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John, COPD, Patient in his greenhouse

COPD for John just means doing everything at a slower pace

Related tags: COPD Respiratory

John, aged 80, was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) six years ago. Here, he shares his story and explains how, despite his condition, he tries to just get on with all his normal activities.

I started to smoke in 1955, during my National Service in the Royal Air Force. But after being admitted into hospital in 2006, following an attack of diverticulitis (a digestive condition), the doctors strongly advised me to stop because it was clear I was having problems with my breathing.

At first I found it quite a challenge to give up smoking, having been a heavy smoker for more than 50 years. However, with support from a ’Stop Smoking’ clinic at my doctor’s surgery, I was able to quit later that same year. 

I hoped that by stopping smoking my lung function would improve, but it soon became apparent there was an obvious deterioration in my breathing. I started to struggle to do normal activities, like looking after my garden. 

John hugging his daughter Denise, COPD patient
John and his daughter Denise enjoying time together on holiday

It wasn’t until 2011 that I was officially diagnosed with COPD, following a lung function test, and a chest scan.

It was a huge relief to know exactly what was causing my breathlessness.”

Continuing to struggle for breath

Over the next two years my breathing got worse and I was coughing a lot. I ended up seeing a specialist nurse, and she prescribed me with an inhaler. She also recommended I attend a pulmonary rehabilitation course for six weeks at the local hospital to see if it would help get my symptoms under control.

I found it incredibly frustrating that I didn’t notice an improvement in my breathing and this was also clearly concerning for me and my family. I wondered if we’d ever find a treatment that had a positive effect on me!

Taking control of my COPD symptoms

Following two more lung function tests I was prescribed various medicines, but none of them seemed to help me – it seems that not all medications are suitable for all people. But eventually I was prescribed another inhaler, which reduced my coughing by around 70-80 per cent - which was a great relief.

I know now that with any exertion I need to take frequent breaks, especially when climbing stairs. When walking, I have to go at my own pace and, of course, we have to check how much walking is involved before booking any holidays or outings. We’re always mindful that we don’t want to inconvenience others with having to wait for us.

Refusing to let COPD get in the way

Although COPD has put limitations on some areas of my life, at nearly 81 years old, I still have a full life and manage to maintain my garden, which has always been a passion of mine. 

John's garden, COPD patient
John doesn’t let his COPD get in the way of maintaining his beautiful garden

I enjoy holidays, especially cruising. My wife of 57 years, Diana and I also belong to the University of the Third Age - a group for retired people. We meet up and do different activities, like stamp club, art classes, coach outings, and theatre trips, which we both really enjoy. My daughter, Denise and son-in-law, David, are also both very supportive, and always understand my need to go a bit slower whenever we go out together. 

Nowadays, I am very aware of how fatigued my father can become and ensure that when we are doing things as a family, I always allow time for regular periods of rest: but it never stop us doing anything.”

We get together most weekends which I really enjoy – this is helped of course with a stop or two for a cup of tea and a piece of cake. 

I do still have bouts of coughing on occasion, and I know these worry my wife and daughter as they feel unable to help me. I do my best to reassure them that I’m ok but I think they’ll always have some concerns – I am 80 after all!