Pollution and its effect on my asthma

It is well known that pollution makes asthma worse. There has been a lot of information in the press about this and how there needs to be low emission zones in major cities to try and increase the air quality. Recently an inquest ruled that the death of a young girl from asthma was due to pollution exacerbating her asthma which resulted in an attack that killed her. It is scary to see just what pollution can do.

I can see the effects of pollution on my own asthma. Since getting my smart peak flow meter I have been able to track my peak flow for a prolonged period of time. Previously I have always done my peak flow but did not record it (mainly because I am lazy and printing off a peak flow chart on paper was a faff and when I did print it off it would get wet as I keep my peak flow etc in the bathroom with my medication so I just gave up) so having the result blue tooth to my phone has been great.

I have had to ability to print off the charts month at a time or even week at a time if I want. The most useful thing I have found by doing this is the ability to identify points where my peak flow may have dropped or increased and then refer to my diary and see if there was anything that may have caused the dip.

For example the picture below shows my peak flow. The 2 yellow arrows mark when I went to London which shows a significant drop in my peak flow which then increased again once I returned home to Edinburgh. This drop was despite wearing a carbon filter mask to try and protect myself as much as possible.

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I am not sure what else I can do to try and protect my lungs from the pollution in London other than not travel there. The mask I use is high grade, I take my medication, I also try to make sure the windows are shut and I am outside as little as possible so I am not breathing in too much toxic air.

Conversely to this I was recently up in Thurso- just about as far north in mainland Scotland that you can go (except Dunnet Head) where pollution levels are very low I noticed my peak flow actually increased. Perhaps a combination of being at the far north of Scotland, away from major roads, away from major cities with large amounts of traffic and being right on the coast with sea air (sea air has historically been promoted as good for the lungs- it might be an old wives tale).

The chart below is my peak flow and the yellow arrow is when I was up in Thurso.

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I think from this I can clearly see the impact of air quality on my lungs. Edinburgh is a real mixed city as there are some areas which have horrific levels of pollution and other areas that are not so bad. I am fortunate in that I live fairly near the coast and not right in the city centre but it is still fairly polluted where I am.

What steps can I take to improve my lung health and avoid pollution?

  1. I would love to move away to the country somewhere near Loch Tay as I love it up there and the clean air would really benefit me. There is little traffic and no big industrial sites near by. Unfortunately due to the nature of my asthma this would not be feasible as there is no major hospital near me so if I was to have an attack it would be a long wait/trip to get help and to a hpspital
  2. Try and ensure I wear my mask when I need to so I am breathing the best air I can. Despite having a complex about wearing my mask I need to protect my lungs at all costs and if this means wearing a mask then I must.
  3. Keep an eye on the pollution levels and act accordingly. If I know the pollution levels are rising I should perhaps increase my inhalers to counter act the symptoms I may get (I will check this with my team before acting on this).
  4. Get out and about as much as possible down to the coast to breath in good clean air and not stay stuck in the city all the time.

Essentially there is no easy way to avoid pollution but I can see the detrimental effect pollution has on my lungs via my peak flow results. It would be wrong of me to recognise this and not act on it. I must get a plan and put it in place to protect my lungs from more damage which breathing in toxic air might do.

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(Me on the left wearing my Cambridge mask while in London at the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research Annual Scientific Meeting)

Feeling much better and more positive!!

Its now the end of the week and since my last post things have been a lot better. I must say the support I have received over this week from others who also have chronic health issues has been over whelming. It was both reassuring and shocking to read comments from people saying they could have written what I did as it could have been them. This is awful that so many people are struggling with their conditions and feeling isolated but then also gave me reassurance to know I am not over reacting about the situation I find myself in but it is perfectly normal.

But this shouldn’t be perfectly normal when living with a chronic health condition. It has really rocked me reading all these comments. I thought maybe one or two people might have had a period of time feeling similar but not the sheer number. It has really made me want to do something to try and combat this but I am not sure how and I am not sure what to do.

The wanting to do something was reinforced today even more so when I met up with another severe asthmatic in Edinburgh. It was so easy to talk and even though we had only met through a support group it was easy to chat and there was a mutual understanding of how shit life can be with severe asthma and the restrictions it can put on your life.

Feeling a lot more positive about things now and know I am not alone and can ask for help. It is not a weakness to need help but a strength to recognise when you need to ask for help.

