Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): Here are the facts.
- COPD is the third leading cause of death in America, behind vascular disease (heart attacks and strokes) and cancer
- smoking is the main risk factor for COPD accounting for 80% of the cases but almost 20% come from exposure to occupational industrial fumes
- the two most common forms are chronic bronchitis and emphysema
- the American Lung Association estimates 24 million Americans are affected with COPD, many don’t even know they have it
- cough and shortness of breath with activity are early symptoms, while shortness of breath with decreasing amount of activity, wheezing and fatigue are late symptoms
These facts, which can be found easily with a Google search, are important. Yet, they do not give a picture of what it feels like to have COPD. I hope the following poem (written in a style called prose poetry) will provide a few insights into the thoughts and feelings of someone who has this progressive, devastating and dangerous condition.
FROGGIE AND ME
“You sound like my Froggie,” my granddaughter chuckled. Froggie is the stuffed animal she won at the local carnival last summer. If you squeeze its mid-section, a most un-frog like high-pitched wheeze escapes from its belly. The tag says “Made in Thailand” which makes me wonder if frogs in Thailand sound different than they do here. Regardless, my granddaughter is right. I do sound like Froggie.
My breathless episodes come more frequently. A few years ago walking on a humid or pollen-laden day was challenging. Today, I wouldn’t attempt a walk on the most temperate of days. As a kid, I spent hours playing whatever sport was in season in the park around the corner. I never imagined a time when my body would feel like its quarterback or pitcher was maimed. Thoughts of childhood activities, like my curiosity about Southeast Asian frogs, are simply another stab at diverting my mind from the awareness of breathing–an action unnoticed by most people despite occurring 700 times an hour.
While my musings and reminiscing sometimes succeed in creating a mental diversion, nothing is able to deflect my attention from the wheeze. As un-frog like as it sounds coming from Froggie, it is even more unnatural, un-human, coming from me. Not quite a whistle or a squeak, it lasts just long enough at the end of exhaling so that getting up from this soft-bottomed living room chair to get a drink from the kitchen makes me think twice about whether I am thirsty after all.
Next week’s post: Exercise and your health
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