital.  The only way the hospital will give medications is on the order of your surgeon so ensure all your medical needs are reported to your surgeon and captured on the admitting order. Subsequent experience with thoracic surgery taught me to review the admitting orders before leaving the surgeon's office.
  • Sleeping elevated at an angle is a very good way to induce healing, reduce pain and yield quality sleep. Go to a mattress store and audition various pillows that allow you sleep with your head and shoulders elevated perhaps 15-degrees. This transfers weight from you chest incision to your hips and lessons pain. Alternatively, you might want to sleep in a reclining chair.
  • You may need in home medical assistance depending on your age and general medical condition. If you live with family, that should suffice but someone will need to change surgical dressings and perhaps empty the drain should you be discharged with a chest tube. After my second thoracic surgery I was discharged with a chest tube and drain. The latter needed to be changed by my wife weekly.
  • You should expect a return to the surgeon's office 10 to 14 days after surgery for removal of sutures or surgical staples.
  • It may be a good idea for your surgeon to prescribe several types of narcotic pain medications for home use. Oxycodone produced itching sensations that were almost as bad as my pain and Tramadol worked better for me. I only needed narcotic medication for a couple of days then started taking over-the-counter pain meds. When taking narcotic medication, start a course of laxatives.  Constipation is not a good symptom when recovering from thoracic surgery.
  • You will be encouraged to be up and about much more quickly than you'll want to. Cooperate with the nursing staff and maintain walking and other exercise when discharged. Movement and activity are both necessary for a quick recovery.
  • Depending on the biopsy of the removed lobe or the surgeon's examination of your chest cavity during the operation, you may need a course of post surgical chemotherapy. Now is a good time to find a medical oncologist if you don't have one on the team. Ask your surgeon or general practitioner for a medical oncologist (formally called a Hematologist and Oncologist). I'd try and find one in a clinic close to your home because chemotherapy does not need to be administered at a hospital and you'll find this treatment is easier at a smaller clinic where everyone knows you. Also, you may find a program of scans (CT, PET) are necessary followups to your surgery. These are best taken at your local oncology practice rather than a hospital setting, at least, that was my experience.

Here and here are a couple of summations of my lessons learned from lung cancer treatment.

Stay the course.


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Hi there,

My surgery was more recent than Tom's, so I'll just add my experience -

I also had a pneumonectomy of right lung - May 2018.  I have 7-8 inch horizontal incision on my right side.  They broke my 6th rib - was told it's a possibility and common.  I didn't have a chest tube (my surgeon told me they don't put a tube for pneumonectomy, only for lobectomy or wedge resection) and I didn't have any sutures externally - they glued my skin back together, so I didn't have any suture removal, naturally.  I was told I'd be released 4-5 days after the surgery if everything goes well - luckily it did and I went home after 3 days.  With a lobectomy, I heard (from my surgeon as well as others who's had one) you don't feel the difference with your breathing capability, but with one entire lung (3 lobes) gone, I surely felt it.  The recovery wasn't super bad, I thought.  I went back to work (as in working from home) a week after my surgery - I suggest you don't return that fast (I'm a bit nuts).  Went back to yoga as soon as I was allowed (8 weeks after the surgery) and went back to running 4-5 months after the surgery.  I should add I was in the tip top physical shape/fitness before the surgery - was told thus my fast recovery.  

Read through what Tom wrote and let us know if you have any specific questions... Either way, I wish you a successful surgery and smooth recovery.


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thank you so much for the information. My surgery will be open to remove right upper lung.   I have COPD and my Pulmonary function test was 1.2 doctor said he only operates if 1 or better but i am concerned about that. As for the rib, he said he would be taking out a portion to facilitate a wider open area. Again thanks to all who have responded to my concerns and God Bless.

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I can't speak to your COPD, but I was diagnosed with mild COPD prior to my need for lung surgery.  My lung function is quite good and as long as I don't' do anything stupid it should not progress.  In my case they removed my lower-right lobe and after a number of weeks I had worked myself back to where I could do my 5 miles/day on the treadmill (I walk and jog due to a torn meniscus) along with about 20-30 minutes of weights.  I'm no more breathless than would normally be expected or than I was pre-surgery.  So I'm not seeing a real hard impact from losing the lobe and my hope is that you'll also find the same.  But, you will need to get a good level of exercise and your doctor ought to be able to help you understand what goals you should set.  In my case, a year after surgery, I had more testing and a pulmonary test and my lung function had actually improved.  I believe it was because I use more of my lung capacity based on the workouts I do.  So, there is much you can do to minimize the effects post-surgery.  Fingers crossed that all will go well for you.

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Hi Millie and welcome. I has a lower right lobectomy by VATs, so my recovery was probably faster and easier than yours will be with open surgery  I agree with Tom's recommendation to be prepared to sleep with your upper body (not just your head!) elevated.  I got a 12 inch high foam wedge pillow and it was perfect for me. 

When will your surgery be?

Bridget O

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Hi Bridget!  My surgery is on July6th.  I bought a wedge pillow, hope that works for me also.   trying to coordinate with family members to stay with me when I get home since the dr. said I would need someone with me 24hr. day...thanks for responding.  

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