The following is an account of a day in the life of a COPD sufferer by the TV celebrity Nadia Sawalha. I am so glad that COPD is now getting the media attention that it needs. This illness has been swept under the carpet for far too long and just put down to smoking and poor life style choices and this is just not true in many cases…
Fighting for her every breath, TV’s Nadia Sawalha had flashbacks of her beloved grandmother struggling just to walk to the shops.
As the exhausted presenter paused after climbing a short flight of stairs, she understood the hell her late nan had experienced.
Nadia’s grandmother had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a term used for a number of conditions, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, that damage the airways inside the lungs, causing chest tightness, shortness of breath and a persistent cough.
Those in the condition’s early stages often think they are just out of shape or have a smoker’s cough when they actually need help.
Half of sufferers are thought to be under the age of 65, and the most common cause is smoking, but coal dust and inherited genetic problems can also influence its development.
To raise awareness of the deadly condition, Nadia strapped herself into a corset and donned a mask to restrict her breathing, simulating the conditions sufferers endure every day.
She says: “I hadn’t thought about Nan for years. But when I put this on I was reminded of her. She had a lung disease and we used to get irritated.
“We thought she was hamming it up because she kept stopping, holding on to walls, bending over and standing with her hands on her back. What I didn’t know is that she was desperately trying to take a breath.”
Wearing the gear, Nadia went shopping in West London and tried to cook. She wanted to know what COPD sufferers had to deal with. And she admits she found it truly horrific.
“You find you are trying so hard to open your lungs that your eyes widen,” Nadia explains. “Having a conversation becomes almost impossible because all you can think about is your next breath.
“There’s something very melodramatic about how a person looks when they are gasping for air, so you can understand why some people are unsympathetic,” she says.
“I struggled to make it up the stairs, to buy coffee and trying to cook was so frustrating.
“I love making food for my family, so it was awful to have that taken away. Reaching up for the cupboards, down for the drawers – everything has you wheezing. It’s as if when your airways narrow, so does your very life.”
It was hard work but Nadia, who is backing the COPD: Know it. Check it. Treat it campaign, feels the experience brought her closer to her nan.
She says: “As soon as I walked with it on, I was taken back to walking with her as a child, thinking: ‘Why does she keep stopping?’
“It looked like she was making a meal of it but now I know how she must have felt at the time. She would stop and pretend she was looking around and I’d find it so irritating, but obviously she didn’t want people to see her struggle.
“She died when I was 11 and she was only in her late 50s, which is too young.
“My nan could be cantankerous and she continued smoking until her last breath, but I was devastated when she died.”
Doctors estimate COPD affects around three million people in the UK and their advice is to stay active.
Nadia agrees and says: “It’s a slow process – people start cutting down what they do because they feel short of breath. They get frightened – I did, even though I knew the suit would come off.
“You see some saying, ‘Oh, I won’t go shopping, I’ll do it online’ or ‘I won’t go to the cinema, I’ll watch a DVD’. But that just exacerbates the condition.
“People start using wheelchairs and ramps in their houses when really what they need is more exercise.
“It’s like the saying, ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it’. You have to keep active or you will start to feel worse.
“From that comes dreadful depression which impacts on your family. You can see why loved ones would get frustrated when you become more and more reliant on them.
“But there are life-saving treatments if you are diagnosed early.”
When it came round to taking the lung function test – called a spirometry – to see if she had COPD, former smoker Nadia was very anxious.
“But I was lucky,” she says. “The test was really easy and I found out I had lungs 10 years younger than some people my age, so I was pleased.”
Still, she found her day so emotional, she urges anyone who thinks they might have COPD to visit their GP for a check-up immediately.
“It is not something you would always be tested for so it’s best to ask your doctor,” Nadia advises.
“When I took off the corset it was a relief and it made me realise how lucky I am. Someone with COPD can’t do the same. But they can get so much better with the right help.”
(Taken from the Mirror on Line)
For further information on the campaign click here “Know it, Check it, Treat it”
The following video also shows the above in detail and how COPD effects people daily, all taken from the same UK campaign and featuring Sportsman Iwan (Ewan) Thomas MBE, the Welsh sprinter, whose mother has been diagnosed with COPD.
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