The Choices You MUST Make
An Introduction to My COPD Story – by Jim Nelson
I have been given the honor of the invitation to contribute to this blog. I am excited about that opportunity to share some of the knowledge that Mary and I have acquired over the past 23 years. I am also excited about the direction that we will be taking toward the awareness and knowledge about COPD that is so sorely needed.
First, you deserve to know a bit of our history. Whatever stage of COPD you happen to be experiencing, I have likely been there. I experienced the slow, almost imperceptible advancement of the disease, the shock of the diagnosis, the hesitation to be seen wearing my oxygen cannula, and the feeling of approaching disability and death.
I was diagnosed with COPD, (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), in 1995. I had always had weak lungs. It was just part of my life, something that I had accepted. Premature birth, a childhood enveloped in second-hand smoke, and 20 years of personal smoking had pretty well doomed me to breathing problems.
Nonetheless, the diagnosis was a shock. My tests showed that I had 30% of the lung capacity that I should have had, given my age, weight, etc. I also happened to have a severe case of double pneumonia, so I suddenly found myself with an oxygen cannula in my nose for the first time.
That was where the choices came in. When a person is diagnosed with a chronic disease, a disease that is not going to go away, they can choose to sit down, grab the TV remote, and wait to die. That is a choice. Mary and I chose to learn as much as we could about the disease, alter our lifestyles to accommodate it, and order a treadmill. I have, in the intervening years, worn out three treadmills.
The exercise, the stubbornness, the attitudes that we chose to adopt have all served us well over the years. I was able to maintain the 30% lung function level for almost 15 years. While I was logging all of those miles on the treadmill, Mary was quietly, gradually taking over the responsibilities, the duties that I had traditionally performed. Caregiving is truly a life put on hold. It is one of the most loving acts that anyone can offer to another. Even so, it is dramatically underappreciated.
We learned the meaning of the word “exacerbation”. Weak lungs invite the invasion of infections and pneumonia. Most people can eventually bounce back from the limitations of lung disease. Not so for those of us who are all too familiar with shortness of breath. Whatever the disease, it knocks us down further, holds us there, and makes it near impossible to recover our former level of lung function. It can be done. I have done it. However, it takes the will and the attitude mentioned above to gradually work our way back. It is not easy, and most COPD patients will find themselves at a new, lower level of function.
Compliance with medications, diet, and exercise will help tremendously in gaining and maintaining the strength necessary to avoid exacerbations and to recover from them. Simply put, the avoidance of exacerbations will help to maintain your quality of life, your ability to do the things that you enjoy, and your longevity.
At the age of 71, I had the incredible fortune to receive a double lung transplant. That was over 6 years ago, and that gift has allowed Mary and me to travel to COPD conferences, to give inspirational speeches, to teach, to touch the lives of others who are affected with lung disease.
Until We Meet Again – Uncle Jim