On Monday, January 30, 2017, my heart skipped a beat with a phone call. That earlier Friday, I traveled to the Veteran’s Affairs hospital to do my annual checkup which was admittedly a year late. A few days before that I checked into urgent care to look into a chest deep cough that had last for 8 weeks. Sent home with some cough medicine and an Albuterol inhaler, I rested. That Friday I was given a new doctor who is the type of physician who leaves no stones unturned and refuses to not take advantage of time and tools. i was beginning, among other things, a look into my left knee due to some chronic pain and stiffness which will likely result in physical therapy. My new doctor said, “well you are already in Radiology, let’s take a snap of your chest.” I was again sent home with another cough medicine. Then on Monday, my cellphone rang and it changed everything about who I am.
The nurse contacted me and stated, they found something on your X-ray and we need to do some follow-up. Naturally assuming that my knee perhaps showed some inflammation or arthritis, I said, OK.” Then she said the words, “well we looked at your chest X-ray and…” and my heat skipped a beat. Why was I, a 37-year-old nonsmoker hearing a chest X-ray result that was anything but negative. She finished her sentence, “and it shows you have some COPD we are concerned about.” Now my world was white noise. The nurse told me multiple things which needed repeating.
I could get very little out of my mouth but to finally ask, “you mean COPD….as in I could die COPD?” I had little knowledge of this disease outside of the horror stories I have seen patents go through on the ambulance. I knew the mechanics of it and logically and in a better frame of mind I knew that it was very livable with care, medication, and maintenance as well as exercise and diet control. But at that moment I was unable to push logic into a frightened mind. The nurse explained to me that since I was a nonsmoker the lung damage which was likely minimal could be maintained, but it would mean changing things about my lifestyle.
Despite not smoking, I never took proper care of my body. I ate whatever I wanted and exercised, but the cardio was outdone by sweets and fat. I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me. I knew that unlike lung cancer, I could MAKE a positive outcome, but things had changed. All at once, my mind flooded with the years of eating horribly. I drove home and hugged my wife who through telephone had heard the news. I began crying…hard. I was so angry at myself for everything I had done. I knew that I was the cause of most of my physical ailments and while I did not cause the COPD, I likely did not make the scenario better. I was furious at myself. I was beyond furious. I wanted to hate myself.
Days later, I do not hate myself anymore. I am admittedly on a bit of an emotional roller coaster. During the weekend I was unable to spend too long on the horse due to the cold air entering my lungs. I worried about tennis on Sunday due to the fatigue and exhaustion. Then, on Friday night it occurred to me. Everything I am seeing and thinking is part of a much-needed change in mindset. Instead of anger from only being on the horse ten minutes, I altered my thoughts and remembered that I spent ten minutes on a horse. That is better than zero minutes and it was a nice relaxing moment. I realized the next day at tennis, I would do my best and take a break when needed. I realized, that for the first time, I was in control and not my COPD. I had changed…but for the better.
Now, days later, I have successfully kept from eating any excess sugar or fats, have kept to water as my drink of choice with a bit of apple juice for some taste when I need it, and I have had three straight vegetarian days to spread into my usual over-consumption of meat. Even four days in my body, mind, and soul feel lighter and more capable. I am not trapped in a sugar-induced haze of failed cognition. I am back to laying chess and my tennis lesson was one of my best.
I am in control…I own my COPD. My COPD does NOT own me.