Beat COPD: 10 Ways to Win Your Life Back

Beat COPD: 10 Ways to Win Your Life Back

Ten Ways to Beat COPD – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

How is it possible to beat COPD? You have been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – COPD. You are among millions of patients and there is no cure. If you are like I was the first few years, you can spend a lot of time being depressed about it; stop doing the things you used to do because you tire easily; and generally feel sorry for yourself. Life can take on a whole new seriousness that saps your enjoyment and you begin to accept your fate because there is no cure for COPD.

Beat COPDOrrr, you can beat COPD. That doesn’t mean cure it, but you can slow its progression and learn to live healthier and happier. I have been living with severe emphysema, one of the common forms of COPD, for 15 years as of this writing. Like many newly diagnosed “sufferers,” I spent a very long time in fear and depression before I gradually found ways to beat COPD. My life has never been better. That’s right, not even before I developed COPD. Now I want to share with you 10 ways I have found to beat COPD. I am not a medical professional. I just live with this disease every day and I keep doing my best to beat it every day.

Let David Letterman have his Top Ten Lists that start at the bottom. Here is the number one way to beat COPD:

1. Do What The Doctor Orders to Beat COPD

These are the most important things you can do to combat this disease. The day I was diagnosed, the doctor wheeled in a tall tank of oxygen. My first reaction was to cry. I knew my life just took a serious turn and I was going to be one of those people I used to joke with my friends about (not so they could hear me). What would happen if I pinched off the hose – would he flounder and flop like a freshly caught fish? HA-HA… not so funny now.

My close friend, Don, died of embarrassment. He was too embarrassed to wear a hose in his nose connected to an oxygen tank, so he didn’t unless he was home and there was no company around. I believe it cut his life shorter than it could have been. Admittedly, I am just as vain as the next person and I discovered I could be easily embarrassed too. I was never the handsomest guy in the crowd, but I exhibited confidence and like dressing well, so girls would flirt with me sometimes (and so would the occasional guy). Once I started wearing a hose in my nose, the flirting stopped cold. But o2 is one of the most important medical therapies I have, so I had to learn to live without the attention of the fairer sex. There are ways to dress it up though. I was more mobile with a small oxygen tank in a backpack, so I have accumulated several stylish backpacks that coordinate with my wardrobe of the day. Girls still don’t flirt with me, but I feel better about myself and that is more important. And it keeps me willing to continue with my Oxygen Therapy.

Oxygen Supply

Oxygen is not the only medication I need. COPD patients have various and sundry inhalers, steroids, pills and other medications necessary for their care and well being. The doctor knows best. I take what is prescribed. The list of meds change over the course of the disease and some meds are for other medical issues that crop up as we age. Today I will take 3 different inhalers, 6 different pills, special eye drops and a salve. Doctors tell me when and how and I do what they say. Sometimes my feedback will change the frequency, strength or timing and occasionally add, remove or change the prescription.

Exercise and a good diet has always been important to my doctors. Too many of my waking hours are spent at my keyboard. It’s not good exercise – it’s not ANY exercise – and in my case, it also means my diet and the way I consume it are not the best. I am obese. Fat! I’m not as fat as I once was, down 35 pounds from my heaviest, but I have not lost more weight in over a year. I need to take short walks, do some repetitive lifting, anything to burn calories and build muscle will help. It is important to consult a doctor before developing an exercise routine. And a good dietician can help you change your eating habits so that your calorie intake compliment your exercise and health goals.

Showing up to appointments is probably just as important as all the rest of these do-what-the-doctor-orders items. COPD is a progressive disease. It won’t stop making your life difficult, so you must let medical professionals work their magic to keep it at bay. My health care is through the Veterans Administration and appointments are made a couple months in advance. I enjoy a trip to Reno at those times and plan shopping and a nice restaurant to go with them.

2. Take Responsibility for Your Health Care

Taking responsibility for your own health care is not the same as doing what the doctor orders. Oxygen therapy, medications, diet and exercise is not all there is to treating COPD. Your doctor may not order you to monitor your oxygen saturation with a Pulse Oximeter, or to check your blood pressure regularly. The doctor can’t prescribe ambition or perseverance. We need to set realistic goals to improve our overall health, even if we can’t cure the disease itself.

