It’s been three years since I’ve had a complete series of pulmonary function tests. Last year, my new rheumatologist here at home ordered a PFT, but when I had the test done, I quickly realized that this was not the full series I was used to.
So on Monday, in order to have comparable data, I redid the test with the full set: spirometry, which measures how much air you can breath in and quickly exhale; diffusion, which determines how well the oxygen in the air you inhale moves from your lungs into your blood; and body plethysmography, which tests how much air is in your lungs after you inhale deeply, and how much is left after you exhale as much as you can.
These tests are never easy. They have gotten more challenging over four decades, which is to be expected. But my results are not normal. Though I don’t, fortunately, have interstitial lung disease that can result from scleroderma, I do have enough scarring to reduce my lung capacity. Which is why it’s so important to keep track of any changes.
Covid has complicated PFTs. First of all, you need a negative PCR test to even do the exam (can’t risk exhaling Covid droplets and spreading the virus). In addition, appointments are harder to get because of protocols that require test rooms to be vacated for 30 minutes between patients.
When I arrived at the hospital, I was first taken to a room without the plexiglass box (kind of like a phone booth that you sit in) that is required for the plethysmography. I told the respiratory therapist about the lack of a complete series last time, that I needed to be in the box. Fortunately, they were able to switch rooms to the right one after waiting a few more minutes for it to be deemed safe. (This was also helped by the fact that the scheduled patient didn’t show up.)
A second respiratory therapist handled my full set of PFTs. Before we began, she had to don a full blue plastic gown, gloves, two masks, and goggles. Definitely a riskier occupation these days. Then we started. I had to repeat the spirometry quite a few times, because I couldn’t do it without coughing. After several aborted attempts, she had me inhale a dose of Albuterol, which ultimately helped me to complete the test, but gave me the jitters.
The other two tests also required several tries until I could produce consistent results. All told, it took about 45 minutes. And, not surprisingly, my lung capacity over the past three years has declined a few points, down to 82 percent. Some of this is due to aging, but I can also tell, from how much trouble I have completing the tests, that it’s just getting harder with time.
At least it’s done. And I worked most of the Albuterol jitters out of my system by afternoon, though the breathing benefits persisted. Which was a nice side benefit. So it’s done for at least another year, maybe two. My lungs are far from perfect, but also far from limiting me, as long as I stay active and exercise. Still a lot to be grateful for.
Image: Kind and Curious