Tomorrow I have a busy day as it is the Leith Gala Day at Leith Links and the ICU Steps Edinburgh support group which I am part of have a stall at it to raise some money for the charity and raise some awareness about us and what we are there for. In-between doing that I am at the Sick Kids for the launch of a children’s patient and public involvement group too and will speak briefly about my experience of being in a PPI group. After that a trip up to Thurso to see family to really clear the cobwebs and reset the clock ready to face the world again.

 

International Nurses Day

The birthday of Florence Nightingale it is only natural that this is also international nurses day given she was the founder of modern nursing as we know it.

When I left school I was the last person anyone would have thought would be a nurse. All I did was sport, all I talked about was sport. I was sport and it was all I had. A series of events happened in life and I had to rethink my career and I somehow ended up doing nursing and I could not be happier!!! I had so much fun doing my training and then got a job in an area I never thought I would end up but being a renal nurse is pretty special and I don’t think any other area you will get the same relationship between nurses, patients, Drs and families.

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This photo was taken just after we passed our final OSCE’s in 3rd year!!!

I miss putting on my cornflower blue uniform everyday. I loved being a nurse and will be back as a nurse when my lungs get better. Being a nurse is hard work, busy, never time for a rest and you never know what will happen next but seeing the improvements in patients is the best feeling you can have. Even if it is the little things like sitting chatting to them or helping them with a wash and getting their own clothes on, it is so rewarding. For me it is even more special as I have been on the receiving end of nursing care so many times and the nurses that take that extra bit of time to just do that little something means so much to me.

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This uniform means so much to so many. For me it gives me a purpose. While not being in renal this year I keep my uniform out so on days when I am feeling dejected and thinking about what I should be doing had my health not stopped me, it is there reminding me what I am aiming to get back to. My life as a nurse is not over, it is temporarily on hold, while I focus on research and getting my health better so I can go back to doing what I love with a body that can cope and the energy to give it my all.

I also owe my life to nurses. Having asthma like I do and requiring hospital treatment, admissions and appointments I come across a lot of nurses. The nurses have made sure I am alright, helped me wash when I am too weak to do it myself, helped me go to the toilet when just moving from the bed to commode is too much for my lungs, even just holding my hand when I am finding the situation terrifying because every breath is a fight and requires more energy than I can muster. The presence of a nurse just being there adds this security so I know I am ok.

When you live with a chronic condition which lands you in hospital fairly often you end up getting to know the staff in the wards. For me it is the respiratory ward. I always end up going to the same one now particularly since moving consultants. I also have to go to the respiratory ward once a month for my mepolizumab injection which is given to me by the asthma nurse specialists who take such care and will always answer questions I have or even just reassure me that I have done the right thing. One draw back which when I am not in hospital it is not a draw back is that the nurses now know me well. They will not hold back when they know I need pushed and just to buck up a bit. They will tell me to stop being stupid or stop being grumpy etc, at the time I hate them for it but I know they are doing it for my own good otherwise I would wallow in self-pity until I snapped myself out of it. Equally those nurses know when I am not doing well and am struggling, because they know me they know when something is up.

In NHS Lothian there is an awards night which celebrates the work of different people across the trust. Not only nurses, but Dr’s auxillaries, domestics anyone. The shortlist has just been released and it was fantastic to see one of the nurses from Ward 54 (the respiratory ward I attend) is up for Nurse of the year. I am thrilled as he is super. I have known him for a number of years, he is always so caring and takes time with his patients even when he has 101 things to do you never feel like you are being rushed, he gives you the time you need. He also always speak to your relatives and takes an interest which is really special. Nurses just now are stretched beyond belief, moral is low and nurses are required to do more and more jobs than before but with this nurse you would never guess. I really hope he does win the nurse of the year as he is so genuine and acts the same way to all his patients.

I want to thank all the nurses who have looked after me and worked with me. If it was not for them I would not be here.

The uniform that saves me, is it drowning me at the same time?

Since my attack at the end of November/ December I have really struggled mentally and physically. The initial recovery was good, my lung function returned to my normal fairly quickly and my energy stores were up, I was able to get about and get on with my daily routine without much limitation. Reducing steroids was a bit hairy but with the help of my consultant and asthma nurses we managed to keep on top of things although the reduction has only got as far as 30mg but hey its better than 60mg.

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I was confident this speed of return was due to the new treatment I am on but now I am not sure. I think a lot of it probably was at a basic level. The treatment helped me get back to my baseline to function quickly but Im not sure it got me to the baseline for work. I was excited to get back to work but I wonder now if it was too quick and the timing didn’t help. Looking back now despite reduced hours apart from the first week I was never able to get away on time because there were patients who needed to be seen and I was the only one about. I already arrive 30 mins early for work (this is my choice) because I have worked out that this is when there are the least number of people smoking outside the doors mainly due to breakfast and drug round on the wards! Many say that I can get the ward to see the patients etc but being a patient and having had this done to be it breaks the patient nurse relationship and you lose confidence in them so for me it is not an option.

