Did you know severe asthma is way more than only severe asthma??

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How did I end up with 6 other conditions plus just from one medication I take for severe asthma. The scary thing is I am not alone.

This word cloud represents all the conditions a small selection of people have as a result of severe asthma. I asked a support group on social media as I am becoming more and more aware of my growing list of conditions. I started off with only asthma and now have: GERD, Osteoporosis, Adrenal Insufficiency, Steroid induced Diabetes, Optic Nerve Neuritis with peripheral vision loss, chronic pain due to lung adherence to chest wall, depression, anaphylaxis, steroid induced myopathy, and this is just what has been diagnosed there are a host of other side effects as well which are a collection of symptoms rather than conditions.

I know my asthma is on the severe end of the spectrum and this type of asthma is very rare but it is shocking that for 33 I have all these conditions all as a result of having asthma and the medication required to control it.

I asked a group of 30 different people of varying ages and almost all of them had at least 4 other conditions that they did not have before they ended up with severe asthma.

I think this just highlights the chronic misunderstanding asthma has. We rely on medications that ravage our bodies to help our lungs. If we did not take these medications many of us would be dead however with the medication we are facing life shortening conditions.

How do we change this? How can we prevent severe asthma causing all these other conditions. You see advances being made in other chronic conditions where new medications are coming out that are life changing and do not come with side effects that just multiply not only your condition list but also your medication regime.

It is a side of asthma that no one ever knows or sees. I am sure the list of conditions I gathered is not all of them and if I asked a wider group of people there would be even more conditions in the word cloud.

Hopefully by sharing this and highlighting this insight it will educate even just one person as to how much severe asthma can destroy a life.

Severe asthma does not end up as only asthma there is a whole lot more that goes along with it too.

Making tough decisions

I was so happy and excited when my Mum said we were going to be going skiing in January. (I have not skied in over 6 years now. Once my life, I ski raced, I did race training and was on the slopes whenever I could. I moved to Canada to pursue my dream career). I forgot all about my leg and the small issue I have with walking. I was so excited at the prospect of getting back on the snow back doing what I love.

Then it hit me.

I have a leg that doesn’t work properly. How the hell am I going to be able to ski?

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(last time skiing in Les Saisies having the time of my life)

Being me I was determined my leg was not going to stop me. I went straight onto the internet and was looking up the Ecole de Ski Francais to find out about para skiing. Still excited about the prospect of being on snow again.

Then first frost hits and I find the icy conditions a major challenge with my leg. Walking is even harder than it previously was. I had a few bad falls which mostly bruised my ego as I felt so embarrassed being a young person falling over doing the simple task of walking. Combined with this I had a bad chest infection which hit me hard mainly mentally rather than physically.

It hit me mentally as it brought back memories of that last bad attack and how hard it was on me and my family. I started to have all of these what if scenarios. What if….

  • I have a bad attack out in France and I end up in the same state again.
  • I have a fall skiing and it causes me a chest injury compromising my breathing
  • I have a fall skiing or someone skies into me and I don’t realise my leg is badly damaged
  • I get unwell out there
  • I get stuck going into the village and cant get myself back
  • I end up hating skiing because I cant do what I used to as skiing was my life
  • I get jealous of all the others out skiing all the runs I should be skiing but Im not because I am having to rely on other people to get me about

I just had all these what ifs. Some of them really trivial things and some of them more serious.

It took me a long time but I decided I really cannot risk going out to France in the state my body is in right now. I am not going to be going out with my family and instead staying here at home.

Im not sure what had hit me harder the fact that I am not going away with my family or that I have myself accepted that I cant do something and have backed down. I normally always try and find a way around my limitations find a different way of doing things or through pure stubbornness just get on with things. I feel weaker now. I feel like I don’t have the energy to fight myself to find those routes I used to. It scares me that I am in this position now.

