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Ask the Advocates: Running Errands

We asked our COPD advocates to share their tips on running errands. Here is what they each had to say.

Tips for running errands with COPD

Barbara

Let’s talk about getting out and about!

While we were all in the midst of the worldwide COVID pandemic, we experienced that mundane, hum-drum feeling of being a shut-in. That world of isolation caused me overwhelming depression, and I swore once it was over and I could go out, I would be out every day.

That may have been a bit of an ambitious plan, but there is something about being mobile and getting out and about that is soothing to the soul. It helps to blow away the cobwebs that gather in our brains that lead us to surrender to panic and anxiety.

At the time, my only tool was my walker, but I knew it would take more than a walker to get me out and active again. I started considering what else would help me in my time of need. I could witness from my living room window my husband walking the dog with my grandson in tow. What would it take for me to take him to the park?

My walker wasn’t going to cut it anymore. It wasn’t that my COPD progressed; it was more that I wanted to go further and faster than my walker would allow. My mental health would improve if I could go to the neighborhood park with my grandson, but it was too long of a walk for me.

His birthday was coming, and I wanted to take him shopping to get his favorite toy, and I wanted to watch him play soccer. I needed to be present as these years passed by too quickly. I wanted to be involved with him and with his life in general. I started to look at line options, and that was where I found my solution. A mobile scooter it was.

I investigated and found some lower-priced, lightweight mobility scooters that could be taken apart and put in the trunk of any car, at a total weight of 35 pounds. Of course, I couldn’t get it in and out of the car alone, but my husband was as eager as I was to try it.

My only other barrier to getting out was getting up and down my stairs to go out or come home. Going up and down the stairs costs me a lot of energy, and the biggest problem is that when I come home, I always have to rush to use the bathroom.

It’s not easy getting up the stairs when you have to go so badly. So, my next purchase to get out and about was a stair lift. Again, the options are vast, and prices have come down. I purchased a used one and had it professionally installed. Now I have peace of mind that I can choose the proper tools for what I
need, and I will be safe when I go out and when I come home.

Jackie

When getting ready to run errands, many things factor into getting out for the day.

For me, this mostly depends on the weather. The season does matter when planning for outings. In the spring, I always have to think about allergies and if someone is burning, mowing, or if the trees and flowers are blooming, etc.

I often follow the pollen count and the air quality for the day, although the air quality is for all seasons. I try not to go out on bad days, but if so, I am sure to use the recirculation in my van instead of letting the outside air in. Most of the temperature is good in the spring, and my lungs and I like that type of weather.

In the summer, it is hard to find the right time to do anything. I don’t mind higher temps, but the humidity hits me hard. If I go out for anything, I generally try to make it early morning or late evening. Even then, sometimes, the summer humidity is so hard on the lungs.

It is generally nice breathing days in the fall except for spring with allergies and people burning leaves, etc. As far as the weather goes, it's very gentle on the lungs.

In the winter is a whole other story. That cold air just takes my breath away, and I normally don’t get out much by myself if the temps dip below 30, especially if we have the wind chill factor involved.

If I do get out on those colder days, I have someone go with me who can drop me right outside the front door with covid and wear masks more often. That does help the cold air get into the lungs, though, and has been a big help.

As far as just getting out from day to day, it does take some planning. I usually try to plan by the weather and how I am feeling that day. I try not to schedule things two days in a row because it is very exhausting to do so. I have and can do it. I just prefer to not do it.

Here lately, I have had all of my yearly appointments scheduled and have been doing some back-to-back days. I always think this is crazy. Why do I do this to myself? Next year, I will schedule better so that I’m not so exhausted.

Other planning involves my RA (rheumatoid arthritis) as well. I sometimes need a couple of hours to get moving in the morning, so if I have an early appointment, I have to get up extra early.

Getting ready for the outing is a whole other story. Making sure I have everything I need is like packing a diaper bag for a baby. I need to make sure I have plenty of batteries and my car and wall chargers for my POC (portable oxygen machine).

I never know how long I may be out or what may come up, so it’s better to be prepared for anything. I also like to have tanks and equipment for that on hand in case my POC acts up and stops working, and that has happened a few times.

It can be a scary situation when that happens, so I have learned to be prepared. I also like to take my portable nebulizer with me; I never know when I may need that. I have a bag filled with anything that you can possibly imagine might happen that day, and then I am off for the day. Finally!

Leon

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that although I do not have COPD, I do have asthma.

Over the many years of providing care to patients as a respiratory therapist, I have had extensive conversations with patients about just this topic in hopes of making it easier for them to either run errands themselves or get the task done in some other way. As well much of the advice also applies to just going out during the day.

Initially, the conversation will focus on the number of errands/outings needed and the importance of each one. We then work on consolidating the trips to remain efficient and reduce the time spent.

This can include (depending on the patient's mobility status) walking, driving, and using a mobility device if that is necessary and desired.

Adjuncts, to make the trips easier and safer, will always focus on keeping rescue inhalers handy. As well, if supplemental oxygen is prescribed (and needed for the trip), a portable oxygen concentrator will be used. Make certain the battery is fully charged beforehand.

A second battery can help to ensure one does not run out of electric power for the length of the errand/trip. With a portable oxygen concentrator, backup cylinders should also be considered if needed.

Remember, this is a very individual-specific requirement. Cylinders can be used if the particular patient finds it makes it easier to be out and about. It does not necessarily apply to everyone. If, during the errand, a local stop is needed, then it's important to make certain an electrical source is available. This will enable the portable concentrator to be recharged while the device is plugged in for use.

When feasible, it is always suggested or recommended, as needed, to have a companion along for the trip. The companion (e.g., relative, friend, aide, neighbor) can ensure that troublesome issues are attended to.

Assistance with the vehicle, mobility device, doors, elevators, and bags can be made much easier with someone who is devoted exclusively to the patient during the trip. Naturally, one should be prepared for any sort of medical emergency.

It is important to have phone numbers easily accessible. Thinking similarly, one should always have a cell phone (and full battery) with them, too. These include one's physician, family member(s), and emergency contact(s). An awareness of the closest hospital is essential too.

Naturally, water and snacks should be readily available when possible and necessary. For some errands, a trip by the patient is essential - the errand must be made. These can include physician office visits and diagnostic testing (PFTs, blood work, x-rays, CT scans, etc.). For these types of required errands, it is always suggested to have a companion along. Although some patients with a COPD diagnosis may be 100% independent and mobile, when a patient can have someone with them, it makes for a better and more productive/satisfying errand.

On outings like these, one should always be prepared to change plans. If the errand must be shortened for any reason (medical, physical, or emotional), there should be no qualms about doing so. Whatever hasn't been accomplished can be completed on another day. If one has to stop early, that is perfectly okay. If the errand is going well (as many of them will), one should not push oneself.

Sometimes, overextending oneself during an errand can create issues later in the day or the next day. Finally, weather may be an issue for some patients. In the heat and humidity of the summer months, the time of day may make the errand go easier. Think the cooler mornings. As well, during the colder months, try to go out when the day's temperature is warmest. Dress accordingly in all seasons.

Some errands nowadays can be easily taken care of by not going out. Remaining home and doing one's necessary shopping online can save time, steps, and energy and can simplify one's life in many ways. Sometimes, with a good support system, like family, friends, and neighbors, the things you need to go out for may be handled by someone else when necessary.

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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.

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