But i now need to put my own health first. I keep going round in circles with it and I love my job and love working with the patients etc but then I get my body into such a state and I often don’t realise it until I am told. Last week I noticed patients commenting on how awful I looked and should I be in work, the people I was in the lift with would ask if I was ok because I was so wheezy, the finally after spending a weekend in bed and thinking I felt better I went into work to be sent home by one of the other charge nurses because I felt so awful and sounded it.

Part of living with a chronic illness is that you don’t often know how bad you are feeling until your on your knees. I know a lot of patients have said the same that they didnt realise how unwell they were until we got them on a treatment and it is once they are established on this that they really see how unwell they were. I think is how I feel that things just decline slowly and it takes a huge attack or event to stop the downward spiral and start getting better again.

Going back to the title of this post. I love putting on my uniform, I worked hard to be able to get it and then be able to keep wearing it. It is also the uniform the nurses who look after me wear as they get me back on my feet and my lungs working a bit better. But then I also wonder if my drive and love of work is also what is causing me to not get to my full potential of wellness. I am really torn with what I should be doing and need to stop and evaluate what is important to me and what is in my best interests.

I have an appointment with my consultant this afternoon where I am going to ask his opinion as I really cant continue as I am. I am back to the point of living to work and that is it. I love my job but need to have more to life than work.

I wish my lungs felt as good as these ones do!!!!

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It’s ok to not be ok.

This past week has been really tough. Asthma is one of those conditions that is on a spectrum. Going from those with the mildest of asthma to those with the most severe and life threatening asthma you get everyone across the board and you can not pick out the one person with mild and the one person with severe asthma. You can’t see asthma, sometimes you can hear it depending on how wheezy you are!!!

Recovery from this last hiccup has taken a lot longer than I ever anticipated. It was not the worst of attacks but equally was not the mildest either. I was only in hospital for a week yet it has taken me a good 3 weeks to get back on my feet and still Im not there yet.

I have been so fortunate this time to have the support of my consultant. When I say support I mean that should I have issues he has said so many times that I just need to call his secretary and she will get him to call me back or the resp reg on call to give me a call. Having that support is so reassuring to me it makes life that little bit easier. Also being seen in clinic every month (which is a faff but won’t be forever) and then on top of that I am at the ward once a month too for my mepolizumab injection with the asthma nurse specialists so if I have any issues I can ask them too.

As much support as there is they cannot speed up the recovery process and help with the everyday symptoms that just take time. The never ending fatigue that no matter how much you rest it just doesn’t go away (Thanks to prednisolone contributing to that), and no it doesn’t help by getting a good night sleep. It is a fatigue that is unlike no other- a fatigue that having a nap won’t fix, it is a feeling where your whole body feels double its weight, you are not tired and sleeping doesn’t help, but you just cant do anything. Until you have experienced it (which I hope you won’t) you have no idea what it is like. This is the really hard bit. Fatigue you cant see, and asthma you cant see.

Keeping your mind motivated is really hard when your body is preventing you from doing what you love. This is the challenge I keep facing. This time of year its all about Christmas, Christmas Parties, going out with friends, shopping and enjoying the festive period, but I feel like I am sitting watching the world go by and seeing photos of people enjoying themselves but I haven’t been able to join them. Just going to the shops to get the messages is hard enough leaving me exhausted.

One big thing that I am really finding hard and one friend who is also on biologic therapy said this can be a side effect is speed of recovery as well as joint and muscle weakness. Speed of recovery has been slow but as I keep trying to tell myself slow and steady wins the race- but truthfully its getting really wearing now. The other thing is the joint and muscles weakness. I always have some weakness after being in hospital as for most of it I am bed bound and not able to get up due to the inability to breath and also the number of IV lines I have which are often in my feet making walking a challenge. Building up slowly isn’t helping. The only way I can describe it is having DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) but having DOMS that won’t go away. Normally lasting 48 hours this has been 2 weeks now and my quads feel like they are ripping in half every time I go to sit down or stand up, occasionally jerking as I walk too, stairs are an interesting experience- thankfully I have a lift in my building so can avoid the stairs!!!

I am desperate to get back to work and my consultant knows this. I see him tomorrow to hopefully get the ok. I know it will be tough going back to work but I need something to mentally challenge me. I having been doing bits and pieces of research and evaluation of research conferences too. Evaluation forms I find are so hit or miss especially when there has been positive or negative things that you want to acknowledge etc- there is never the room and I end up putting a covering letter along with the form.