If you still smoke, whether that is tobacco, vape juice, cannabis or anything else, do whatever is necessary to quit. Sucking foreign substances into your lungs when you have COPD will only help kill you. It will not help you beat COPD. Ask your doctor or other medical specialists how you can quit any destructive behavior. Search the Internet, seek out others who have cut back or quit. I consider myself lucky that I had quit smoking 6 or 8 years before being diagnosed and I quit using drugs two decades before I discovered I had COPD. Those weren’t my only problems though. I had to stop using spray paint to customize my computers and I have to wear a respirator when I do woodworking. Taking responsibility can sometimes mean a lifestyle change, but that’s better than the alternative.

3. Beat COPD By Challenging Yourself

A lifestyle change is in itself a great challenge. I had to come to grips with the fact that many of the things I enjoyed doing were going to become more difficult and some impossible. My career was in flooring sales and installation. The end of that career came before I was actually incapable of doing the work. Customers would call for estimates, I would show up with samples, a tape measure and the ominous hose in my nose and I would never hear back from the customer again. But in time, as the disease progressed, I became unable to do physical things to the extent and pace I was accustomed to. I certainly couldn’t get paid for the skills I had.

It was important to me to be able to feel I was still a productive and creative being. In the course of my life and career, I picked up many skills that I found satisfying. I couldn’t be The Mad Modder anymore, but my computer building skills allowed me to build powerful desktop machines. They took longer to put together and I couldn’t use spray paint, but I could still make some handsome computers and share the build progress with others.

Although my career focused on flooring, I was a closeted interior designer/builder since childhood. Watching HGTV one depressing day reminded me of that and over the course of the last 12 years, I have remodeled and beautified every room of my apartment. One Spring I took my designer/builder skills outside and built an arbor and redesigned the fence that separated my front patio from the parking area. The building owner liked it so much, she asked if I could build an arbor in front of her entrance. Then another Spring I spent months rebuilding and designing the whole fascia of their apartment.

As time goes on, I keep finding new challenges that satisfy my need to be creative and to have fun. It takes way more time to do these things because COPD saps energy and stamina, but there’s no hurry. Things I never knew I was capable of doing have been accomplished. I built butcher block counter tops for my kitchen; built a bathroom vanity that looks like a dresser; restarted a photography hobby that lay dormant for 25 years; started 4-wheeling many of the rough and occasionally abandoned roads of Plumas County – and spent time modifying my Jeep to make it more capable. My mind keeps coming up with new challenges that make my life exciting and satisfying. I make plenty of mistakes and sometimes take on more than I can do but the journey and the discovery is the important part of it all.

4. Beat COPD By Volunteering

It’s okay to be selfish but don’t make it a full-time job. There are many suffering people in the world, some of whom are afflicted with lung disease, some may have another debilitating health problem, physical or mental. You may see inadequacies in politics that hurt your chances for better health care or social ills that a better understanding of health issues in your community could help. There are organizations that need volunteers to help them. You might find aligning with a political party or issue can offer you the strength to help make things better for you and others. Then there are the drug trials that need volunteers to test new treatments and therapies.

I have been involved in 3 drug trials. Each trial was difficult and I never knew if I had been administered the new drug, but all of them left me “less healthy.” The first 2 I completed, but felt less energetic, short of breath more often but I never felt sick or in danger. The third trial I had to quit about half way into it (they always lasted months). Still, I felt I was helping other COPD sufferers, even if was uncomfortable for me.

My charity work always makes me feel good, but I sometimes think I don’t do enough. Proceeds from my photography go to local charitable causes and for many years I have tried to help children and struggling families have happy holidays. There is much more that can be done though. I have involved myself in some politics, hoping to ultimately bring more support to children and to support health care issues. Unfortunately, politics to me are not a very satisfying endeavor. But as they say, haters gonna hate. Do what you can as a volunteer at least part of the time you have left. It’s important work, even when it isn’t much fun.

5. Beat COPD By Staying Physical

If you can’t exercise regularly, at least stay as physical as you can. Increase your heart strength and stamina. Work up a little sweat, even if only for a short time. If you don’t require a mobility aide all the time, try walking more often. I sometimes go to the store and walk as many aisles as I can, even if I’m not buying something on that aisle. I’ve found that walking on smooth floors is easier than walking along the sides of streets and there’s not many sidewalks where I live. Other ways to stay physical include yard work, doing dishes, cleaning house, maintaining the car or other vehicle. Having an active sex life is a good way to increase your heart rate – and for some of us, it doesn’t require a partner – it’s healthy, I’m sure of it.

