‘I tell peo­ple not to smoke and to live one day at a time’

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Lifestyle - Sylvia Thomp­son

As the cold and flu sea­son gets into full swing, spare a thought for those who suf­fer from chronic ob­struc­tive pul­monary dis­ease (COPD), a con­di­tion char­ac­terised by breath­less­ness, per­sis­tent cough­ing and reg­u­lar chest in­fec­tions.

While most of us can strug­gle through with a heavy cold or even flu, any­one with COPD who catches a vi­ral in­fec­tion can need hos­pi­tal-based care and treat­ment.

In fact, COPD is the most com­mon cause of dis­ease-spe­cific emer­gency ad­mis­sion to hos­pi­tal in Ire­land.

Essen­tially, COPD is an um­brella terms for chronic bron­chi­tis (in­flam­ma­tion and nar­row­ing of the air­ways) and em­phy­sema (weak­en­ing of the struc­ture of the lung). More than 400,000 peo­ple in Ire­land have the con­di­tion, which is of­ten linked to smok­ing.

As with many chronic con­di­tions, learn­ing how to look af­ter your­self well is a key to cop­ing bet­ter with the symp­toms. Philip Mee­han (62) was di­ag­nosed with COPD in 2014. “I col­lapsed af­ter ref­er­ee­ing a school­boy foot­ball match and I don’t re­mem­ber any­thing else un­til I woke up in hos­pi­tal,” he ex­plains. Af­ter eight days in hos­pi­tal, Mee­han re­turned to his home in Tal­laght but took some time to get back on his feet.

“I was told to stay warm and not to go out­doors in harsh weather con­di­tions,” he says. He was also ad­vised to eat fewer fatty foods. A for­mer smoker, Mee­han gave up cig­a­rettes in 2000 fol­low­ing a se­ri­ous ac­ci­dent with a race­horse. He now uses a neb­u­liser and an in­haler ev­ery morn­ing – and some­times in the evenings – to keep his breath­ing in check.”

How­ever, most im­por­tantly, Mee­han re­alised that al­though he couldn’t con­tinue to ref­eree, he needed to find other ways to ex­er­cise. So about a year ago, Mee­han and other suf­fer­ers of COPD set up the Tal­laght COPD group. Now ev­ery Thurs­day morn­ing, 15-20 peo­ple par­take in ex­er­cise classes in the Rua Red Arts Cen­tre in Tal­laght.

“We are like a lit­tle fam­ily. We look out for each other and the classes help peo­ple feel bet­ter in them­selves,” he says. The classes are run by the so­cial en­ter­prise,

Siel Bleu and cost ¤5 a class for each par­tic­i­pant.

Agnes Mul­vi­hill (79) was di­ag­nosed with COPD in 2010, just af­ter her hus­band, Frank died. She says she had been breath­less for a while and had been getting chest in­fec­tions. She didn’t re­alise she had the con­di­tion even though her hus­band had suf­fered with em­phy­sema for years.

‘Much worse than me’

“He was much worse than me. He was on oxy­gen and neb­u­lis­ers all the time. I gave up smok­ing in 1985 but Frank con­tin­ued to smoke un­til he died,” she ex­plains. A hia­tus her­nia which ex­ac­er­bated her lung con­di­tion was op­er­ated on in 2015.

“I had two hos­pi­tal stays with pneu­mo­nia and eight chest in­fec­tions be­fore that surgery. Only for the op­er­a­tion, I don’t think I’d still be here,” says Mul­vi­hill, who also suf­fers from os­teo­poro­sis.

Mul­vi­hill lives in a self-con­tained flat next to her daugh­ter’s house in Athlone, Co West­meath, and at­tends a weekly COPD sup­port group meet­ing in Athlone. An ex­er­cise class run by Siel Bleu is held as part of these weekly meet­ings.

“We have a laugh and a chat in be­tween the ex­er­cises,” says Mul­vi­hill. To help man­age her con­di­tion, she takes one in­haler ev­ery morn­ing and an­other in­haler and neb­u­liser as she needs them.

And what ad­vice would she give to peo­ple with COPD? “I tell peo­ple not to smoke, to do ev­ery­thing they pos­si­bly can on their own and to live one day at a time.”

World COPD Day is Wed­nes­day, Novem­ber 21st. To speak to a re­s­pi­ra­tory nurse spe­cial­ist, call the COPD Na­tional Ad­vice line, 1800 832 146.

Agnes Mul­vi­hill: “I had two hos­pi­tal stays with pneu­mo­nia and eight chest in­fec­tions.”

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