CHOOSE TO LEARN ABOUT YOUR DISEASE!
Everyone is faced with choices....sadly, many of our choices result from fear. We no longer have to hunker in a cave staring out into the darkness, terrified as to what might be out there. However, for some reason, we choose to endure the same kind of fears, the terror of the unknown, because we are afraid to take the steps to find out what the heck is out there! One of those steps, in today's world, is to get ourselves to a doctor to find out what is causing our symptoms. When the sun comes up and we see that the noise outside the cave was actually a bunny, rather than a dragon, wonderful! If it does turn out to be a dragon, we can then do some planning, start to figure out how to deal with it.
The worst choice we can make is to just keep hunkering in that cave! It paralyzes us, it risks being eaten by the dragon without every having a chance to escape, to fight back. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!!! We might not like what the doctor has to say, but his diagnosis will give us knowledge, options, medications and a PLAN!!
Or, of course, we can continue to huddle in that cave, our head firmly in the sand, making ourselves miserable, making those who love us miserable, giving in to anxiety and depression.
Your choice. I know the choices that I made many years ago, and it has made all the difference!
ORGANIZE YOUR WORLD!!
Regardless of how active you are, you still spend the majority of time in your home. It simply makes sense to make and keep your surroundings as healthy as possible. If you are reading this, you or someone close to you has breathing issues, and those issues can be worsened by dust, smoke, mold, chemicals, and any number of other irritants. Hopefully, the following tips will help you to make your life a little easier, a bit healthier.
De-clutter your environment. It not only looks better, it gives you or your caregiver less to dust and clean. Speaking of those chores, do them when you are feeling the most energetic. It will be better for you, you will enjoy it more, and you will do a better job. If you are tired, stop and rest. Try not to bend over when you are cleaning. It makes it just that much harder to breathe. Work smarter, not harder. Dust today, vacuum tomorrow. Ain’t no deadlines!
Build yourself a nest! Pick your favorite chair, and gather the stuff that you need to stay comfortable. The TV remote, a glass of water, tissues, the telephone, your laptop or tablet, a note pad and pencil, and reading material should be within easy reach. The point is not to grow roots, but rather to conserve your energies for stuff that you want to do.
Become a list-maker! Listing things that must be done is a lot like always telling the truth. Having done so, you don't have to remember anything! Seriously, a list of tasks, a calendar on your computer or the one from the insurance company with appointments and birthdays and such will avoid the annoyance and embarrassment of forgetting important things.
If you are still smoking, stop it! It isn’t easy, but then neither is trying to breathe with half a lung. Talk to your doctor. If he still smokes, change doctors! There are bunches of ways to help you quit, but please check with the doc first. If anyone with whom you associate still smokes, do not let them smoke anywhere near you! Even the odor of their clothing can hurt you. Don’t let anyone smoke in your home. Again, we are trying to make it a healthy place for you.
If friends or family come to visit, tell them that you might have to cut the evening short and get some rest. No need to apologize. It just might help get you out of some really boring conversations.
If you are having a bad day, don’t hesitate to let others know. Don’t whine about it, but there is nothing wrong with asking for help when you need it. Please do not be ashamed to wear your oxygen cannula in front of others if you just use oxygen part of the time. It is not a sign of weakness or frailty. Just think of it as a good way of getting out of doing things that you really don’t want to do anyway.
“Gee, I really wish I could help you shovel that walk, but you know….”
“I’d love to help you push the car up the hill to the gas station, but I can steer….”
You get the idea.
EAT HEALTHY, BUT DON'T EAT A LOT AT ONCE!
It is of course important to eat healthy food. Many canned or processed foods contain more sodium and fat than you might expect. If you are cooking for yourself, plan and prepare the meals when you feel the most energetic. Cook healthy stuff, stuff that you will enjoy eating, and cook too much. Bag, label, and freeze the rest so that you will have some meals in reserve for those times when your energy isn’t so great.
Keep cooking utensils in handy places in your kitchen. The less bending, the better. If you have a dishwasher, let it do the work for you. If not, soak pots and pans in soapy water to make them easier to clean. If you want, use paper plates so you don’t have to wash them.
Be careful of the fumes from kitchen products. They can be an irritant to your lungs. Use natural products or things like baking soda or vinegar. If you are wearing an oxygen cannula, reposition it so that the hose runs down your back, to keep it away from the heat source.
As lung disease progresses, it is not uncommon for the size of lungs to expand, compensating for their inefficiency. When that happens, there is less room for a full tummy! Eating a big meal can result in discomfort and shortness of breath, so learn to graze. Eat 5 or 6 small meals a day.
MAKE SHOWERING COMFORTABLE
Many of us find showering to be difficult. The increased humidity bothers some people with COPD, and others find it difficult to raise their arms comfortably to wash and rinse their hair. If you are on oxygen, crank it up a notch and run the hose over the shower rod while you are in the shower to give yourself a better chance. Try a shower chair. If necessary, take a bath or even a sponge bath. Try sitting down or using an absorbent robe to dry yourself. Sit down to brush your teeth, or for other grooming efforts. Beware of scented toiletries. If you can smell it, it is likely an irritant.
