I’ve had COPD for about 12 years. I was diagnosed when I got a flu jab and developed terrible flu symptoms. The noise in my lungs was desperate. It was coming up to my niece’s wedding and I really wanted to be better for it. The doctor came out to see me and immediately recognised it as COPD. I was put on steroids and antibiotics. I was able to go to the wedding okay but of course the COPD was here to stay.
I have never smoked. I didn’t work in a smoky atmosphere either. I worked as a cook and managed kitchens so I was always in the kitchen area not the smoky bar area. So I wasn’t aware of being exposed to smoke.
I do wonder though if the heat and steam of the kitchens, or the flour maybe, affected my lungs. I was also in two bombs in Castlederg and I do wonder if they caused the damage. But I just don’t know.
I think that has made accepting the COPD even harder as I feel very ill done by.
The diagnosis was an awful shock because I knew that no matter how much I looked after myself, I would get worse over time. I had always been very busy, always working. I had looked after my husband until he died of cancer and had also looked after my sister. I just don’t want to be unwell, so I try to do everything I am still able to do.
I know I am not going to get any better so I am hoping to make changes to the house to make it easier to live here.
You have to live from day to day. It’s not easy, especially living on your own. You have to be sensible. If you can’t breathe, you have to sit down and count to 10 and not panic.
I used to bake a lot but the flour dust is bad for my lungs so the doctor told me to stop. I couldn’t stand for that length of time now anyway.
I have been going to the Respiratory Group in Castlederg since it started about 7 or 8 years ago. It is now fully affiliated to Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke. I am the Chairperson and Secretary and also look after the finances. Having been a cook in schools and restaurants I’m used to the level of organisation it takes to run a kitchen. Now I am applying my skills to the Group!
The Group is great. Through it have have learnt breathing techniques, which help a lot. We do Tai Chi which is all about abdominal breathing and using as much of your lungs as possible. I do these exercises at home too. Being breathless can make you panic but the breathing techniques can help get your breathing under control. For example, I was in church recently and couldn’t breathe, but I was able to use these techniques and got it under control again. Otherwise couldn’t have coped.
We sometimes have get-togethers with the Omagh Respiratory Group and go on excursions. Once the group went to the Cavan Salt Clinic. I bought a salt machine for my bedroom and it definitely helps me breathe at night.
The other great thing about the group is the chat and fellowship with others. It helps you remember you are not the only person with COPD. It can be easy to feel sorry for yourself so being with others is a good reminder that you are not alone. Sometimes it is an effort to go, but worth it.
My advice to someone who had recently been diagnosed with COPD would be: Take your medication, do what the doctor tells you, organise yourself so that life can be as normal as possible and above all, join a group!
Find out more about the respiratory services that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offer.