A Bit About Papapoo

When I was in the 6th grade, long before I decided to grow a beard after 65 years,  my friends and I used to gather at recess at a field behind the school, eat grapefruit and Florida lemons which we harvested from the trees there, and smoke grapevines.  With my 50 cents a week allowance, I would sometimes buy a pack of Lucky Strikes for my non-existent Grandmother.  So started my smoking career, which began in earnest when I was in high school and continued until I had a lung collapse in 1988.  When that happened, my primary physician said that it was not necessary for me to quit smoking – if I was not interested in living much longer.  Using the 5 day hospital stay as a head start, I quit smoking cold turkey and never sneaked another puff –not even a grapevine.
I started out in early life with asthma and all too often had to come home from school so that my grown sister could give me a shot of adrenaline to carry on. About the time I finished high school, the asthma seemed to disappear and a year later, I volunteered to enter the Marine Corps rather than ending up wherever the draft would put me.  I spent the next 24 years in the Marine Corps including a very short stint in Korea, three tours in Vietnam, and several other tours in other oriental countries.  I left USMC in 1976 and about a year later went to work for the American Automobile Association in Emergency Road Service Operations.  For about the next 7-8 years, everything went pretty well for me from a medical standpoint and then I began to have some trouble breathing when I exerted myself.  Diagnosis: COPD.  So what? Use the puffers and continue to do what you have to do.  That was fine but as the years dragged on, it became more difficult.  Medications changed, occasional oxygen was ordered, and then the “Big Crash” in September 1997. papapoo in the late 50's

I now know that my crash occurred because I had developed a lung infection.  The lung infection further limited my ability to breathe and because I did not know how to breathe properly, I got even more short of breath.  The shortness of breath and no apparent relief in sight led to mental panic and a 911 call.  I won’t go into the details, but over the next 90 days, I ended up in the hospital five times.  Stay number 1, 2, and 3 were uneventful.  Massive medication and blessed relief after a week or so.  Stay number 4 was special for me.  I was in ICU and this tough looking nurse in her crisp uniform and cap reminiscent of the 40’s came over to me and asked if I was using “Pursed Lip Breathing”.  You can bet that I sat up straight and listened to what she had to say because she reminded me of a Marine Corps Drill Instructor.  In all my appointments and hospitalizations, I had not heard the term.  Now, don’t get the idea that I did not position myself to breathe the best I could, but there is a big difference between that and proper breathing.  So I listened and I learned.  I practiced and things went better for me.  I wish I knew who that lady in white was.  Drill Instructor though she may be, she was the beginning of my return to a more normal life.

Unfortunately, I had gotten so weak over the four hospitalizations that I could not prevent hospitalization number five.  The difference was that I entered the hospital with dignity, by the front door after referral by my primary physician.  A whole less stress than through the emergency room doors.  This time, everyone on my team was determined to get me as well as possible and get some strength in my body.  So after about 10 days of a hospital room, I was transferred to a skills care wing where physical therapy was on the menu daily.  When I left the hospital after 30 days, I was still a little weak but determined to get my strength back.  Get my strength back indeed, I was assigned to Pulmonary Rehab and learned that I still had a little kick in the old body.  What an uplift it is to find out that after a few sessions that you can go from walking gingerly with a cane to the bathroom to strolling on a treadmill for 30 minutes or more.  But, even more importantly you feel better and breathe better.  In my case, I was even able to reduce the medication levels.

I have not talked about the help and assistance that I found with the COPD/E Online Support Mailing List or this web site.  Once I realized that this deterioration was for real, I looked to the World Wide Web for some answers and found the COPD/E List.  I also met some fine people with COPD, and with their help, converted a family page to the site as it appears today.  Why? Because I felt that there was a dearth of information concerning the human side of COPD.  Everyone seems to be out to scare the daylights out of folks with the COPD diagnosis and I can imagine that there are those who hear those fateful words and just lay back and die.  On the other hand, there are many of us who have decided that we have more important things in life to do than dying,.  So we work on various options, change our life style to meet our medical needs, and push for the optimum quality of life that we can have.

I hope that you will join us in that endeavor.

Bill Powell
April 1999

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