Use the exhaust fan to decrease humidity and to dissipate the fumes from deodorant, hair spray, and the like. Try to stay away from aerosol products for grooming or cleaning the bathroom. If you struggle to sit down on or get up from the toilet, consider an elevated seat. A grab bar by the toilet and in the shower can also be useful.
WORK SMARTER, NOT HARDER!
If you can mow your lawn and tend your garden with no problem, great! If it wears you out or you are simply not getting it done, get someone to help you. If you can’t guilt somebody into helping, hire it done. If you enjoy gardening, tackle a small part at a time. Take a stool for sitting, use your oxygen, and do what you can without wearing yourself out. Wear a mask if pollen levels are high or air quality is poor. In areas such as Arizona, where we have such things as Valley Fever lurking in the dirt, wear a mask. Beware of irritants from the spraying of fertilizers or weed and pest control products.
GET A GOOD NIGHT'S SLEEP!
In the bedroom, keep the things that you wear most frequently in convenient places. If it is a trek to your clothes hamper, move it closer! If pet dander bothers you, it might be best to keep Fido or Fluffy out of the bedroom. I know that you won’t, but I’m just sayin’…
If you sleep with oxygen from a concentrator, try to place the concentrator in another area of the house and use a 50-foot hose, so that the noise of the machine doesn’t keep you awake. Find a good way to wear your cannula while sleeping. Wearing it normally works for some people, while others prefer to wrap the two hoses around their head above the ears, with the adjuster at the back of the head. Whatever works!
When you get ready for bed, gather all of your little goodies that you might need during the night, such as the phone, rescue inhalers, nose spray, a glass of water, etc. A small night light might prove handy, so that you don’t get all tangled up in your oxygen hose on a wee hours trip to the bathroom and break something.
NEVER, EVER HURRY!!
We discovered early on that the absolute worst thing that I could do was to get all disorganized, begin running late for an appointment, and try to hurry! Shortness of breath would be followed by frustration, anger, and despair. Not good for anyone involved....
In summary, everyone’s needs are different. Some of us don’t need supplemental oxygen at all, or only during exercise or exertion. Others are on it 24/7. Some of us take double handfuls of medications to keep us breathing decently, and others get by with very little. Whatever your situation, try to make sure that your home is working for you, rather than against you. Again, try to organize your surroundings and your life so that you can work smarter, not harder.
Everyone has issues. The issues may be financial or political, personal or professional. They may involve family, friends, environment, or health. Just to keep life interesting, many people deal with two or more of these issues on a regular basis.
The attitude with which you view your particular conundrums will affect your life in ways that you cannot even imagine! Strong statement? Perhaps, but let’s take a look at it.
Friends come in all varieties. Think about your particular circle of acquaintances. With which ones do you prefer to spend time? Remember, they all have their own issues. Chances are, if you have spent much time with them, you have some idea what those issues might be. If you are among the older set of citizens, I can almost guarantee that you are familiar with the health problems of many of your friends. Somehow, in any gathering of “seniors”, the subject of operations, prescriptions, and general health concerns will not be far from the surface. No one knows why this happens. Perhaps it is some sort of subconscious societal plea for sympathy, perhaps it is nothing more than “can you top this?” Most conversations, after all, are not two people talking. They are individuals talking and then waiting their turn to talk again.
Just as you have a variety of friends, those friends have a variety of attitudes toward their particular situations. As you would expect, many people with serious, debilitating health problems do not have the most positive of attitudes. Chronic pain, limited mobility, or disfiguring ailments can certainly be cause for negative feelings toward one’s lot in life. Totally understandable.
However, we have all run across people who, despite their physical limitations, somehow manage to maintain an attitude that is accepting, upbeat, even cheerful! They are able to overcome, at least outwardly, the depressing fact that there is something seriously wrong with them. It is hard to get inside someone else’s head, but I would be willing to bet that their innermost feelings mirror, for the most part, the attitude that they show to the world. How do they do that?
I am not a psychologist, but I am a keen observer of human nature. It has given me a great deal of enjoyment over the years to watch my fellow human persons muddle their ways through life. As you are aware, some are much better at muddling than others. They say that, as we age (or drink alcohol), we become more like ourselves. In some cases, this is a good thing. In other instances, that prospect is just a bit frightening. You know who you are.
So, these annoyingly cheerful people…how did they get that way? Some people are lucky enough to be born with a naturally cheery outlook. You know them. They are the babies that everyone loves, the type that are so fun to be around that their parents usually decide to have a couple more, this child-rearing thing being so easy and all. Those same parents are usually distressed to learn that naturally easygoing little kids are rare, indeed.
