Up Up and Away . . . . . . .

          Shooing COPD Blues Away
By Sylvia Edwards

Sylvia and Keith Edwards
Two sets of airplane tickets to Georgia lay in my appointment book taunting me; reminding that my body has betrayed me.  Six months after my husband, Keith, lost his battle with heart disease, my two kids and I were planning their weddings.  My daughter, Lisa, was to be married November 15 in Georgia.  My son, Scott, would be married May 30 closer to our home in Missouri.  Each child was going to participate in the other's wedding party. Travel plans filled our conversations.

After Lisa moved to Rome, Ga. on July 5, she decided to be married there. Her Michael is a preacher and they wanted to have the ceremony in his church.  In July, I bought airline tickets for  six of us to fly to Georgia.  I put them in away in my appointment book and would look at them whenever I checked my schedule.    In September, Lisa returned to Missouri or wedding showers and begged , "Please, please spend Christmas  at my house."  I said, "We'll see."   In October,  after deciding I would not spend the first Christmas without Keith at home alone bought tickets for a December trip.

       I was all set.  I had my tickets, a new suitcase and  a beautiful "Mother of the Bride" dress.  In order to be around to help with last minute details, we planned to arrive in Georgia on November 12th.   On November  7th my sister and I were planning to drive west to our niece's wedding.  I missed both weddings!

On November 6, I woke up struggling to breathe.  All Fall, I had been battling my usual bronchial cough and was entertaining others who had to listen to me bark like a seal.   I was home alone and not able to use deep breathing to catch my breath.  I called 911.  By the time the EMTs arrived, I felt like I was drowning.  By the time they reached the hospital, I had blacked out.  When I woke up in the hospital, my first thought was "Thank God! I am breathing."  Slowly it dawned on me I was strapped down and on a ventilator. The nurse said,  "Easy now, don't struggle. You have pneumonia. which lead to respiratory and congestive heart failure. "I asked in writing,  "When can I get out of here?  I have a wedding to attend on Saturday." On my niece's wedding day, I was still in ICU, but off the vent.  I had reconciled myself to missing that wedding, but I increased my campaign to be released for Lisa's wedding. In spite of my pleas, I was still in the hospital when my family boarded the plane to Georgia.  My ticket stayed in the appointment book.  But at least I had the ticket for the Christmas trip and the kids were coming home for Thanksgiving. On the day I was to fly to my daughter's wedding, COPD was diagnosed.  I had never heard of this condition and figured I'd shake it off  easily. The hospital provided more reading materials than I could absorb. Slowly I realized I wasn't going to bounce back.  My life was changed and I had to learn to adapt to  a variety of restrictions. When I was finally released from the hospital, I had become so discouraged and weak.  My new routine evolved around pills, breathing treatments, and oxygen twenty four hours a day, seven days a week (frequently referred to as 24-7 in lungers' language)  My visitors included a visiting nurse, a respiratory therapist, and a physical therapist.  When Thanksgiving arrived, I was thankful to be strong enough to leave the house for an hour.  Sadly I was not well enough to make the December trip. The second set of tickets remained in the book.

While I was recovering, I did more research about COPD.  I found excellent information and tips on the WWW.  I subscribed to COPD list and learned from others who struggled with a variety of lung ailments.  As a 51-year-old non-smoker, I didn't seem to fit the usual COPD profile, but I did recognize all the symptoms and treatments.   I mended slowly, but began to adapt to the new life style.

