Living with COPD
By Jean Rommes, COPD Patient Advocate
I didn’t want to know.
For years, I knew something was medically wrong with me. I couldn’t keep up with colleagues when we walked places. I had trouble climbing a flight of stairs. I couldn’t catch my breath.
I told myself I was just getting older. I was overweight and out of shape. I tried to make myself believe that’s all it was, but I knew I was lying to myself. I had read about COPD and my symptoms matched the description to a T.
The thing about COPD is that you don’t suddenly “come down” with it. COPD is a progressive disease. The symptoms slowly develop and grow. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, blue lips or fingernails, fatigue and frequent respiratory infections (according to the American Lung Association.) They can sneak up you over time.
When I finally went to the doctor, I had a third of the lung function someone my age should have. My doctor asked me why I waited so long, and I told him the truth. I didn’t want to admit it.
But I wasn’t alone. More than 24 million people in the United States are living with COPD, and there are probably millions more who have the disease but don’t even know it. They fail to recognize the gradual symptoms, they think it’s just part of getting older, or, like I was, they are living in denial.
After my diagnosis, I went into a tailspin. Because I had been in denial for so long, I struggled to deal with the news. It wasn’t until my husband started showing signs of Alzheimer’s that I realized I could take control of my disease. My doctor told me losing weight would help, so I started a diet and exercise program. Over about 18 months, I lost more than 100 pounds. That was critical in getting my COPD under control. I was able to cut down my medications and cut out oxygen completely.
There is no cure for COPD. My 24 million fellow sufferers and I will carry this disease for the rest of our lives. Life will never be completely normal for most COPD patients, but medication, pulmonary rehab and oxygen therapy will make things more manageable. Being able to take accurate oxygen readings at home is also an integral part in managing flare-ups and avoiding trips to the hospital. I use my Nonin GO2 pulse oximeter every day to monitor the oxygen in my blood.
COPD can be a consuming disease. It’s frustrating to cart around an oxygen tank, and things that healthy people can easily accomplish are sometimes much more difficult. But I encourage patients to take control of their disease. One way to do this is by using accurate equipment to monitor blood oxygen levels. Lifestyle changes like diet, exercise and quitting smoking can also make a huge difference and help you gain your life back!
The COPD Foundation is a great resource for anyone who has COPD or thinks they may have it. You can find out more by clicking here.
To learn more about GO2 pulse oximeter I use every day, click here.
About Jean: Jean Rommes was formally diagnosed with COPD In 2000 and is passionate about helping others suffering from this chronic condition. As a COPD Patient Advocate, Jean serves on several COPD Foundation Committees and Boards, including the Patient Powered Research Network. She also an Executive Board Member with EFFORTS, an on-line support and advocacy group for COPD patients.