So, must we be born that way? Not at all. People, and attitudes, do change. It is often a difficult process, bordering on inconceivable for some. A combination of stress, nervousness, and apprehension can raise havoc with anyone’s outlook on their life. Outside influences such as jobs, family, and friends can defeat an attempt to rise above the fracas and maintain an optimistic perspective. We are surrounded on a daily basis with people and situations that will drag us down if we allow them to do so. Throw health problems into the mix, and there is little wonder that attitudes can suffer.
So what to do? How is it possible to overcome the feelings of hopelessness? How do we clean that murky glass through which we view the future? Like most things worth acquiring, the journey is far from easy. That said, there is absolutely no reason that you should not attempt it. What, exactly, do you have to lose by trying?
There is, in today’s world, an entire pharmacopoeia of drugs available to help your mood, your attitude. If nothing else works for you, there is no shame in consulting with your physician to see what is available. There is also a plethora of herbal remedies out there that may or may not help you. Again, please talk to your doctor before you embark on any regimen of chemical or herbal assistance. I urge you to work on other methods of altering your point of view before turning to the world of medication, but be aware that it is available if necessary.
Don’t even think about self-medicating with alcohol or any form of illegal substances! Therein lie more troubles than you really want. The temporary attitude change brought on by their use is simply not worth the potential downsides, for they are extreme.
TALK TO SOMEONE!
Giving voice to the things that trouble you can help to take away their sting. If you can verbalize your gremlins, name them, describe them to another person, it gives you power over them. Talk to a spouse or a parent or a sibling or a child or a friend. If you can’t bring yourself to share with someone close to you, consider a professional counselor. They are very good at what they do, and you will be hard-pressed to tell them anything that they haven’t heard before. Many times, vocalizing your issues will allow you to begin to reframe your experiences in a more positive fashion.
What are you afraid of? Pain? Famine or financial problems or your kids moving back home? Death, either yours or someone else’s? Again, it helps to say it.
Now that we have it out there on the table in front of us, what can you do about it? Can you do anything about it? If you are terrorized by meteorites or young people, probably not much. If you have been visited by a disease for which there is no cure, such as COPD, all of the worrying in the world is not going to change your situation.
I am not trying in this writing to solve all of your concerns. However, I can speak of the fears associated with COPD with a degree of authority. I was diagnosed with severe emphysema many years ago. Since that time, I have spent several nights in hospitals and several weeks in a recliner doing little but gathering dust and sucking on an oxygen hose due to bouts with double pneumonia. Yes, I smoked for a lot of years, and grew up in the home of a heavy smoker, so the sins of my youth caught up with me.
Being the inquisitive little devil that I am, I have spent many, many hours on the Internet researching the disease and the myriad of treatments, some good, some not so good, that are available. Knowledge, as they say, is power. Hiding one’s head in the sand has rarely accomplished much, except getting sand in one’s hair.
Besides being inquisitive, I am remarkably stubborn. Upon reflection, that trait is probably at least partially responsible for the fact that I did smoke for all of those years. Too bad, but there isn’t a whole lot that I can do to about the past. What I can do, however, is use that stubbornness to deal with my lung issues. I mentioned research, the gaining of knowledge in order to better understand my particular demons. I subscribe to various COPD informational websites, and write and submit articles for some of them. Between my own research and that done by other contributors, I have learned a tremendous amount about dealing with COPD.
Another real source of knowledge has been my medical providers. I know enough about COPD to enable me to communicate with doctors, therapists and the like on a semi-intelligent basis. The various professionals seem to appreciate the fact that I have made the effort to learn about the disease, and they tend to respond very favorably.
I try to be very aware of my physical and emotional condition on a daily, even hourly basis. I keep a plentiful stock of my various medications on hand, and use them as needed.
STAY ACTIVE! MAKE YOURSELF USEFUL!
Lastly, (you knew that I would get here eventually), I exercise. The stubbornness of which I spoke above gets me onto the treadmill or the exercise bike or the stair-stepper six days a week. I honestly feel guilty if I miss a day for some reason. I use exercise bands to do upper body work, and play golf when I can. Playing golf while wearing supplemental oxygen is exercise in patience, but it can be done.
The point of all this is that life is filled with issues. You must learn to pick your battles. There is nothing that you or I can do to change the past. Worrying about what has happened or what might happen in the future is nothing more than a gigantic waste of time. All we can do is work to change our attitudes about the things over which we have no control. To paraphrase a good friend who has an extensive counseling background, if total pessimism is a 1, and total optimism is a 10, we should aim for an 8 or a 9. A touch of pessimism keeps us from hurting ourselves!
We can also change our attitudes about the issues that we can affect. That’s where the research and the learning and the exercise come in. Accomplishment brings empowerment. My exercise regimen helps to build my muscles so that they demand less oxygen to move, but it also brings on a delicious sense of self-righteousness. A sense of humor helps, also. If we can learn to laugh at life and its offerings, we can become one of the friends with which others prefer to spend time.
Finally, are you the kind of friend with which you want to spend time? You really don’t have much of a choice about spending the rest of your life with you, so do whatever you can to gain or maintain a good attitude about your life. You really do deserve it!
Uncle Jim & Aunt Mary