March 31, 2014

Colette Beeston (nee Prause)

THE NEED FOR EARLY DIAGNOSIS OF COPD

A common story among COPD sufferers is that for years they were unaware of their slowly deteriorating health. Collete is now 46 years old but was not diagnosed with COPD until 22 October 2009.

Over the years I went to different Doctors about other health issues but never really about any of these COPD symptoms, mostly because none of the symptoms I was feeling connected in my head as being anything to be worried about – like not being able to walk up one flight of stairs, (just thought I was tired) or falling asleep anytime, (again thinking I was pushing too hard and just worn-out). These became a bit of a joke with me calling them my ‘crash naps’.

For the last 15 years I would have gone to my Doctor pretty regularly, including a couple of times every winter with chest infections. However, I don’t think even the Doctors thought about testing me for anything unusual – after all, I was fit and young and in my head I thought it was just a part of ageing and maybe they did too. Because I have always been very fit and I have been a long-time member of my Gym (going at least 4 times a week and being an average jogger) it was winter 2009 that was the turning point for me. I went from being able to fairly easily complete a cardio class (even if getting puffed) or run/jog/walk 5 ks fairly easy to not even being able to go 300 metres.

I do think the amount of time between having my symptoms noticed/tested will impact on the treatment or what will eventually become the outcome – because even though I waited, I am very lucky in that my diagnosis is very early in the disease compared to others. As such, I have a much better chance of stabilising the condition. I am conscious of keeping up with my exercising and at the same time conscious of resting when my body needs it.

I think it was the combination of moving to a colder climate (to Canberra from the Gold Coast) and increasingly feeling like my fitness was just diminishing that finally made me think that something out of the ordinary was happening. That feeling eventually helped trigger a Doctor to listen when I was telling him “I can’t even get up the flight of stairs at home” – “it feels like someone is sitting on my chest – like the air is only going down into my lungs halfway”. This finally prompted him to send me to a specialist.

Yes I did smoke on and off for 18-20 years, stopping finally for good about 9 years ago. But I was also raised on a rural property in an environment of extreme dust, from stock yards to wheat dust. I also worked in night-clubs for 10 years with heavy exposure to passive smoking, over a shift which could be as long as 8 hours.

I was asked recently what questions a Doctor can ask to a patient to trigger the thought process of looking for this disease! There are a few but I think it comes down more to the patient telling the doctor the right information. Building a rapport with your doctor is also vital, so they know that they can rely on what you’re telling them.  The key to all that for the patient may well be simply knowing that there is such a disease in the first place.