My name is Joanne Smith; I enjoy walking to stay active, pottering around the home I share with my husband, and entertaining family and friends. In November 2016 at the age of 51, I was diagnosed with bronchiectasis. Except for childhood bronchitis, I lead a very healthy life so I was surprised by the diagnosis.
My symptoms began in the beginning of 2016. I was working as a full-time kindergarten teacher as well as volunteering for a number of organisations in my spare time. I had persistent cold-like symptoms and shortness of breath that was greatly impacting on my ability to breathe. I noticed my post-nasal drip increased, along with large amounts of phlegm that would pool in my throat. The coughing fits would frequently wake me and my partner up as I tried to clear the phlegm. Around the same time I was extremely tired and lethargic and my body was breaking out in hives. Suddenly, walking great distances left me very short of breath.
Some days I struggled to walk to the post box without being out of breath, and it would take me a long time to recover from the walking. I put it down to being unfit and extreme stress from work.
Luckily, I have a very supportive husband and family who voiced their concerns with the state of my health, which progressively worsened over the year. In hindsight it was because I ignored the signals my body had been giving me for months that I was not well. My family had a history of lung related illnesses but I didn’t connect that I could too. I didn’t really think the persistent croupy cough was something to worry about or to seek medical advice because I put it down to working with small children, where catching colds and viruses was common place.
I was incredibly lucky to be referred to a lung specialist by my general practitioner (GP) who was able to fit me in within two weeks. The specialist performed a lung function test, and I had bloods and scans taken. The lung function test was poor; no wonder I was so short of breath. The scans showed pus-like cysts in both lungs – the right was completely congested and the left was doing all the work. The lungs also showed considerable scarring. My specialist was brilliant and explained that bronchiectasis was quite common, treatable and could be managed with antibiotics and quality self-care. I underwent a bronchoscopy to clear the fluid out of the lungs and afterwards antibiotics twice weekly to clear the lung infection. I also sort advice from an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist for the post-nasal drip and discovered nasal polyps which were treated with short term steroids and a long term nasal spray application and salt nasal cleanses.
I didn’t listen to the very overt clues my body was giving me. I overrode all the signals until I had run my body into a state of ill health which took a long time to recover from.
Had I sought medical advice early, there may not have been as much scarring or recovery time. A year on and I still have exacerbations but I go to the doctor immediately so recovery is quick.
The GP was correct in that it is a lifelong medical condition, however if you listen to your body, see your doctors regularly and take responsibility with looking after your health and wellbeing then bronchiectasis is definitely manageable. I chose to be an equal partner in staying informed and understanding the nature of my illness. I continue to find ways to support myself and the care that is needed to stay healthy. The specialist discussed what treatments may help along with giving me a brochure from Lung Foundation Australia on bronchiectasis and I visited their website for further information, which really helped. I also followed the ENT’s advice and worked with a physiotherapist to strengthen my lungs. The good news is my lung function which was re-tested in March 2018 has increased to over 70%, which was not expected from my first lot of scans. I am currently taking antibiotics twice weekly to manage the bronchiectasis and I treat my lungs as if they are insured for a million dollars, quality self-care is the most important gift I can give to myself because it allows me to lead a full and healthy life.