March 31, 2014

Chris Bentley


Chris acquired asthma as a small child during the bombing of British cities during 1941 but it was not until she was in her forties that she was diagnosed with emphysema – horrifying news for a non-smoker! After years of treatment Chris realises that her ‘margins between good and bad health, are very small’. 

Mum and I were beside the school clinic when it was bombed in 1941. The dust from this incident turned me from a healthy two-year old into a very sick, wheezy, child with chronic asthma. I hated not being able to run about or play sports like the other kids.  I remember getting a bicycle for Christmas one year. I happily free-wheeled down the street and nearly killed myself getting home. I never rode that bike again.  Mum even sent me to Switzerland for a year when I was nine years old – an event that caused everybody sheer amazement in post-war Britain.

Everything triggered my asthma – dust, pets, pollens. I only went to primary school about two or three days a week because the chalk, dusted off the blackboard, triggered severe asthma attacks. (I got glasses when I was seven and my attendance improved when I could sit at the back of the class). Cigarette smoke was the worst asthma trigger of all and, in those days, everyone smoked everywhere I went. I was about three years old when I got my first puffer, which helped. It had a big black mask and sprayed a solution called WS48.

As I grew older I learned to manage my asthma and went on to complete Grammar School and train as a pathology technician at the Royal Sussex County Hospital. I emigrated when I was 23 and I worked at Prince Charles Hospital. I had been in Australia about six months when I collapsed and was admitted to Prince Charles. I was not expected to survive the night, let alone the 72 hours until those first doses of oral prednisone kicked in. (There were no aqueous solutions of prednisone in 1964).

Mick did not know what he was taking on when we got married in 1964. I was in and out of Prince Charles Hospital every two or three months with chest infections or asthma. Very high doses of prednisone kept me alive. I lived on a knife’s edge all the time.

Yoga helped me to break that vicious cycle – it taught me to breathe properly and co-ordinate movement with the breath. I was surprised that I could do yoga because it is a static form of exercise. My body was oxygenated properly for the first time in my life, and my whole system began to work correctly. At first I was so sick my dear used to drive me to and from the classes. I got fed up with going at one stage, but Mick pushed me into the shower and made me get ready to go to class. He could see the huge difference it was making to our lives as my health gradually improved. I went to my first yoga class in 1970 and I still go to a class each week. I practice yoga at home, for 45 minute, three days a week. I also walk about three kilometres each weekday (on the flat at Sandgate) with Mick.

I was in my forties when I was told I had emphysema, which was no doubt caused by all those years of passive smoking. I have never smoked! I did not seek outside help because, with my medical background, I knew what the diagnosis meant. I was a bit upset at the time but it just strengthened my resolve to keep exercising and stay healthy. And of course wonderful improvements were made to medications as time when by. I can’t remember when I successfully made the change from oral prednisone to a new drug – an inhaled corticosteroid. I do recall the transition took two years. I know I would not be here to tell my tale without terrific support from my respiratory specialist and the medications he has prescribed over the years. These days I take a combination medicine and a short-acting muscarinic antagonist. A short-acting beta2-agonist (bronchodilator) and prednisone are reserved for when I get a cold.  My last hospital admission was after the dust storm in 2009 – I was very wheezy. The admission before that was for a collapsed lung in 2003.

It was some time during the late 1980’s when I realised I had COPD. At this time I was very busy successfully holding down a stressful job as a journalist reporting on the property market. There was always a deadline to meet and life went on pretty much as it did before. Eventually I became a freelance journalist, working from home, primarily, for the best property magazine in Australia.

I did join a respiratory support group in 2006. I thought I might be able to help someone. I am secretary/treasurer of SWITCH at Bracken Ridge, a north Brisbane suburb. Our group is small and dwindling, as various members have died and we are not getting new referrals. But we soldier on.

Today I am 71 years old. I never ever thought I would live this long. I don’t think I would have done so without the wonderful support from my dear husband Mick. We retired in 2000. Mick and I live in a high-set house at Bracken Ridge. I do my fair share of the cleaning and vacuuming; I get breathless but I just stop for a while and go back to finish the task later. I cook most of our meals and we share the washing up. These are simple tasks, but I am so proud of being able to do them.

We pursue our hobbies – I love reading, needlework, photography and quilting. I am treasurer of our quilting group and have almost finished my fourth quilt! We are fortunate in being able to go away on holidays and last year drove to Longreach and Winton. In 2009 we went to O’Reilly’s for a week and did all our favourite walks in the rain forest. I have to walk very slowly uphill, and rest frequently, but we achieved all our objectives including Moran’s and Elebana Falls.

We count ourselves as fortunate that we are able to enjoy life to the full, but Mick had a nasty health scare in 2000. I don’t think my medical condition has stopped us doing anything at all. My one, small regret, is that I was unable to have children because of my lung disease. But life has a way of offering compensations – not many women can boast having two careers, something else I am very proud of.

I realise that my margins between good and bad health, are very small. I feel my health is a bit like walking on a tightrope, where one slip could kill me. But I have had a wonderful life and I am far too busy to die just yet. We still have a bucket list to work on! We are very, very lucky and look forward to having a bright future.