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a woman who is out of breath putting up a hand to a doctor

My Diagnosis of COPD

The first time I realized that I might be having some breathing problems was many years before my diagnosis.

Working in the downtown core often meant that parking wasn’t always close or easy. This day I had to park a few blocks away. Getting to work was a slow and steady walk. After work, my son and daughter met me to get a ride home. They walked ahead of me and I could not keep up with them to pick up my car.

Catching my breath

I had to stop a few times to catch my breath. Finally, when I caught up with them, I was gasping for breath and working hard to get a breath in, the very opposite of what I should have been doing. I had never even heard of a disease called COPD and I had no idea how to breathe properly. My son and daughter were deep in conversation and didn’t notice my gasping and wheezy breath.

My biggest mistake

That was the day I made my biggest mistake. Instead of seeing a doctor, I shrugged it off as if it were nothing. I got into my car and lit a cigarette and didn’t give it a second thought.

However, I did notice that as I continued smoking and time went on that I was very aware of not being able to exert myself. Shying away from partaking in the physical activity at work functions, I assigned someone to vacuum the carpets for me and to change the bed linens. If we went to a restaurant with stairs, I stayed put once I climbed up, saying I was cutting down when asked to join the smoking crowd.

My secret

You see, like most of us, I was keeping it a secret without even being conscious that I was doing it. Getting very good at hiding it from everyone, even my daughter who I worked with, I am not too sure what I was thinking at the time. Probably I was just in denial and that it just couldn’t happen to me as I continued to smoke a package of cigarettes a day.

It never occurred to me to stop smoking or to see my doctor. It would be many years later that I would ask for a lung function test. After seeing a commercial on TV that said if you are finding yourself short of breath, see your doctor and ask for a lung function test. My entire family asked me if I had seen that commercial and that it was for me. I was so good at hiding my symptoms that my doctor didn’t believe me when I said I thought I might have COPD.

Getting the results

The results showed I had a lung function of 29%. Without knowing what a lung function was I knew from the tone of the doctor’s voice that I was in big trouble. I was devastated. He indicated that he couldn’t do much for me. He ordered me an additional puffer and set up an appointment to see a specialist. By the time I saw the specialist, a month later, I would be in critical condition and in heart failure.

If I can say anything to everyone about COPD it is that early diagnosis is the key to functioning with COPD. I try to imagine that I went to the doctor on that first day when I had to walk to my car. What a difference that would have made to my life!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Janet Plank moderator
    3 months ago

    Barbara, thank you for sharing your ‘secret’.
    Janet (site moderator)

  • greatbanks
    3 months ago

    I was not diagnosed with asthma or bronchitis till 30yrs of age the COPD only found out by accident of which was and is shocking damage done . I am still not aware about fev readings or if had a test ? Told a while ago down to 50% lung function , I feel things are considerably worse today , it’s affect my heart , I’d had two mini TIA’s with not knowing ?i have a decreased weakness on my left side. Just getting over infection from sept19 it’s now nov219 ,it’s left me so weak , lost over 3 stone in weight because being shot of breath could not eat and breath , the antibiotics gave me thrush in windpipe I’ve no appetite , feel weak the last infection was terrible I thought I was on my last legs scarred me. I have muscle wastage , this my sound like moaning apologies its not I don’t know what’s going on heath wise ?
    Having headaches oxygen levels plummet on movement Been 84 & 74% on pulse metre . Anyone any advice please .

  • Janet Plank moderator
    3 months ago

    Hi greatbanks,
    Barbara is right in recommending that you see your primary doctor and ask for a referral to a pulmonologist, or lung doctor. Has your doctor tested you to check your oxygen levels? A pulmonologist will likely do thorough testing.

    Thank you for sharing yourself and your COPD journey.

  • Janet Plank moderator
    3 months ago

    I hope that you let us know how you are doing. Know too that we are here for you.

