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One Breath at a Time
One Breath at a Time

As a caregiver to a loved one with COPD, Holly McBain offers a unique insight into the trials and tribulations this disease has on the patient, the caregiver, and immediate family. Over the course of time, Holly and her mother have encountered a wide swath of issues concerning the disease and its effects on the patient and how it also affects the caregiver.

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How my Mother was diagnosed with COPD

It was early in 2006 when my mom came down with a cold or allergies or both. She is never really sure which or what it was. She was still living on her own, in her own home, and still smoking. She was 77 years old and had smoked on and off for the majority of her life with this last stint having begun about 25 years ago. She had called her primary care doctor and he sent over the usual antibiotics and cough suppressant, only this time she didn’t shake off the illness. She called him again when the prescriptions were finished and he sent another round.

I started checking on her every day because she was sounding weaker and weaker. I tried to get her to go “see” her doctor but she said she didn’t need to and had all the medicines already. She was still smoking even though she could not breathe well. After a few more days of this, she said she could not smoke because she just choked on it. I again pleaded for her to go to the doctor or the ER but she said no. This continued for another 2 days.

I walked in to her home that Friday and I thought she was gone. She was sleeping in her recliner, seated straight up and had her mouth wide open. I cried and begged her to let me call an ambulance and she finally agreed. I had to have her permission to call, otherwise if she refused their help, they would just leave.

When the EMT’s arrived I discovered she had not left her chair for 2 days and had not eaten either. She told me none of this prior to the ambulance's arrival. Once in the hospital, she was diagnosed with pneumonia, congestive heart failure, bronchitis, and COPD. From that moment on, she has been dependent upon receiving oxygen in order to breathe and live.

She stayed in the hospital for two weeks and when she was finally released, she came home with me. She has lived with us ever since. She wanted to go back to her home but she could not promise me that she would not smoke any more. I tried to scare her by telling her that she could blow herself up if she lit up a cigarette with her oxygen but she didn’t care. The allure of nicotine was too much.

My mother has always had issues with bronchitis and pneumonia starting when she was very young. However, I would wager that smoking did not help her lungs at all and in fact brought on the COPD. If she had it to do over, would she change? I have asked her and never really received a straight answer. My guess would be “no” but my hope would be “yes”.

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About the Author

Since a COPD diagnosis in 2006, Holly has served as the caregiver for her mother Joan.