I returned to work in January and was able to limit my time on site and complete much of my job at home.    By May we were caught up in plans for Scott's wedding.  As a result of the varied treatments, I was strong enough to enjoy his wedding.  I was so excited to be "out" that I overdid, but I recovered  from the little setback quickly.
Lisa wanted me to come see her new home.  If I went I would have to fly. I would have to lug all the treatment stuff.  I just didn't think I could do it. "Mom, please come spend Father's Day with us," Lisa begged.  We began to talk about how I could manage.  I reread the web page about traveling with COPD.   I called my travel agent and turned in my November tickets for June tickets.  I talked to the doctor and got prescriptions for inhalers to replace the nebulizer treatments and permission to use Oxygen only at night.  I called the Apria pharmacy and made arrangements for Oxygen/Condenser to be delivered to my daughter's home.   At the airport I requested special assistance and explained to the flight attendant that I have COPD and could possibly need Oxygen.  I wore a multi-task mask to filter the airplane air, buckled up and flew off.  I had no problems on the flight....my ears didn't even pop.
The seven days in Georgia were wonderful and worth all the preparation. Lisa and Michael pampered me as they adjusted to my slow pace.  Michael said, "Why Mom, you're moving faster than most Georgians."  While there I toured an animal preserve, a college campus, an old cemetery, and the park where Michael had proposed to Lisa.  I met Michael's parents and Lisa's employer.  We had dinner with their friends and attended church services. I heard Michael preach and Lisa sing a solo for the first time.  I was so proud of both of them I nearly  burst.  As I was boarding the flight home, I again explained that I would need assistance and possibly Oxygen.   Once home I waited for the setback to occur.  It never did.

As an active member of the internet community, I am subscribed to several lists.  One of the lists has an annual gathering around July 4.  The site changes every year and the name of the event reflects the location. This year Louisville, Ky was the site of SlugFest.  I wanted to go, but waffled about making plans and worried that I couldn't survive the trip. On June 30, I whimsically called my travel agent. I asked, "Could you get me a flight to Louisville?  I need to be there July 4, but can come and go on any available flights."  She laughed and said she'd try. "You are the luckiest person I've worked with today," she said when she called me back.  "I can't exchange your tickets, but I can get you booked on July 2 and July 7 flights at a deeply discounted fare.  "Are you really going to do this?" and without hesitation, I replied,  "Yes, I'll pick up the tickets tomorrow.  Oh and would you check out a Las Vegas package for me?  My sister and I have talking about celebrating her birthday there. between July 20 and 24."   When I picked up the tickets, she couldn't believe I was leaving the next day.  I couldn't believe that I'd made hotel reservations, Oxygen arrangements, and "dog care" arrangements so quickly.  I repacked my suitcase, called my host to explain that hot, humid air may require that I spend time in an air conditioned environment. I also explained that several of my medications required that I avoid the sun and alcohol.  I was afraid that I'd be a big party pooper and had to make myself get on that airplane.  Again the flight staff was helpful and provided any assistance I required.

Editorial Note:
Sylvia has been extremely fortunate in having an oxygen source available when she needed it.  She does not mean to imply that you need not make advance preparations.  Many airlines require up to a week or more to make arrangements for onboard oxygen.  In addition, there is usually a charge $50-$75 per leg of the trip when oxygen is required.  Be sure to consult your physician before making arrangements to know what will be required for your case.  Be sure you contact the airline sufficiently in advance to ensure that the oxygen will be there when you need it.  30,.000 feet is not the time to find out that there is a problem or that "airline policy" does not allow - well you know how that goes.  Papapoo

The pampering given me by my children paled in comparison to the pampering I received from the Slugs at SlugFest. Arrangements were made so I could participate and continue to preserve my energy.  I sampled all kinds of exotic foods (Vietnamese, Mayan, Greek, Kentucky), listened to cool folk songs while sitting on a shaded deck, swam in a swimming pool, watched fireworks over the Ohio River, chased down a steam boat, toured the Louisville Slugger factory and Jim Beam Distillery, visited a 200- year-old town and enjoyed a carriage ride.

I came home ebullient and excited. I could make the necessary adjustments and travel.  Traveling with COPD requires special planning, but the results are worth the effort. The plans for the trip to Las Vegas have been confirmed. My sister and I fly out on July 21. Best of all I still have one set of plane tickets tempting me to make one more trip this summer.

Saturday Night Rambling

The past is behind me
        The present is the result of my past.
                The present is the foundation of my future.
My yesterdays color my todays;
        Today designs my future.
                My future reflects my past
My happiness requires equal parts of
 today's present;
        yesterday's past and
                tomorrow's future.

Sylvia Edwards
July 1998


Sylvia Edwards
July 1998
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