Woman looking through a telescope trying to see past smoke made by a cigarette

COPD Signs & Diagnosis

The signs that led to my COPD diagnosis were slow and progressive. This disease that affects mainly your lungs can also have an impact on your heart and cardiovascular system. It took me a full 10 years to come to terms with this disease. The main culprit of COPD is smoking but it can be caused by pollution, poor management of asthma, past episodes of pneumonia and even genetics.

The signs began

Waiting for my son to pick me up after work I just had enough time for a quick smoke and when he arrived he was on foot. Inquiring about where his car was, he said it was around the corner and he motioned me to follow him. Truly, I wanted him to bring it to me but he only laughed and said. "Come on." He was walking slightly ahead of me and was gaining speed. As I was trying to keep to him I began to feel like I was getting short of breath. Asking him to slow down was futile but about halfway to the car, I had to stop to catch my breath. Taking in gasps of air while leaning against a telephone pole, I began to catch my breath. He continued walking and commented that I was a lightweight. If you asked me this was the first sign that something might be going on with my lungs. Getting into the car, I was able to catch my breath and I lit up another smoke, trying to forget about how hard that walk was for me.

Then my COPD progressed

As time went on it was clear that something was going on with my lungs. Still a smoker, I tried to put it out of my mind and not dwell on it too much. I see this as my biggest mistake.

As we got to the place of my nieces 40th birthday party I froze looking up at the flight of stairs that led to the venue. I was still keeping my secret and not telling anyone what I suspected, so I climbed the stairs taking my time. The night would be spent upstairs as I knew that if I went down for a smoke, I would be unable to get back up that flight of stairs.

It was about this time that I started to bring up secretions of phlegm that varied in colour from clear to brown. My constant companion was a box of Kleenex. Having survived 2 bouts of pneumonia and 2 bouts of pleurisy over a 7 year period, I was getting to be quite the master handling being sick. Neither of these were easy to manage and I was told by my doctor that quitting smoking was the key. I choose not to listen.

Six months before being diagnosed with COPD

The kind of tired I felt could only be compared to when I was pregnant. So tired, I could barely keep my eyes open for a full day. Working part-time, I began having naps most afternoons, sleeping from 1 pm through to 5 o'clock and having no problem going back to bed at 11:00 and sleeping right through to the next morning.

My shortness of breath was noticeably increased but I found clever ways of hiding it. I would take opportunities to sit and rest to get to my office and I wouldn't talk while I was walking. When presenting lectures to students, I would ask them questions so I could catch my breath.

Then diagnosis happened

By October of 2015, I had been diagnosed with COPD and on the day of that diagnosis I had my last cigarette. My new mantra was diet and taking care of myself. Going to the mailbox every day was my first task and I did it faithfully. It almost killed me and by the time I got back home I was gasping for air. Not knowing anything about COPD, I just figured I could push myself into action and the task would become easier.

Having just finished a two-week vacation, I was feeling pretty good. Although I slept much of my vacation away, it was so worth it. Getting back into the normal grind for the first week of January was busy but being busy suited me as full days made me happy.

Then, suddenly as I was sitting at the kitchen table having a glass of wine and getting ready for bed, it hit me. Not being able to get any breath in, I was sure I was going to die right then and there. Every day I thank God that my son and daughter were there with me. Losing consciousness, I woke up a week later in ICU, after being intubated and on supplemental oxygen.

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