Contributed by Jim Nelson, consultant to CAIRE Inc. ~
What do you wish you knew when you were first diagnosed with COPD?
What would you tell yourself?
The diagnosis is not a death sentence! Far from it! Yes, people do die from lung disease, and it can be an unpleasant passing, but many, many folks with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) die from something else. They die with COPD, rather than from it.
Again, the choices. Mary and I are both pretty stubborn individuals, and we both decided that we were not done with me yet, so I chose to see just how long a person could live with severe COPD.
The patient is not alone! There are an estimated 15 million people who have been diagnosed, and likely another 12 million who are walking around with the disease and who are not as yet diagnosed. They blame their coughing and their increased shortness of breath on growing older, on a present or past smoking habit, on being overweight or out of shape. Many thousands of the people who have been relegated to the ranks of the COPD community have joined support groups. There are local support groups, organized many times by such organizations as the American Lung Association. There are a double handful of Facebook-based groups, both public and private, where patients, caregivers, and medical professionals trade tips, ideas, and encouragement. It is fun to post a question on some aspect of living with lung disorders and then stand back and watch the amazing number of replies from people who really care. You may never meet many of these people face-to-face, but a lot of them become fast friends!
What do you wish other people (i.e. family, friends) knew about living with COPD?
I cannot breathe! Please understand that my struggle to get air into and out of my lungs is a constant thing. I may have good days, days when the sun is out and the humidity is low, when I can almost keep up with you. However, there will come a time when I just have to stop and rest, catch my breath, regroup.
If I turn down the opportunity to go on a walk, to go shopping or out to eat, it has nothing to do with you. I am not upset with you, I still like you, and I hope that you will not ignore me the next time that you plan something. Maybe, just maybe, it will be a good day and the treks between stores or attractions will be short and I can actually feel normal again. Please don’t forget me.
No, I will not get better if I just rest for a while. Chronic means forever, and progressive means that today may be as good as it ever gets, and that I am facing a long downhill slide. Resting is important, but it is not going to make me all better. Sometimes, in the dark hours, I lie and think about the years to come, the disabilities, the increased dependence on the assistance of others, on your assistance. I hope that you will be there for me. I hope that, by that time, you understand.
I know that it embarrasses you to see me out in the world wearing my supplemental oxygen cannula. I’m sorry. It is far from my favorite thing, but I know that without it my blood oxygen saturation will drop to dangerous levels. I am quite fond of the right side of my heart, the side that pumps blood into the lungs. I also like my memories, my ability to think, to reason. Without adequate oxygen, heart disease and the loss of brain cells is a real possibility. I could just stay home, out of sight, but where’s the fun in that? Sure, some people stare once in a while, but they are so rare that the possibility is not going to keep me invisible! Without the cannula, I have to stop and pant to catch my breath. That brings more stares than the hose!
COPD is not an obvious disease, so people really wonder. Yesterday, a family saw me with my tank and my cannula, and they all gave me a “Thumbs Up.” It felt really good, like they were encouraging me!
Yes, it is highly likely that my lung disease was the result of my smoking habit. But I quit! I quit 5 years ago or 10 years ago or 20 years ago, and I hate the fact that I ruined my lungs! I feel worse than you could ever imagine, so your constant ragging on me about it does nothing to help. It may satisfy you, but we are talking about me here!
I am spending all that time on the treadmill and the exercise bike because strong muscles will help to overcome the limitations of my tattered lungs. It is one of the few things I can do, along with medication compliance and a good diet, to fight the breathlessness. It is what I have to do, as long as I can.
~ Uncle Jim
Jim Nelson is a double lung transplant recipient and a patient advocate for COPD patients throughout the U.S. and around the world. He and his wife, Mary, are well known patient advocates and brand ambassadors for those organizations who tirelessly endeavor to help those individuals who suffer from a variety of respiratory diseases and the caregivers who support them.
If you have been prescribed oxygen therapy, learn more about CAIRE wearable, portable and stationary oxygen concentrators by visiting www.cairemedical.com or calling 1-877-704-0878 to talk to an oxygen advisor.
When using any oxygen therapy device please consult the applicable product instructions for use for product indications, contraindications, warnings, precautions, and detailed safety information.