6. Give Yourself a Break

Takin' a BreakThere are days when I just can’t muster the energy or enthusiasm. It could be I worked too hard the day before, or the news has me down, or maybe I just feel like watching old movies all day. We can beat COPD, but we don’t have to beat ourselves up doing it. Everyone needs a break once in a while. Don’t let yourself get unhealthy though. Don’t allow yourself to feel the dangers of HALT – Hungry, Angry, Lonely & Tired. Train yourself to recognize the differences between relaxing your fight to beat COPD and falling into HALT.

7. Start a New Habit

There are plenty of ideas presented here and no doubt you can think of many more to come up with a new healthy habit for yourself. Use the comment form below to suggest any good habit ideas you have – a good habit you already have that someone else might find useful, or an idea you have that might help to realize it if you saw it in writing and even encouraged by other commenters. Here’s a few: start your own blog; take a new picture of the same subject every day to improve your composition skills; save all your loose change and at the end of the year, spend it on something that brings you joy; once a week, try something you have never done; go to the animal shelter once a month just to pet a single dog or cat. Go ahead, share your good habits in the comment section below.

8. Give Up a Bad Habit

It’s much easier to start a new habit if you have a bad habit you need to give up. Far too many people with COPD still smoke. Stop that nasty habit now! Are you fat like me? Maybe I could lose more weight if I stop eating snacks at least 2 hours before I go to bed. My days would probably start better if I didn’t read so much bad news first thing in the morning. I could exercise my arms a little by pushing myself away from my computer desk more often throughout the day. I should probably resist the urge to comment on other people’s facebook posts when they share false, misleading or hurtful memes, but that’s a tough one. None of us are without a bad habit or three and we might be better off giving up at least one of them. Pick one, any one.

9. Share Your COPD Story

In 1985, I quit using drugs and alcohol. I was hooked bad and I ended up in a treatment facility and have attended 12-step groups for 35 years now and stayed sober. One of the most important things I learned is that I couldn’t keep that sobriety or the good life I have now without sharing my story with others who might share the same problems. It works the same for those of us with lung disease. We can beat COPD. I beat drug and alcohol addiction, but I am still an addict and I will die an addict, just as I will always be and die with COPD. But an important part of beating COPD (and addictions) is sharing with others how it affects my life, both the good and the bad. If I had known or understood this before my friend, Don, died, maybe my story would have encouraged him to take charge of his COPD and live a longer, happier life.

Over the last 15 years of my own COPD, I notice that very few people ask about lung disease. Many of them know someone who has COPD, but may not feel comfortable asking them to share their stories. Children are different. Little kids are curious and they don’t have the same filters we adults have. Lots of little kids have asked me about that thing in my nose that goes into my backpack or is attached to the noisy machine on the other side of my living room. I look at it as an opportunity to tell them about some of the bad choices I made in life without getting too graphic or morbid. It usually makes their mother or father uncomfortable and most often they tell the kid not to bother me. But I tell the parent it’s no bother at all and I appreciate their curiosity. What may make some of the parents uncomfortable is the fact that they smoke around their kids. Now maybe the kids will wonder if mommy or daddy will have to have a hose in their nose some day. It’s a good question for them to think about – both parents and children.

10. Ask For Help to Beat COPD

It always surprises me how so many people can struggle with things in life and never ask for help. Even in these days of the Internet, doing a Google search for things important to our health is not even close to the most searched things. I have friends who seem to struggle breathing from years of smoking and they don’t even think about asking their doctors about it. People I have gotten to know over the Interweb have related their own symptoms of lung disease, but seem to dismiss any suggestion that they should ask for a breathing test or mention that the pulse-ox reading they took for fun was 93 – as if my pulse oximeter only works right on me and not on them.

Ask your doctor for help. Visit some websites for important information, like the Centers for Disease Control, MedlinePlus at the US National Library of Medicine, or The American Lung Association. Call or visit a COPD patient and ask them to share their story with you. Maybe you will read or hear something that will help you decide to step up and beat COPD for yourself or a loved one.

I’m no doctor and have no training in any medical capacity. But I have had COPD since 2005 and decided to take charge of my own life in 2008 and beat COPD with the help and support of doctors, other health professionals and anyone who cares to hear my story.

Jim McClain

Born 1949 and not dead yet.

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