This whole recovery process and hospital admission this time has taught me a lot. The main thing I guess I have finally accepted is that it is ok to not be ok. It is ok to ask for help and admit when you are defeated. Over the years I have been made to see a psychologist to help me deal with life with severe asthma. You could say I was a bit resistant to it initially. I think it was the stigma I associated with it. I felt that if I was seeing a psychologist then something was wrong with me mentally and actually my problems were psychological rather than physical. I think I made this assumption because I was young (this was over 12 years ago) and at the time there was really not much openness about mental health and it really was stigmatised. In more recent years as my asthma has impacted my life in ways I never thought it would and prevented me doing more than I ever thought I have been so thankfully to have access to a psychologist  who I can see regularly and help deal with the restrictive aspects of living with such severe asthma. What I have found though is that I have focused so much on adapting life to cope with my asthma and the majority has been on pacing. I didn’t realise that a major area which we never worked on or spoke about was the severe life threatening attack that comes out the blue much like this last one was, and also the trauma after it. It has almost felt like a mild version of post traumatic stress because even at clinic last week I got this huge sense of fear when I saw those windows of the ICU again.

So tomorrow I have a variety of different appointments all at different hospitals. The morning I have the asthma nurse specialists for my mepolizumab injection and review with my consultant, then the eye pavilion to have tests done on my eye that has lost its peripheral vision and then over to the royal infirmary to see the psychologist and will go up to see work and discuss coming back.

I hope that getting back to work and routine will maybe improve the fatigue I have and give me a purpose to my day again.

Trauma of ICU

Finally I am able to sit down without getting upset or terrifying myself about my latest hospital admission specifically experience in ICU. The photo below may not look like much and you may think its a window and building but this is what has caused me to much trauma.

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Before anyone reads on please note this is just my feelings from it and my experience. The staff: nurses, support workers, physios and Dr’s were all fantastic and could not do anymore to help me.

This admission has rocked me so much. A lot more than any other has and I hope that I won’t ever get like this again.

There was a series of events I think which led to it all becoming too much once I got back to the ward and I guess basically I just broke down with fear that my asthma will kill me.

The lead up to being admitted was really rapid, as I said in my previous post where I spoke about the admission and how it went broadly speaking. What I didnt speak about was the true mental toll it took on me.

As with any trip to ICU in the back of your mind you know its not good because ICU is the end of the road in terms of hospital care you cant get any more treatment beyond what they an offer. I have been to ICU so many times, I cant even count the number of times I have been admitted there and come out the other end.

Once up in ICU there was the usual battle of trying to get a arterial line in which again failed and we decided to stop short of a cut down thank goodness as this caused me to lose the feeling in my left thumb and part of palm. High flow oxygen running various IV infusions and I had this feeling of being safe. I was in ICU and would be ok. Next came review from the consultant who said if things did settle next step is being intubated and ventilated.  I have had the said to me several times so I didnt think much more about it.

It was not until I came back to the respiratory ward that mentally I really found it tough. After starting to feel much better and access being an issue I was keen to be weaned off some of the infusions I was on. This didnt go to plan and a few hours after I really didnt feel to great so I let them know. Junior drs came to review and were concerned. It was late on in the day and about 7pm my own consultant came round to review me- that in itself freaked me as he was not even on the ward team but he came through. He wanted everything put back to the previous doses, have a whole load of nebulisers and be moved to the high care bay for close observations.

It was the move to the high care bay that brought so much flooding back and I felt that I just couldn’t cope at all. I have been in the high care bay before and never had any issues. I already felt quite on edge because by this point I had been seen by 2 consultants out of hours who came to listen to my chest and see how I was, have all my medications increased again and being moved. The move was what was enough to tip me over the edge. Once moved and settled I looked up and out the window and could see the ICU. The photo from above is below and I have marked where the ICU is.

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The combination of what the consultant said in ICU, and then getting worse on the ward and having consultants review me when they would not normally see you come in to review you and then seeing ICU again and the Dr’s talking about taking you back there was just too much. I think it was also because on the ward I was on the maximum treatment for my chest and just not getting better. The consultant was worried because I had been given 36mg of salbutamol via nebulisers with little effect. Thankfully they kept persevering and my airways did slowly start to open and breathing became easier.

