COPD and Denial: A Common Thread - Part 2

  • In Part 1 we met Travis, a Western Michigan businessman with a drive to work hard and keep on going, no matter what. He courageously  took us along on his timeline of denial from ages 31 to 64. Here, in his own words, is the conclusion – but definitely not the end – of his story.

    2007...age 63...I checked in with Dr. Kraker who sent me over to the hospital for testing. Sure enough, I was operating with less than 40 percent of my expected lung capacity. He had suggestions about how I could manage my disease. But, of course, things got in the way and I put it off.

    2008...age 64...I was standing in the grocery store gasping for breath...I had an infection, my lungs were full of liquid and I flat out couldn't breathe.”

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    …And so I entered Pulmonary Rehabilitation.

    I guess my first thought when I was clearly told, and shown, that there was hard data that I had COPD was, "Well, let's get to work fixing this mess." I am a pretty hard-nosed realist and have spent my life in design and problem solving so this was nothing new. I also reflected on the fact that I had a good idea of what it is that will kill me.

    My first thought at starting Pulmonary Rehab was, "Wow, I'm in far better shape than everyone else here...I'm lucky to have this chance and I better take it seriously and bust my butt to get in shape."

    My daily life is just as it has been these last ten years...except I am in rehab for two hours a week, I lift weights for two hours a week, I have learned how to do purse-lipped breathing and I plan ahead and start breathing early when I know I'm headed for some stairs. You have to commit the time and given the alternative, that should be easy. I have a dear friend who won't commit the time so I am enjoying my moments with him.

    The only things different about my life now that I am in Pulmonary Rehab versus before are:

    •     I'm on proper medication, which means I breathe better...much better.

    •     I have regular weekly contact with trained medical staff who will know when something is wrong. My mind is at peace.

    •     I am able to pursue athletic activity I’d given up in the last three years.

    •    The next challenge is to lose thirty pounds

    Advice for those diagnosed

        •Be positive
    •Get into a Pulmonary Rehab program asap and work hard at it.  Start a weight-training program as well. Get your lungs and your muscles in the best shape you can. You will breathe better, you will have more physical ability and you will feel better about yourself. It's amazing how the stairs are no long neither so high, nor the case of wine so heavy.

    •The people in the program are also a reward...the staff are pros and know what they are doing and what is in your head. Your fellow patients have a high degree of "positive think" and are upbeat winners who care about their fellow passengers in the "life boat" (I don't think downbeat COPD sufferers ever enroll).

    Advice for everyone

        •Don't smoke.

    •Check your older family members for breathing may have inherited the problem.

  • •Be sensitive to your own physical hiccups...the little things that show up at odd times that you just brush off...they may be warnings that you should look into.

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    I guess I was in denial for a long time. Certainly long enough! But now, after facing COPD head on, learning about it, and doing all I can to manage it, I have to tell you – my Quality of Life is better, and I have no doubt that my Quantity of Life will be better, too.

    Jane M. Martin is a licensed respiratory therapist, teacher and the founder and director of and author of Breathe Better, Live in Wellness.

Published On: February 16, 2010