I have suffered with asthma since I was a child. I was painfully aware that my lungs did not work effectively. My bronchioles would constrict and make me struggle to breathe. So I took a couple puffs of an inhaler and, like magic, my lungs opened up. But COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, is a different animal. When I developed COPD, I moved up to the major leagues in lung disease.
In college I contracted Aspergillosis, a fungus, from cleaning out a dirty air conditioner. A few days later the fungus had entered my lungs. Aspergillosis soon led to COPD. A CAT Scan indicated that my lower left lung was permanently damaged. I was sent to the hospital by my doctor and there I had a bronchoscopy; this involves a tubular instrument that is inserted through your nose and into your lungs that takes pictures and sucks obstructive phlegm out. Although you are given a local anesthetic, it is an uncomfortable experience.
It’s a difficult pill to swallow when you are a young adult and have a serious lung disease. I felt depressed laying in the hospital bed not knowing what the course of this disease would take. My thoughts went to the worst case scenario–being hooked up to an oxygen tank and being inactive or sedentary for the rest of my life.
One of the best things that happened in the hospital was when my doctor sent over one of his patients, John, who was in his 60’s and had COPD. He told me that COPD is not a death sentence. I could still live a very long life and still be very active. He told me that he plays golf and works out every day. I was impressed. He looked to be a hearty and healthy older man.
“The trick,” John said, “is to stay on top of the COPD. You must have regular visits with your pulmonologist and take your medication as prescribed which might include prednisone and antibiotics in addition to your regular medication regimen. Because If you don’t stay on top of COPD, you will end up with more lung damage and another trip to the hospital.” He scared me, but I needed it.
I was glad I was hospitalized because it educated me on the severity of the disease. I had made a commitment to my health while there. I saw my doctor regularly to monitor the COPD. The fact is when you have COPD you always have infected lungs. And when you get a cold, flu or bronchitis that infection can escalate into pneumonia and create further damage to the lungs. I had to be extra cautious.
It is now 37 years since I had been diagnosed with COPD. I just celebrated my 59th birthday. I have never been more active. I do yoga daily that involves handstands and backbends that even people half my age can’t do. My COPD has not gotten progressively worse. That’s because I value my doctor’s advice and make my pulmonary health a priority in my life.