    Janet (site moderator)

  • Barbara Moore moderator author
    3 months ago

    Greatbanks,
    I urge you to see your primary care doctor and ask to see a specialist. Your symptoms are alarming and the fact that no one seems to be watching is even more alarming. Hope you get some relief soon, Barbara Moore (site moderator author)

  • lizlizardrn
    3 months ago

    You are not the only one for hiding and denying. My kids were shocked that I was so sick and I had been for many years before they could see it and I admitted it. I didn’t want to concern them…I have always been very private and never share easily plus they would hassle me about smoking. Now I share everything about the COPD because , basically…it can’t be missed and I need a lot of help . One of the hardest thing for them is that it took them by surprised….I’d known for a good 10 years before they did…they were really blindsided . It is better they know….so they can help me and prepare themselves for the future! Good luck to you !!

  • Barbara Moore moderator author
    3 months ago

    It is amazing the way we can hide in plain sight while no one else realizes how severe it is. You and I are similar. Barbara Moore (site moderator)

  • greatbanks
    3 months ago

    I don’t think my family actually realise how bad COPD is ? My fault trying to be independent and not worry them but they have fam of there own and lives to live . The recent infection still getting over it from sept 2019 feel very weak ,it was and is still been a nasty bug & pneumonia . I didn’t feel I could ask for help , but I needed it . Sons take wives with the best will in the world , they have own lives to live .
    Advice ? I really don’t think I’d manage a another infection on my own . By saying I’m ok when I’m not I’ve caused the problem so asking for help now feels impossible .
    I have stair lift Ect but require a bungalow the place I’m in is too much to manage plus’s a garden upkeep at front of house . I’d had respiratory nurses out , I should of gone to hospital when had infection but afraid incase with other health problems they put a DNR on me . I’m 60yrs of age but would add at min I look 90 !

  • melaniem moderator
    3 months ago

    greatbanks, I hear you. I hear that you feel like you would be a burden on your children if you let them know that you really need help. I just wanted to say that as someone who is in that stage with work and family keeping me very busy, it still makes me very sad when my parents feel like they can’t let me know that they aren’t doing well, or that they need help. There are some things that are just worth carving out time for, including our loved ones. I hope you are able to have a conversation with your children when you are ready. Thanks for sharing with us. ~Melanie Merritt (COPD.net team member)

  • TracyCarnahan
    3 months ago

    Thank you for sharing your story Barbara. I’ve often wondered the same thing. Like you it just didn’t dawn on me or any of my family that I should go to the doctor. We have a small ranch and one by one I had to stop doing certain jobs. I too had very low lung function by the time I went, 24%, and ended up in the hospital a month later with heart failure among other things. So now I’m just chronically in stage 4 COPD. I haven’t died so I have that to be thankful for, but I haven’t lived either. If only I would have not been in such denial…

  • Barbara Moore moderator author
    3 months ago

    TracyCarnahan, Life is too short for living with regrets. We can’t change what could have been but this is why doctors need to be more vigilant in sending patients for spirometry testing earlier. It won’t help us but it could help millions more.
    Thank you for commenting Barbara Moore (site moderator author)

  • Debz Borge moderator
    3 months ago

    Barbara thank you so much for sharing your story, its amazing how we put our gut feelings on a back burner right until we are desperate. A good true story for this COPD Awareness month. Thank you. Debz (Site Moderator)

  • Barbara Moore moderator author
    3 months ago

    Thank you Debz. Much appreciated. Barbara Moore (site moderator)

  • Janet Plank moderator
    3 months ago

    Barbara this is a great article and perfect for our November COPD Month. This brings an awareness that people will likely associate with.
    I know I delayed my own and have heard others say they were in denial as well.
    I’m sorry that you had to go through all that you did, yet I so appreciate you sharing your message.
    Janet (site moderator)

  • Barbara Moore moderator author
    3 months ago

    Thank you Janet. I do hope that people start to listen and act fast. Barbara Moore (site moderator)

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