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Pulmonary Function Test #SOL24

March 28, 2024

I had a pulmonary function test today. A pulmonary function test is exactly what it sounds like: a test to see how well the lungs are working. My sleep pulmonologist ordered the test for me and when I was looking through my referrals on my patient portal (as one does), I realized that the order is set to expire soon so decided I should probably get it done.

I’d had one done before, way back in 2021 when my allergies were so bad my daughter ordered me to go to the doctor because she could hear me wheezing. (Her actual loving words were “Why can I hear you breathing???” when I was just sitting there minding my business.) I knew something was off because walking to the store–something I did with ease–would often leave me short of breath. At any rate, went to the allergist, got the test done, confirmed I had allergies, etc.

I use a CPAP machine because I have very mild sleep apnea (though not so mild I don’t need a CPAP–my score barely made the cut to get the diagnosis is what I’m saying) and since that’s all about breathing, I guess that’s why my doc wanted to do a recheck of my lungs.

Anyway, getting to my appointment was a bit of an adventure because I was going the fastest way (according to Maps) but then it did the weird fake out thing when a highway splits that tells you to keep straight on one but then it changes into another except it splits off into two. (If it sounds confusing, imagine driving it.) So even though I had checked the route before I left, I went with the split when I should have stayed straight which meant I hit traffic instead of avoiding it and wound up going the longer way. Highways in L.A. do not always have easy off and back on as evidenced by the fact that I got all turned around to go to a different highway. Which! I should have followed my instincts on that too because I followed the split the second time instead of staying where I was. In conclusion, when I know where I’m going, I know where I’m going so shouldn’t let the GPS steer me wrong.

They did my height and weight before the test and apparently I’ve grown 1/4 an inch. I don’t trust it because I’ve been a clean 5’6″ my whole adult life, so I think it’s just because he made me stand weird. After we finished that, the respiratory therapist asked me if it was okay for a student to sit in on the test since it’s a teaching hospital. I said yes, of course, because duh. (Also, I have to say that happens to me a lot. I will go to the grocery store and always get the person who is new/training. I guess because the universe knows I’m a teacher and actually have the patience to deal with someone who is in process of learning.)

pulmonary function test boothThen it was time for the test. Before we went to the back, the therapist had asked me if I’d done the test before, and I told him I thought so but once we got to the back and I saw that machine I knew for sure. I do think it was a different office, though, because all I remembered was brown, and this office was definitely not that. It felt very much like a medical testing facility and less like a room with warm lighting.

The therapist explained how the test would go and that it would take an hour. Then, he had me sit in the booth and do the tests, all of which consisted of me sucking in huge lungfuls of air and then blowing or not blowing them out as directed. Each test requires a rest time between takes (one required at least one minute of rest; the other was four minutes). One required a blood draw, which I didn’t know about. In between tests, he quizzed the student on why they were doing the tests they were, what the readings meant, etc. During the blood draw prep, he asked her something about hemoglobin levels (I was paying attention but only about as much as one does when they have no idea what certain terms mean) and what happens to the reading if they’re high or low. She said, “The results go higher (or lower, who knows?), I assume,” and the therapist called her out on that, telling her not to say she assumed because he knew she knew the answer. And, he told her, even if you’re not sure, answer like you are because whoever is training or quizzing you will correct you, but you can’t be timid. Say it with your whole chest, basically. He also showed her how to double check the computer results because she should never rely on them because when (not if) she has to take the stand, she has to be able to show that she did her due diligence to get as accurate results as possible. The last thing he told her was that patients respond to body language and tone of voice, so she had to act like a coach (“Okay, start blowing air out” is not good, but “Now, blow!” is) and to keep it as simple as possible (“Exhale, exhale, exhale” = bad; “blow, blow, blow” = good).

picture of yours truly with a blue nose clampThe test is a little difficult because it requires taking in air and then blowing it back out in ways that are unnatural, which is exhausting. But the worst part is honestly the stupid nose thing you have to wear to keep your nostrils closed and force you to breathe out of your mouth. When the therapist said to take a break, he meant as much from breathing in the tube as not wearing that thing on your face.

At any rate, that test is done, so now I wait to hear from the doctor for next steps.

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  1. Britt

    What an excellent post! I’m so sorry you had to go through this, and here’s to positive results back. Love that you always get to be in the middle of a teaching moment. I’m extremely inquisitive at the doctor (and everywhere else), so I think I would’ve been asking a bunch of questions alongside the trainer haha. The pictures add depth to your descriptive experience, too.

    • Akilah

      Yes, I always pay a lot of attention in those moments because I’m such a nerd. So I was very into learning everything he was teaching her (that I could understand).


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