When I was growing up, just about everyone smoked. I never smoked myself. I had very bad asthma as a kid and was prone to lung related infections. Our family doctor advised my mother and father (both of whom smoked) not to smoke around me, that it would make my breathing difficulties even worse. They tried, but didn’t always succeed. By the time I got out of college, the asthma was some better, but I still had attacks. I went to work in an office. My boss smoked, as did one or two others in the office. I was prone to coughing fits that I dismissed as allergies. I did all my normal activities, but when I walked up stairs, I was huffing and puffing and my chest sometimes felt tight and heavy. Considering my asthma history, I decided to go to the doctor.
We talked about the symptoms, my exposure to secondary smoke and my asthma. He did an x-ray, some blood work and a spirometry reading, which measures the amount of air you can exhale from your lungs. I was diagnosed with Stage I COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). It is the mildest form of the disease. I was given an inhaler for use when breathing became difficult. I decided to quit my job, as the doctor said I was in danger of making the COPD worse around secondary smoke.. My boss was just great and supported my claim for unemployment, based on the environment at work and my COPD.
I was also given advice on diet and exercise, which, considering I was home and looking for another job, I had time to organize. I began walking, first just a few minutes. I built up the time until I was able to walk at a moderate pace for 30 minutes. My aerobic capacity gradually increased. I also got a little extreme and decided to become vegetarian. This did not last an awfully long time, but when I went back on to meat, I emphasized low fat meats such as chicken and turkey.
I joined a COPD support group, eventually mentoring newly diagnosed patients. I formed a couple of walking clubs and the (mostly) women patients enjoyed walking together.
I am glad I went to the doctor when I did. It saved me from getting worse and it gave the motivation to live a healthier lifestyle. And I found a job – in a nonsmoking office.