Dorothy Williams
Taking COPD Seriously

Bill asked me again to write my story: my life with COPD.  So I re-read the stories on his website.  Again I thought, what do I have to say?  I haven't had a collapsed lung or even been hospitalized for COPD.  So, I've been sitting here reviewing my life.

For most of my early years, my life was that of a "golden girl".  My family was poor, but my father was a well educated minister and our family had "status".  Although my father died when I was 14, I was able to go to a Presbyterian college on scholarships at age 17.  After two years, I
married a mechanical engineer who worked for Phillips Petroleum Company and I became a housewife.

I had two great sons and was happily involved  in the PTA, tutoring programs, Scouts, Little League, Bible School, Sunday School, etc., etc., etc.  Although we always went "home" to see our families on our vacations, we moved around quite often so we got to see a lot of the country.  For the most part, I was very happy; however, it was obvious that I had mood swings.  I was either intensely over-involved with everything or I was sitting at home depressed.

At age 37, I returned to college and got my degree in 18 months of intense work, both academic work, an internship at a radio station and work at home.  And my world started falling apart.  It was my first full-scale, no-holds-barred manic episode which ended up with a divorce and being
estranged from my two sons.  I was not diagnosed with bi-polar disorder until 1987 since I didn't see a psychiatrist when I was manic, only when I was suicidal.
But a few years after the divorce, my sons and I became close again and my family grew to include 2 daughters-in-law and one terrific grandson.  I had a good job and I seemed to have my "mood swings" under control, but that's another story. Here are a couple photos of my grandson, Gregory.  In the photo to the left he is being a typical boy with a mole that he captured on a camping trip. He released the mole shortly after this picture was taken. On the right, Greg is holding a small kitten while mama cat is keeping an eye out in the background.  Greg has a real talent with animals.

So what's all this got to do with COPD.  When I was diagnosed in 1990 with COPD:
        1.  My mind set was: "Oh, it will work out.  It always does."
        2.  Like many people with COPD, it is just one of my medical problems.
That can complicate acceptance and treatment.

In the late '80s, I had been having "chronic bronchitis" again and again, month in and month out for several years.  Then in 1990, the doctor gave me a spirometry test and wrote down COPD instead of chronic bronchitis.  She didn't make a big issue of it.  She just said that I had lost some lung capacity and that I really had to quit smoking if I didn't want it to get worse.

That wasn't much of a lecture.  I ignored it. Each year, I found myself with less stamina, less "go power".  Then last April, I went on vacation to the Orlando, Florida area and was quite irritated that I had to rent one of those scooter things for an additional $30.00 a day in order to do the things I wanted to do.  I just couldn't walk very far at all without becoming short of breath and totally worn out.

Then in July, I had a fantastic trip scheduled.  I flew to Colorado to meet a friend.  We planned to drive throughout the northwest into Canada, from Victoria to Calgary, then back south to Alabama.  When I landed in Colorado, I almost immediately had an allergic reaction to something.  My nose was pouring, I was coughing and uncomfortable. Soon we arrived at Arches
National Park in Moab, Utah.  There, the dry air caused my insides to dry up: not just my nose, my chest also.  At night, I had a non-stop, dry hacking cough.  I had to take long showers with my face turned up into the spray, trying to get some humidity into my lungs and then I slept sitting
up.  When we reached the California coast, I went to a doctor and got some antibiotics and relief for the cough.  But I was so totally exhausted that I gave up on my dream trip and flew to my sister's in Minnesota to relax and recover.

It wasn't nearly as dramatic as a collapsed lung, thank God.  But I lost out on a dream trip and that got my attention.  When I got home, I decided that I better find out about this COPD.  I got on the internet and I found the COPD Online Support Mailing List.  I've learned so much from them.  First of all, I was told I should go to a Pulmonary Specialist.  One website suggested that I write duplicate copies of all my questions (one copy for my doctor and one for me).  The doctor surprised me and filed the list in my folder after taking his time with answers and explanations. I got a copy of the pulmonary function test so I could find out more about those results.  And I quit smoking.

On my second visit to the pulmonary specialist about a month later, the doctor told me he heard much more air movement.  He took me off one of the inhalers and in general, acted just as excited as I was. I wish I could say I haven't had a cigarette since then, but I'm still struggling with the
Nico-demon.  I'll be going along just fine for a week or ten days and then fall by the wayside.  Then I get back on the wagon, etc.  It may be a verrrrrrry long process for me to never, ever smoke.  It is very strange: now I can't stand the taste or smell of sickarettes.  So why do I break
down and smoke? Is it an addiction? Duh!

I can't believe that I was in denial as long as I was.  How could I not take COPD seriously?  Am I a total idiot?  Evidently, it's not an unusual reaction when the COPD just creeps up on you slowly. But now that I've done my homework, I think I can slow down the progression of this disease.

I've been through pulmonary rehabilitation.  Now Sears has a sale on the treadmill I've had my eyes on, so I guess I'll continue with regular exercise.  I try to take vitamins E and C along with my regular medications and sometimes I even try to eat right!

I agreed to share my story because there are probably people, newly diagnosed with COPD, who come to this website and think.... "Well, they are so sick! None of these stories apply to me."

The problem is: we just don't know how long they won't apply to us, do we?
Let's put it off as long as possible.

Dorothy Williams
December 1999

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