The COPD Bump
I had suffered with COPD for 21 years when I suffered ‘the bump’: A tipping point when suddenly, seemingly almost overnight, I became so disabled I could no longer work, or walk far. I was shocked, and shaken by my sudden reduction in mobility. I had gone through the various stages. Slowly my lung function had declined and I slipped into the worse grade. Very severe COPD, of which my main component is emphysema. Most things were more of an effort but I coped. I learned to walk gradients slow, walking itself was hard but possible even if very slow. I learned as my lungs became worse to find a way to cope. I could with effort manage most tasks, and worked even if very breathless. That is until the ‘bump’.
The bump happened so fast I was left stunned. No longer could I do many jobs that only a very short time before I could. No one had prepared me for the day when I had to make the decision to use a mobility scooter, now not able to walk more than a very short distance without stopping to regain breath.
I am not alone. Many have had the same experience. To suddenly realize they are truly disabled, at the point where most activities have to be planned. Days of carefree abandon gone. The days when I would rise from bed and make a hasty decision to take to the hills. Or head for the coast for a long weekend camping now gone forever.
Now a trip is planned like a military exercise. Is where I am going disabled friendly? Does the hotel have steps to contend with? Can I charge my scooter battery? Or have oxygen delivered? I Google Earth walk all places I don’t know to learn as much as possible what if any obstacles I may face. My mobility scooter and oxygen supplies are always loaded into the station wagon – unable to venture anywhere without them. So why did I suddenly get worse? What did I do that was wrong? You maybe surprised to learn I did nothing wrong, nor had I gone into sudden decline.
I posed the question, ‘ Why did I suddenly become disabled when before I had been coping?’, to one of our lung specialist medics and was amazed by the truthful simple answer: that there is a tipping point. For many years I had learned to cope. But had reached the stage when I simply did not have enough lung capacity to do many thing I wanted to. I had reached the point when there is no spare capacity to use. I had around that time had an exacerbation, and it is likely that was when I lost that small amount of capacity it was enough to make the difference.
Since my diagnosis 21 years earlier my lungs had got slowly less able as lung function had declined. I had learned to cope by slowing down, or simply taking more breaks. In some tasks I found easier ways to tackle them. Even if that meant it took longer to do.
Little did I know that after 21 years the tipping point was looming. When my decline would mean there was no spare capacity to use. The point reached that meant whatever I did there would never be enough output from my weakened lungs for many tasks. I had only lost a further small amount of lung capacity. But that was enough to push me over the tipping point.
My life had to change from that stage. I learned to use aids when needed. To ask others for help at times. To delegate. To pace myself more. I soon was using oxygen also. But my life did not end there. It is now seven years since reaching ‘the bump’, and am busier now with volunteer work than I ever was during my working life. I enjoy most things in life including visits to attractions or to a restaurant, the only difference being everything has to be planned. My optimism is good too. With so many new drugs and so much progress being made in research for COPD there will come a day when our position will change dramatically. We just have to keep living, keep breathing.
So if you ever suffer the bump, remember: there is still a wonderful life to enjoy. And who knows? One day, you might suddenly find a way for us to breathe easier has been made.
Till I write again. Keep smiling. But most of all. Breathe Easy.