I am going away up north for Christmas looking forward to getting away and recharging, taking stock of everything and making a plan for the future as life really has changed a lot.

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(Skiing with my Uncle Rob in the back bowls of Whistler. Enjoying life. This was the last time I skied. It was about 6 years ago).

Neurophysiotherapy

If you asked me 4 months ago if I would be under neurology I would have laughed. Through my illness and all my sports I have never needed any neurology input or intensive physio input like I am getting just now.

This physio is so tough and really hard work. Physio previously has been hard work particularly when coming back from injury in sport. There would be a lot of hours put in doing exercises to strength the muscles surrounding the injury and then stabilising the injury and building up from that but this is so different.

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(the gym in the neuro physiotherapy department)

I have had a wide variety of injuries over the years requiring physio input and more often than not it is a 8-12 week recovery. Naively I went in to my first physio appointment thinking that it would be 12 weeks max and I would be back to where I was before. It really didnt sink in until the 2nd physio session that I would be in this for the long haul.

The second physio session I just broke down. It was out of frustration. I was given homework to try and stimulate feeling and sensation in my leg using different textures. I was running through what I had to do when I asked when will the feeling come back. That question is like asking how long is a piece of string. There is no answer. It is doubtful that all the feeling will come back or even if any feeling will come back. When I heard this I just broke down. I was already on the edge when I was going over my home work with the physio as I knew I should be able to feel the glove, towel, and velcro on my skin but I couldn’t. I felt so strange because I know what I should be feeling but I just couldn’t feel it. Im young. Im supposed to be able to feel my leg.

I have managed to balance myself out and know that this is not going to be a quick fix but I am also aware that there might not be a fix. My physio sessions focus on what I can do and how I can get back to being as independent as possible. A lot of the work is making my knee and hip more aware of what my leg is doing rather than my foot doing it because well I cant feel my foot!

It is really hard work. Harder work than I ever thought it would be. I mentally need to keep my head in the game and stay focussed no matter how tough it gets I need to get my independence back and being able to walk semi normally!

I am so grateful for the neurology input and neurology physio I am getting as I know others who have waited a lot longer than I have. I am still waiting for various tests on my nerves which will come in due course.

Why does a journalist want to do a feature on his sister with asthma??

Recently I shared a link to a story my brother wrote. It was about me living my life with severe asthma.  He is a journalist with the Daily Record and is doing some pieces on asthma, smoking on hospital sites (one of my hobby horses) and some other things.

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(I apparently don’t have many photos of us together so this will have to do. Taking me off the ward when in hospital. I was lucky to get back to the ward alive with his driving of the hospital wheelchair!!)

I wanted to ask him a few questions (it turned out to literally be a few) on why he wanted to do a piece about me and my story of living with severe asthma. I am really proud of him for doing this especially as asthma is destroying so many peoples lives yet asthma is dismissed and not thought to be that serious by the majority of the population.

Below is his answers to my questions!

Why did you want to do the piece?

Without a doubt it was from seeing what you have gone through over the years, particularly in the last few when I have been around it more. It’s really not a well-understood condition from a layman’s point of view. People just think it’s ‘a bad cough’ or getting out of breathe when you play sport, but nobody sees the sinister way it can affect someone’s life.

Health stories are such a massive and important part of the media, particularly in how it can help activism and help push the conversation surrounding policy. I don’t think asthma gets the coverage it deserves. Talking to people who face a daily struggle with illness and putting their journeys in the public eye helps others open up and deal with their own conditions. But asthma suffers don’t have that voice like other illnesses like cancer or MS. Obviously as your annoying wee brother I have seen you at your best and worst with asthma, and it’s so inspiring. I wanted your journey to help others above all else.

On the other hand, it was so important to include the work you do behind the scenes for Asthma UK and other charities. Covering topics like correct techniques for taking medication and attitudes towards asthma help stimulate conversation, even on a day-to-day basis, from a light natter over Sunday lunch to discussions between health professionals.

