Living With COPD: When There Isn’t Any “More” to Do

  • “Jane, isn’t there something more I can do? There must be something! I mean, is this as good as I’m ever going to get?”

    Betty, a 73-year old lady with smiling eyes and a hearty laugh, had COPD. Very severe COPD. “I mean, I’m on all the right medications, and I take them on time, every day. I use my oxygen like I should. I come here to rehab, and I eat right, too. “I’d just think with everything they can do nowadays, there’s got to be something more they can do for me.”

    At that moment I wasn’t as much a healthcare professional as just a human being, standing there next to Betty on her exercise bike in pulmonary rehab and believing that it – the “more”– just had to be there. Somewhere.  I kept on thinking…rather, a voice inside me kept on saying… there just had to be.

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    Physically, indeed, there wasn’t anything else that could be done. Because of her age, and other reasons, Betty was not eligible for any surgical interventions for COPD. But she desperately needed something to hold onto, something to give her hope for a brighter day. At that moment what she needed was bigger than her disease, bigger than that monster she was up against every day.

    It haunted me.  I had always been taught that when a question was asked of me, when someone came to me with a problem, I should answer. At least I should try. Not just shrug my shoulders and walk away. Have some solution… an idea…suggestion…even an inkling… of how to make things better.

    But in this case, I had nothing at all.


    What else is there?

    Then I thought back to when I was writing my first book, I asked people with severe chronic lung disease, people all over the country, from all walks of life, “If you could say one thing to somebody with chronic lung disease who was about to give up, what would you say?”

    Answers varied. A few people said, “Go to the meetings. You’ll find people there who understand.” One replied, “Find a good doctor…take the advice and use it.” Somebody even said, “Keep breathing.”

    Then, my Aunt Jenny, who had never smoked a cigarette in her life, but had very severe emphysema, answered the question by saying simply, “Do something to help someone.”

    “Huh? … Hmmmm…”

    I wondered, “Does there always have to be a medical solution to help patients? Is there a solution at all? Or is there just a pathway? A direction in which to go?  Suddenly, I had more questions than the one I started with.

    Again, I went to the source of the only wisdom I knew of - the patients themselves. I watched. I listened. And it came. It was they who taught me about “the more.” I watched. I listened. I learned.


    "The more" was to help others. To be useful. To know there is still something for you to do on this earth. To give back to the world that has been given to you. That’s when I realized that it’s not merely “more.”  It’s much bigger than that. This deserves a higher standing. “The more.” And it’s not just important. It’s vital. And that is what this is all about. About making life not necessarily easier, yet making it better and richer and fuller when “nothing else” can be done.

  • When I interviewed John Walsh (a man with COPD caused by Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency and the founder of the Alpha-1 and COPD Foundations), he told me about people involved with the Alpha-1 organization early on, people with very, very severe COPD. He said, “I think there’s no question they lived longer than they would have, because they were as involved as they were. They had a real sense of accomplishment and pride at the progress we made.”

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    I said, “I’m sure that working with the organization gave them more useful information. But do you think that just by helping – by being of service to others – that alone prolonged their lives?” No sooner had I asked it, I wished I hadn’t. “What a dumb question, Jane. Of course working like that can’t make somebody live longer.”

    But without hesitation John answered, “No question in my mind – and they said the same thing. They had a better quality of life and they increased their longevity. They were engaged. They were helping their community.”

    How to get "more"
    Are you looking for “the more?” There are many things to do, things you can do: Encourage somebody in an online community, make a cheerful phone call to someone who is feeling down, send a thank you note, or say it in person, give somebody a ride to the grocery or drug store, volunteer with a lung organization. Pray. Smile...the list is endless.

    “Isn’t there anything else that can be done?” Yes, Betty, there is. But you won’t find it in an inhaler. Or a pill bottle. Or an operating room. It’s nothing I can give to you, nothing the doctors can do for you – or to you. This is something you already have. You just have to reach down and find it within.

    Jane M. Martin is a licensed respiratory therapist, teacher and the founder and director of and the author of Live Your Life With COPD: 52 Weeks of Health, Happiness and Hope and Breathe Better, Live in Wellness: Winning Your Battle Over Shortness of Breath.

Published On: April 27, 2011