What Asthma Has Taught Me

I wrote this to tie in with the report published about Asthma Deaths and complacency about asthma.

My personal experience with Asthma has been very mixed. Having suffered with it now for 26 years I can honestly now say I take responsibility for my condition where even maybe five years ago I can not say I fully took responsibility and was often was slightly reckless- doing things I perhaps should not have done and not being totally compliant with medication- mainly steroids.

Living with a chronic condition it is difficult to comply to drug regimes all the time and admit that you can’t take part in rings because of your condition. This is something I often did. I would try and pretend I would be fine and take part in whatever event it was. I realise now that this was not only reckless and potentially life threatening but also very selfish. I was endangering myself by risking having an attack which I could have no idea how severe it may be but also in doing so friends would have to witness me struggling for breath and also their activity wold be cut short too. Often each attack would land me in some form of Critical Care and often a minimum of a week up to 4 month admissions to hospital. For some reason despite these admissions I still did not want to admit that asthma could kill me if I continued as I was going. Dramatic statement I know but it is the reality. Anyone with asthma could have an attack that could kill them. This is why it needs to be take more seriously and not seen as just a bit of a wheeze that a blue inhaler will always cure. It won’t.

I remember the turning point for me so well. Perhaps not the best bed side manner from a consultant but his message certain got through to me. One of my consultants said to me- Olivia I don’t know why I bother giving you medication and take the time and effort to treat you when you seem hell bent on going against everything and doing as you please with us left to pick up the pieces when you fall ill and then we have to save you. there will be a time when we can’t.

This hit me. At first I was angry and thought how could someone speak to me like that. They were a Dr and meant to help people. But during the night I thought about what he said and decided a lot. I was going to move back to Scotland, take all my medication my Drs prescribed including the steroids (this is why now I get irritated when Drs ask “are you sure you have been taking your meds?”, start taking responsibility and do what I can to be at the best health I can be.

Although now I still have regular hospital admissions and still require Critical Care input and stays in HDU/ITU in-between times I am much better. I have got into a good regime of taking my meds at certain times to limit the side effects. I recognise my symptoms and treat them early. I do other things such as breathing exercises if I am stressed or not breathing properly. I speak to a counsellor when  I see my asthma is not good and it is impacting my life too much. I have altered my diet to avoid items which can cause a worsening in my asthma and I stick to this rigidly. It gets very frustrating but it makes a difference. People often think I am fussy but I am not. I try to do as much exercise as I can within reason and don’t push myself to breaking point and don’t over do things or try and cram so much into my day that I don’t feel great and don’t enjoy activities to their full potential.

In doing all this I have a more positive outlook on life and my life including asthma. Being realistic I know I will never be rid of asthma but I can be proactive in limiting its impact as much as possible. This is difficult and there will be days when I can’t get away from my symptoms and my physical ability will be limited but knowing that this is temporary and I will feel better again helps me through. For days when my asthma is very bad I have activities on hand such as books ready to read and always have some interesting things recorded on my TV to pass time away.

Over the past 5 years I have lost almost a friend a year to asthma. Last year hit me particularly hard when a friend Dawn passed away due to an asthma attack. She had similar asthma to mine and was constantly in and out of hospital and often got fed up of going in for treatment as sometimes it does feel like you are always there. Sadly she waited too long at home and help didn’t arrive in time. The asthma attack took her life. Each time someone I know dies from Asthma hits me that bit harder and the back of my mind i think could I be next. I get scared about when I will have my next asthma attack, where will I be, who will be with me. All these things run through my mind. It is something that can never be predicted. All I can do is my best. My best won’t always be good enough but if I know that I have taken the right medication, and taken the appropriate action for when I have started to deteriorate then I know I can’t be blamed or questioned for the course an attack takes. there is only so much I can do.

I have always been involved in some way with Asthma UK- mainly fundraising but lately I have found myself wanting to become more involved as I see more and more people not taking it seriously enough and this needs to change. I have highlighted my interest to Asthma UK so hopefully I can do more with them.

On and a side note although I have talked about being more responsible in recognising symptoms and treating them early and getting help etc it does not mean that at the slightest hint of trouble I go running for 999 or want people to do that as this is a waste of resources. Asthma is a condition that if you are managed correctly an asthma attack should not need hospital attention every single time. At the signs of peak flows dropping you should take action not once you get down to 190 and need resus and a whole lot of resources as this is preventable with early recognition and action.

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