COPD and Denial : Peg's Story - Part 1

Health Professional

by Jane M. Martin as told by Peg

It's been said that denial is nature's way of giving you a good night's sleep. Hmmm"maybe that works for a while, but not forever.Meet Peg. She's here to tell you the story of her journey with COPD. You might be shocked, surprised, joyful, disgusted - perhaps all of those. One thing for sure, you'll learn something about human nature, with all its flaws. But most of all, you'll realize you're not alone.

Just like you, a person with COPD, I was many things before diagnosis: Daughter, sister, wife, mother, stepmother, aunt, co-worker, cousin, supportive friend, creative businesswoman, just going along doing the best I could. I was full of energy and I felt great.

About three or four times a year I would get a cold with a sore throat that just would not clear up. Sure, my doc would tell me to quit smoking, but isn't that the first thing out of every medical professional's mouth? Of course it is. So you just think that's what's riding the medical wave. I certainly didn't take it seriously

But this time I had picked up a bug on a flight where more than half the passengers were returning from a cruise where everyone got sick. This time I wasn't just a little bit sick, I was really sick. My doc, The OB/GYN, wasn't in that day so I saw the nurse practitioner instead. I told her where I'd been. She'd heard about the cruise ship and she sent me to a pulmonary specialist.

"You've got COPD," he said.

"Whatever," I thought, trying to act nonchalant, but really thinking, "#*&@!"   I remember now how healthy I felt (by that time I was doing much better) when the doc first diagnosed me, and it was just so difficult to accept because I did feel so healthy. Why did I have to quit smoking? So I had some shortness of breath, and a few bronchial infections a year - drugs cleared those up. Big deal! For the most part, I had too much energy and too much life going on to take this seriously. I didn't even believe it was that important, because at the time I did very strenuous work and played hard.

The other side of me (my inner self, deep inside of me) really feared I would die soon. To me, this was a death sentence. I would have nightmares and come wide awake in a cold sweat panic!   My insides would quiver and I would be so afraid. It was that kind of sick-in-your-gut feeling you get with the worst kind of fear. Cold, terrifying fear. Other nights I would sleep through. I began to fear going to bed not knowing which way the night would go. Gradually, the fear backed down. So I just kept smoking - and kept on going.

The following year as the result of a routine colonoscopy my spleen was severed and had to be removed. I lost over half my blood volume and nearly died. I never rebounded. It was as if the life had been sucked out of me. I had no energy. I became completely sedentary and began reading a novel a day, smoking heavily - one right after the other - and went downhill fast! I went on Social Security Disability. I vacillated between severe depression (not really caring if I lived or died), and wanting to live, never thinking I'd actually have to quit smoking, of course. Yet, I told myself that I would get better. That's where the denial came in. You know, that idiotic idea of doing what you have always done and expecting a different result?

Again, I know all the doctors tell you to quit smoking. They have to. But, I loved to smoke.   I tried to quit, seriously, probably more than ten times. I'd been to two hypnotists (worked for a day or two)"Smoke Stoppers three times (worked for a week or two)" Zyban gave me an allergic reaction - no help there"Chantix gave me horrible hallucinations " can't chew gum ... and the patches helped with some of the withdrawal symptoms (horrible dreams if I slept with a patch on). But nothing changed the fact that I WANTED TO SMOKE! Just how dumb is that?"

Will Peg quit cigarettes and recover her health, or will she continue to self-destruct? Watch for Part II, the conclusion of her story.

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