A male doctor talking to a woman

A COPD Patient Interviews Me

I do not always bring this up. But in a conversation today with a patient of mine with severe COPD,  I mentioned I had really bad asthma as a kid. This caught his attention and piqued his interest.

Living with asthma: a personal account

He then proceeded to interview me, or so it seemed.

"Did you take nebulizers?"

I have nebulizers at home. I have been doing this job for 25 years. I have never met a patient who has had nebulizers at home longer than I have. How many years have you had nebulizers?

"Three years," he said.

I said, "I have had nebs at home since 1985. No, I no longer take treatments every day. But, back then, I did. For many years I took nebulizers every day. Today I only use nebs when I’m having a flare-up, which is usually once or twice a year.”

"What kinds of things triggered your asthma when you were a kid?"

Pretty much everything. I was allergic to everything outside, such as pollen and mold. So spring season was bad for me.

Summer was difficult for the same reason. Another thing that bothered my asthma was in the winter, and we kids would spend lots of time in the basement.

As a kid, we’d take old blankets from the basement and place them over tables and chairs. I remember once we had a huge tent going. We were all having a blast. That is until the dust mites from the blankets got into my lungs.

I remember having horrible asthma attacks doing normal kid stuff like this. I ended up in the hospital for days, just like you.

"Did your asthma get better as you got older?"

It did not change much until I was in my late 20s. At this time, I started taking some of the newer asthma inhalers.

Today I take some of the same inhalers you do every day. And this helps me keep my asthma under control. I still have to be careful to avoid my triggers. But, for the most part, I am able to do most of the things I enjoy.

Do you think you have COPD"

I said, “To be honest, I had one doctor tell me I probably have mild COPD. He said, because I had asthma so bad as a kid, there is probably some airway scarring.

This scarring makes my airways narrow. This may explain why my lung function is 80% instead of closer to 100%. But, it is not to the point where I have had an official COPD diagnosis. I am thankful for that.

In a sense, I had COPD in reverse. I had severe breathing difficulty when I was younger. When I got older, it got better.

So, that’s almost the opposite of you. You lived your life breathing normal and living a normal life.

Then, all of a sudden, you started feeling short of breath and got your diagnosis. Then all of a sudden, you had to make all these lifestyle changes.

I can imagine how hard that would be. Since I grew up with it, I never had to make lifestyle changes.

"Is that how you got this job"

Yes, pretty much. I was an asthma patient back in the 1980s.

This was during the asthma epidemic. There were lots of asthmatics like me. So I decided to become an RT figuring I’d have empathy for all the asthmatic kids I would take care of.

But, by the time I got done with college and got my first RT job, the asthma epidemic was over. Today, we rarely see asthmatics. What we do see lots of is COPD patients.

"What happened? Why don’t you see many asthmatics?"

I think in the late 1980s, all the world's best asthma experts got together. They came up with a plan to help doctors better help their asthma patients.

At about the same time, better asthma medicines came onto the market. Now it is said that most asthmatics can obtain good asthma control.

My hope is something like this happens to COPD: that better COPD wisdom and medicine will make it so most people with COPD can gain good control and avoid hospitals.

Perhaps in another 20 years, we won't see COPD patients in the hospital anymore.

"That would be nice," he said.

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