It was a typical Saturday for a personal trainer or so I thought. I had just finished my bootcamp
at Hermann Park and then proceeded to the boxing gym to lead a 1 hour class there. After
class, my brother and I decided to get our personal workout in with a few rounds of sparring.
Shortly afterwards, I decided to go to the bathroom and wash up but I noticed something
extremely strange. While looking in the mirror I noticed that my breaths were short, quick, and
a bit painful; I found myself struggling to complete full inhalations. Initially, I didn’t think
anything of it other than I was extremely tired from boxing, so I decided to go outside for a
walk and catch my breath. While outside, my walk turned into me getting down on one knee
and then that evolved into me laying flat on my back.
At this moment I began to get concerned. My anxiety began to pour in like rushing rapids and
it felt like someone had parked their car on my chest leaving it idle. In this moment, nothing
else mattered and I mean nothing. Laying there on my back I knew it was the end. The concept
of time was literally on pause and ironically I felt the lightest I’ve ever been when approached
with death. For the first time in life, I had no outside distractions to focus on. I looked up and
asked God, “If this is my exit, please protect my soul”.
My brother and boxing coach finally noticed the discomfort I was experiencing and decided to
rush me to the nearest hospital which happened to be Ben Taub Hospital. While there, they
performed an EKG test along with taking some blood samples. They told me to return later that
night for the results. Though still in pain, my anxiety subsided throughout the day and I
returned to Ben Taub to receive the results. I was told that it was chronic chest pain and that I
should just rest and see how I feel over the weekend.
It’s now Sunday, Father’s day actually, and I drove an hour outside of Houston to celebrate the
occasion at my grandparent’s house. Still not being able to inhale and exhale fully, I barely even
talked or smiled that day; I found it easier and more comfortable to remain in my seat the entire
time. Again, another day down with “Chronic chest pain”.
It’s now Monday, I feel like “blah” but I have to work. The entire day I’m talking to customers
with very shallow breathing. I’m thinking to myself that this chronic pain doesn’t seem to be
letting up anytime soon. Later that evening, I went to the gym to teach my bootcamp class.
While demonstrating the warmup, I was extremely out of breath. I swear to you, I guided the
class with 30 secs of high knees, within 10 secs I was winded. This is when I knew that
whatever I was experiencing was more than chronic chest pain. After class I decided to go back to the hospital, but this time I went to St. Lukes in Sugar Land. They performed a chest x-
ray and that is when the problem was recognized. The chart showed my right lung completely normal and inflated but on the left side, this lung showed it had completely collapsed. My lung
looked like a balled fist surrounded by internal gas.
The doctor said, “Hey James, you’ll need to call your family because we have to perform a
minor surgery on you. We’ll be inserting a chest tube inside you to help remove the gas so your
lung can begin to inflate and we’ll monitor it over the next few days”. I was mind blown! My
reasoning for coming to the hospital was to perhaps receive a prescription, definitely didn’t
plan to be checked into the facility as an in-patient. The doctor numbed the area and with his
scapula began to cut a small incision on the left side of my chest. “You may feel some
pressure” the doctor said. Before I knew it, they inserted a plastic tube inside my body and you
can hear the gas seeping from my chest traveling through the tube. If you’ve ever been sky
diving (which I did after this experience), the traveling gas sounded like the gust of wind that
you hear once the instructor opens the bay door right before its your time to jump into the
clouds. In a weird way it was extremely satisfying because I finally felt relieved and was able to
somewhat breathe better since the initial incident from Saturday.
Over the course of 5 days being helpless in the hospital, the nurses and doctors monitored my
progress. Despite the pain I was feeling, for the first time in a long time I was required to do
nothing but rest. This consisted of me watching movies and eating hospital food t room with a
click of a button. If this is what room service feels like, I have to experience this again but at a
hotel. What was perceived to have just been chronic chest pain, was in fact the result of a term
called “Spontaneous Pneumothorax”. It normally happens in contact sports or car accidents.
The recovery process was 4 weeks and they told me that I couldn’t lift weights or do any
strenuous activity so no long-distance cardio.
As a personal trainer, I felt helpless. Only being cleared to walk and do yoga over these 4
weeks is when I found the power of my breath. I subscribed to an online yoga studio where
pranayama breathing was a huge focus. What developed from these classes was a new found
clarity and purpose. After visiting my doctor after the 4 weeks were up, I was finally cleared to
workout again. I decided to go for a 3 mile run and it felt like ice water flowing from lungs; had I
not been in public, I probably would have shedded tears from the divine experience that
consumed me. This is when I realized never again, even though an involuntary action, will I
neglect my breath. Never again will I take life for granted. We are now in 2023, I am a certified
breath coach where I help others learn how to breathe with ease. This experience has taught
me to be mindful of my breathing moving forward because as I shared earlier, when you can’t
breathe, nothing else matters. I mean nothing.
James Elvis Lynn III