Its fine when you are acutely unwell and everyone is buzzing around you making sure your ok, listening to your chest, giving you nebulisers, doing your observations you dont get much time to think or worry about not being able to breathe. Its once your that bit better and left alone and normally left with the parting words- “rest and try to get some sleep” and the lights go out. That is when it hits you. Still feeling not great and still finding breathing a real challenge sleep is the last thing you are able to do. Its a very strange feeling when you are so exhausted you want to sleep but scared to sleep at the same time. Being in the dark makes everything much worse and I just got so scared. I couldn’t help but break down. I was able to speak to a nurse but they could not offer much as its not like there is a magic pill that makes fear go away and because of my chest not being great they cant give you anything to help you sleep. At night with less staff around at night they don’t have the time to stop and speak to you and make sure your ok. but at that time it was all I wanted. They did then send a nurse practitioner up who was great but even he said that the psychological support at night was awful and as nurses we are not good at dealing with things unless numbers tell us something.

Over the course of that night as my chest came and went some nurses kept coming and saying to me all my numbers were looking better so I am doing ok. I think this is one of the statements I hate more than anything. I don’t care that my numbers may be ok or better I still feel like crap and having good numbers does not help with the crippling fear I am experiencing.

Once morning finally came around I felt really stupid for getting so upset but was able to have a chat with the Dr about it. I knew it was a vicious cycle of being upset, makes my breathing worse, which makes me more upset as I get scared it means going back to ICU but it is so hard to get out of that cycle.

The fear of what happened is still plaguing me. More so than normal. I can rationalise going to ICU and the need for their help but this time is just different and I cant get it all out my head.

I am a week out of hospital now and really feel like I am no further forward than I was day 1 post discharge. Everything feels just as hard. I have no idea why. Part of me wonders is it because of the biologic therapy that is making it harder to recover or has this all taken a much larger toll on me than I expected.

I have clinic next week and I hope to go through everything with my consultant and make sense of it all. I also hope he will have a reason for me feeling so rubbish despite being home from hospital.

I think this whole thing has just highlighted that no matter how many asthma attacks you have, or how many hospital admissions you never know when you will hit breaking point or when you just cant keep fighting.

Passive smoking……what does it mean???

apart from death?

I cannot count the number of posts I have done about smoking, passive smoking, the smoking ban and how it effects my lungs and the lungs of many others like me.

It really hit me the other day after parking my car in the carpark at work and walking the 200m to get into the hospital how many people I had to pass firstly at the pedestrian crossing, then the pavement to get to the narrow walkway to get inside the doors and then the narrow walkway itself and the doors was just like running a gauntlet and taking your life into your hands.

24….thats how many people (patients) I had to pass who were smoking on the short 200m walk. It is sickening to have so many people.

Im not sure those who are smoking really understand just what the effect is on other people as there is no way to liken it to anything else. I can never explain the mental and physical negative effects that it has on me (and Im sure I am not alone in those thoughts).

The fear I have is unreal. I am terrified that this is what may happen AGAIN

Both these photos are from the effects of passive smoke which hit me when I was no expecting it. The first photo was just before going to ICU after spending about 8 hours in resus, getting stable, moved to assessment unit to then get bad and need ICU. The second was taken in ICU after someone smoking below my open window and me having an asthma attack.

The fear of having asthma attacks is like no other. There are theories that you can make someone run up stairs with a close peg on their nose and breathe through a skinny straw to simulate what it is like to not be able to breathe but they can always take the peg off and open their mouth.

In the photos above I was so tired I just wanted to give up and stop fighting but you cant. If you give up you risk being intubated or dying. This is the reality. So many people die from asthma attacks that come from triggers that are out with their control. It feels like you are being punished for something you didnt do. It is more than just the attack itself but the consequences that go with it- being off work, missing holidays, medication that causes side effects, family being so worried about you, family needing to look after you to name a few.

Before the ban on smoking there were visible smoking shelters and it never used to be a risk to just get from your car into a building. I am not saying that everyone used the smoking shelter but a majority did and the risk was greatly reduced which matters so much.

My biggest fear in life is having an asthma attack, so imagine being faced with your biggest fear on a daily basis multiple times. It seriously makes me wonder if working is really worth the risk. I don’t know who to speak to about it. I blogged about it, tweeted about it, spoken to my union and will just about tell anyone who will listen. I love my job but it is getting to the point of weighing up risk and reward especially with being on a new treatment. Can I really justify the expense this new treatment will cost the NHS vs exposing myself to a major trigger everyday and risk attacks which could jeopardise the success of the trial.

Anyone who can suggest or make a difference to the smoking obstacle course I face please let me know (I have tried using other entrances but this is an issue at other ones too). as I am desperate now.