The Story of My COPD, Part 1

Many people ask me what caused my COPD. I usually answer that I was a smoker and leave it at that, but that is only one part of the story. There are a few other reasons why I developed COPD. Hindsight is 20/20 and looking back it is all too clear.

The beginning of my journey

When I was conceived, the egg split, and I spent gestation with my twin sister. We would be the fifth full pregnancy for our mother who was 32 at the time and had been a heavy smoker most of her adult life.

We were born too early and my twin did not survive the birth process, but I did. I weighed in at 3.5 ounces. It was an unheard-of weight for a baby to survive and I was placed into an incubator for several days. I stayed in the hospital while my parents and sibling mourned and buried my twin sister.

Finally, I was released to my mother and father, who mourned their lost child so much that they had an extremely hard time taking care of me. I lived in a house where everyone smoked and, in those days, people smoked inside their homes. My grandmother lived with us and she and my eldest sister provided most of my care in those early years.

Lung development process

Little was known about the lung function of preemies in those days, some 65 years ago, and nobody was really looking closely at the functions of early lung development. Today we know that young lungs do not fully develop until around 12 years of age.

By 3 years old I was diagnosed with bronchitis and given strong medicine with codeine to help me sleep. I would have to sleep sitting up most nights because of constant coughing that kept the entire house on alert. Once asleep, I would soon slide down from the mountain of pillows, and lying flat, I would begin coughing again. Most mornings I would wake up feeling hungover and fatigued. My stomach ached from coughing and my ribs were on fire.

Familiar symptoms

I suffered several bouts of pneumonia before I was 5 years old and spend a good deal of time in the hospital under an oxygen tent. My eldest sister would take the bus down to the hospital every morning and sit with me all day. My mother and father worked every day and would visit me every night until visiting hours were over. I was incredibly lucky that I was rarely alone.

Once I turned 6, my lung issues seemed to stabilize. I was still coughing too much during the evening hours, but it seemed somewhat more manageable. When my lungs turned to pneumonia, I was stable enough not to have to be hospitalized. That was a bonus. My coughing and hacking became something that was so familiar to everyone that it was basically forgotten about.

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