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Monday, January 14, 2008

Asthmatics can be normal and have fun too

If all goes as planned, today's the day I get back in the swing of maintaining a sound mind and body. While it seems a ton of people make this their New Years Resolution, it's something we asthmatics have no choice but to think of, though I'm not necessarily the best at it.

Last summer I let myself get out-of-shape, so in the fall I started doing the Body for Life workout program. Which is one of the reasons it didn't make sense that I got sick last month, because I was being 100% healthy at that time. Go figure, hey.

When I was released from the hospital after being diagnosed with a duodenal ulcer, I felt vulnerable, and was going to do whatever I needed to keep my body healthy.

However, while I was recuperating, I wasn't really able to hit the treadmill, especially considering my hemoglobin was low. And then, once that period of vulnerability wore off, I started eating normal again. So now I'm starting to feel out-of-shape once again.

I like working out. I love how good it makes me feel. However, when I stop for whatever reason, say a vacation, a holiday, or, as was the case this time, a hospital stay, I find it easier to stay off the wagon than get back on, and I end up feeling like a do today -- sluggish.

I don't know if this is the case with normal people, but when I go so long without getting any aerobic exercise, I start to feel winded -- not short-of-breath as in bronchospasm, but simple windedness.

I observe some obese people I meet being winded as they walk, but I don't think that's the norm. In fact, I'm convinced it is not. So, when I see someone winded like that, I think chronic lung illness.

How can these people live like that? How can these people stand being winded all the time? I hate it, and that's why I work out. I'm definitely not muscular, and I'm definitely not skinny, but I'm definitely not obese either.

I have learned, both via asthma eduction when I was a kid and the hard way after I failed to listen, that excersise makes your lungs work better. It's true. It really works. It may even make your asthma better.

This is one reason why having asthma might be good for me, and why I don't regret having it. Because it forces me look at things from a different angle.

It forces me to at least keep trying to get my body in shape. And one good thing about having a stomach ailment is that it forces me to limit what I eat. Sometimes I wonder if perhaps God gave me these ailments for this reason -- that, and the fact I have the ability to share my experiences with other people.

I come from a family that loves to eat and drink and have fun when we get together. And I've never been shy about joining in. It's fun. However, one thing that people with asthma have to be aware of is this: alcohol dries out your lungs. Usually, on the day after drinking, I have at least some trouble with my breathing.

When I was younger and still participating in the bar scene, I used to blame this on the smoke. Now I know it's not just the smoke that caused this, because no one smokes around me when I'm in my home. So, if I'm using my Albuterol more than usual the day after drinking, I know it was the alcohol that caused this.

I wonder how many asthmatics don't know this. Most asthmatics, like most COPD patients, learn this by trial and error. Some people never learn, and continue to suffer.

Now that I'm an adult, it's easy for me to avoid things that I know will bother me. Sometimes, however, I intentionally walk into enemy territory because I want to be normal. I'm allergic to my brother's house, for example, but I went there recently to socialize, to eat, to drink.

I got the sniffles. I had the prototypical mild windedness the day after due to the alcohol and whatever I was allergic to at his house. But I had a great time none-the-less. While I try to stay away from irritants, I don't want to live in a bubble either.

In a previoius post, I wrote about how when I was a kid I used to play football despite the fact I'd be having an asthma attack. I did this because I didn't want to let my brothers down, and because I wanted to play football; I wanted to be normal.

I don't get that bad anymore, but then again I don't play football in the cold anymore either. And I have adult sized lungs, am compliant with my medicines now, and have a good routine of preventative medicines, which is why I don't have so much trouble when I rough house outside in the cold with my kids these days.

When I was a kid I remember wanting to be just like my dad, but my dad never once had to think twice about what he needed to grab or avoid in order to go camping. I still envy him for that. And when he took me with him once when I was a kid he had to take me home before midnight because I was so miserable.

Later I learned I couldn't be normal like my dad. For years, when I left the house, I had to make sure I had all my medicines, and especially my rescue inhaler. And no one but me would be thinking this way. It was just something I had to learn on my own.

Likewise, I had to be thinking of where I would be going, because I had to prepare for the worse. For example, if we were planning on going camping, I had to make sure I took something for allergies -- just in case.

I no longer have to rely on my rescue inhaler so much today because I know what places to avoid and we (RTs and doctors) know a lot more now about medicines that allow asthmatics to live normal lives.

And I've learned that there is only one person who knows when I'm entering enemy territory, and that is myself. No other person will notice the warning signs but me. While I'm aware of this, I think this is a major challenge for other people with pulmonary illnesses, particularly people with adult onset asthma or COPD.

Me, I've had this all my life, and when I realized I had to make life changes, it was easy for me because I was young. I bought a new house instead of an older one with allergens. People know not to smoke within a mile of my house. I learned to excercise and eat right, and got into the habit of it (well, sort of).

However, for others, I can see how hard it would be to change their surroundings.

When I was a kid doctors and scientists weren't sure about the safety of keeping asthmatic kids on steroid inhalers, now they know they are safe. And, by using the appropriate preventative therapies, there is no reason any asthmatic should not live a normal life.

When I was a kid I never tried to get out of anything because of my asthma, as my football experience should prove, but I did get out of physical education classes in high school. Now-a-days, there is no excuse for asthmatics to not excersise. Jackee Joyner Kersee has asthma, and it didn't stop her from participating in the olympics.

If you can't run, then you can walk, like the Bay City Walker, if nothing else.

Asthmatics can be normal and have fun too, they just need to pay attention to certain things, that's all.

It's good to have fun. I could not imagine going through life without social gatherings that involve a lot of great food and drinks. And I couldn't imagine going through life without relaxing at the end of a long day with two or three nice cold beers, or a glass of wine, or a whisky and diet soda. Those are just some of the things I enjoy.

We all get out of shape. We all have bad habits. But it's especially important for those with chronic illnesses to do some form of exercise, and to at least pay attention to what they eat, even if it isn't always health foods.

But, as with most people, there comes a time when the "get the body back in shape" mode comes back on. That day, if all goes as planned, is today.

I'm going to do this. I have to do this. And, as usual, it will probably last for about three weeks, at which time I'm going on vacation in Florida. When I get back I'm certain to have trouble hopping back on the wagon.

That's normal, I bet.


Asthmagirl said...

First of all I'm shocked... shocked I tell you! I cannot fathom that Albuterol does not scrub my lungs clean and leave me feeling fresh as a daisy. Are you sure?
Second, I heartily enjoy your blog. I have never met a respiratory therapist (I don't think) but you certainly know your stuff.
Thanks for a great page with tons of fabulous links!

Djanvk said...

Hey congrats on doing the Body for life program, great program. I have used it before and am currently using it, keep us updated on how you doing.

Asthma Mom said...

LOL....what's *normal* anyway? My younger kid doesn't have asthma but I don't know that I'd describe her as *normal.*

Just kidding, of course.

I did NOT know alcohol dried out your lungs, but it makes total sense if I had ever stopped to think about it. How long do the effects of that last? As long as a hangover?

Freadom said...

About as long as a hangover, even if it's a very mild one.

mielikki said...

I do the best I can to teach the teenage asthmatic and diabetic kids that I take care of that they CAN have a life around their disease. You are providing them an excellent example. :)