About two weeks ago, I was diagnosed with COPD, the acronym for a very pernicious group of lung illnesses called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. My diagnosis followed right on the heels of a two-week bout with walking pneumonia. The so-called walking pneumonia felt more like a case of “walking death.” The cough was persistent and unproductive in terms of bringing up phlegm.
Worse, however, were the breathing problems. Inhaling air was difficult and the feeling of smothering and losing consciousness, or fainting, seemed like a frightening possibility. My physician prescribed a five-day course of antibiotics (azithromycin, or Z-pack) as well as cough syrup with codeine to help me sleep.
The symptoms of walking pneumonia slowly improved but the difficulties with breathing stayed lingered. Symptoms like wheezing upon exhalation were persistent. At this point, my physician referred me to a clinic for a series of breathing tests called Pulmonary Function Tests, or PFT. While my PFTs were only slightly below normal, based on a type of metric called a “breathing curve”, I was still beleaguered by difficulties with breathing, especially upon exhalation. Instead of passively blowing out carbon dioxide, it felt more like I was “pushing out” the waste gas–always accompanied by wheezing and a slight, hoarse cough.
About a month ago, I was “officially” diagnosed with COPD. The group of illnesses usually strikes smokers in the compounded form of bronchitis and emphysema. Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes whereas emphysema is a condition where the alveoli (tiny sacs at the end of the bronchial tubes where gas exchange occurs) are gradually destroyed.
The cruel irony was that I am not a smoker, nor have I ever been a smoker. The sad truth lay in the fact that I grew up in a household with two parents who were both chronic smokers. Yes, I was raised as a secondhand smoker. My mother is still what I would call a “chain smoker”. She still lets one burn away in the ashtray, and forgetting about the already-lit cigarette, lights up yet another one to smoke.
At any rate, my doctor prescribed a bronchodilator, or inhaler, to help me breathe. My bronchodilator works simply by rotating a barrel-like device to “reload” the gas chamber with another “puff” of steroidal, or, in my case, a non-steroidal drug called albuterol. The relief is nearly instant as the gaseous medication quickly diffuses throughout the lungs, wending its way through bronchi, bronchioles, and alveoli.
Four puffs a day were recommended initially. My doc and I conferred and determined that there was another medication available that would be more effective for me, providing quicker relief and requiring less usage. He was right.
My new “puffer” has the same easy-to-use design but contains an additional drug called ipratropium bromide. Also a non-steroid, it packs an extra punch and I now use it only on an “as-needed” basis. Since my cough and wheezing abated, I have not needed to use it for the past several days.
If there is any lesson I have learned from my experience with COPD, it is a simple one. DON’T SMOKE! Especially if you have children in the house. Not only is smoking itself a deadly habit, but, for children, it is poor role modeling, and secondhand smoke could literally scar them for life.