I was diagnosed with severe COPD, (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), in 1995. I had always had weak lungs. It was just part of my life, something that I had accepted. Premature birth, a childhood enveloped in second-hand smoke, and 20 years of personal smoking had pretty well doomed me to breathing problems.
Nonetheless, the diagnosis was a shock. My tests showed that I had 30% of the lung capacity that I should have had, given my age, weight, etc. I also happened to have a severe case of double pneumonia, so I suddenly found myself with an oxygen cannula in my nose for the first time.
That was where the choices came in. When a patient is diagnosed with a chronic disease, a disease that is not going to go away, they can choose to sit down, grab the TV remote, and wait to die. That is a choice. Mary and I chose to learn as much as we could about the disease, alter our lifestyles to accommodate it, and order a treadmill. I have, in the intervening years, worn out three treadmills.
The exercise, the stubbornness, the attitudes that we chose to adopt have all served us well over the years. I was able to maintain the 30% lung function level for almost 15 years. While I was logging all of those miles on the treadmill, Mary was quietly, gradually taking over the responsibilities, the duties that I had traditionally performed. Caregiving is truly a life put on hold. It is one of the most loving acts that anyone can offer to another. Even so, it is dramatically underappreciated. Each day can be different, depending on the condition of the patient, on outside pressures, on the weather! It is the responsibility of the caregiver to serve, to assist, to take up the slack.
At the age of 71, I had the incredible fortune to receive a double lung transplant. That was almost 5 years ago, and that gift has allowed Mary and me to travel to COPD conferences, to give inspirational speeches, to teach, to touch the lives of others who are affected with lung disease.