How did covering the story affect your understanding of asthma?

Without a shadow of a doubt the amount of medication someone with severe asthma – and knock-on conditions – must take on a daily basis. I knew your asthma was bad through years of hospital visits and attacks, as well as using it to my advantage to beat you at golf (still not sorry). That hit home in a big way when you were placed on a ventilator recently – it was actually what prompted me to want to do the story. So I guess you could say that I knew how bad it could get before doing the piece, but only just before I sat down to write it.

But the medication routine was what really hit me hard. The sheer volume of treatments you have to take every single day was staggering, and shocked many of my colleagues. Knowing how you still get on with your life, throw yourself into activism and sport wherever you can, makes that even more staggering. To be taking 38 treatments daily at the age of 33 is mind blowing. I think getting that across to people really helps them to take it just as seriously as other, more talked about conditions

How do you write a blog post?

A phone call with author of Stumbling in Flats turned from working with pharma to writing in blog posts. A blogger for 13/14 years I have never thought about my blog posts and I have made it known that I just let my fingers do the work letting the words flow from brain to the page. I learnt some valuable information from that phone call.

A witty captive opening statement “Chocolate haunts me. Last night I dreamt a giant Jaffa  Cake chased me down the road

Im not sure I can do the witty part but I need to think about the opening statement. Something that draws people in and sets the scene of my post. I guess it is like basic story telling, a beginning a middle and an end. A story is only as good as its first sentence. If you don’t like it then you probably are not going to keep reading. A blog is just the same.

I also learnt that a post should be able to read stand alone and the reader will know what  you are talking about and not need to read every blog post you have ever written to know who you are and what your story is!

A good about page is also essential. I must update mine ASAP. The fact that I cant remember when I last updated it means it needs updated urgently!!!

The last point was post length. Set a limit. 400-500 words is about right. There are some posts where I ramble on- often when I am trying to tell a story to get stuff off my chest or just to get something off my chest!! Strange to be saying that I write to get stuff off my chest when all my problems occur because of my chest!!!

Here’s hoping for some new and captivating blog posts that I can still get the same positive relief from personally and that people might read.

I started my blog because I was struggling to deal with the impact my asthma was having only life. This was a time when blogging was not such a big thing, social media was in its infancy and smart phones did not exist. As technology evolves so must we. Blogs have so much impact on people within the chronic health community and also those who are affected by it wether that be family, friends or even those working in the medical field. The one thing that is still the same to some extent is that I still blog to help myself deal with the impact asthma has on my life.

Making asthma visible

Today my youngest brother published an article for the Daily Record. Out of all my siblings he has probably seen me at my worst. He has been there when I have been in tears because registrars cant get an arterial blood gas and they are getting stroppy because I kept flinching when they hit the nerve or worse the bone or visited me when I was in hospital down south and he was still a school boy. He has known about my passion for the issue of smoking on hospital sites as it has caused me so many issues and latterly when my asthma has stopped me doing more he has taken an interested in the work I have been doing to try and raise awareness about asthma and how severe it can be.

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It is a really hard read. Seeing everything down in black and white in one place about how asthma has controlled so much of my life. I feel bad that this article has upset so many. I know my mum was fairly upset as she has obviously been through it all with me and then Nick as well. He has lived with me and yet he didnt know or understand just how bad it can get.

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I know others who have asthma just like mine and have asked if it is ok for them to share this article. I want everyone to share it. If it can show people just how serious asthma can get then I want everyone to see it.

I have kept this blog for so long and written about how asthma has affected me, what being in hospital has been like etc but I never read back over my posts. Not one post has been proof read and thats how I like it. It keeps the emotion real and honest.

I am really proud that my brother has decided to take this on and try to help people realise how serious asthma is and that you cant always see the true effects that asthma has on someones life. It is sad that it takes shocking stories to highlight the devastation that asthma can cause.