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Dad First, COPD Second
Dad First, COPD Second

Elizabeth provides support, insight and guidance for caregivers.

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Behind the Wheel with COPD

A cartoon depicting various distractions that can occur while driving. Image courtesy of iStockphoto.comThe other day my mother asked me to drive. I took a quick step and got into the driver’s seat. My father went with the flow, but I know he wanted to drive. Once I set up the GPS destination, he preoccupied himself by chatting with the GPS, saying, “Make sure you take the right roads, Ms. Know-it-all, because the other day, you took us all over town.”

I chuckle.

My dad loves driving and it’s not that he can’t handle it. It’s just that often, his COPD gets in the way. For starters, he has a difficult time reaching for the seat belt and then dragging it to the buckle. Getting it to click in can sometimes take a few minutes and it requires strength which means his lungs have to work harder. I assist dad with this simple task – whether he drives or co-pilots.

On the days that he drives, I hear his constant cough. Years ago, I would roll down the window for an air exchange, letting the “germs” germinate elsewhere. These days I know he is not contagious but hearing his cacophonous wheezing makes me wonder “What if…he has a cough attack and loses control of the steering wheel? What if the energy needed to drive is more than what he can handle? What if his oxygen flow to his brain isn’t fast enough for his reflexes?”

So far, so good. The “what ifs” haven’t happened. He prides himself in not having car accidents. Passing dark-yellow-almost-red-lights – well, that can be blamed on his heritage. Where he comes from, it’s normal, almost expected. In fact, you might just get the finger for not zooming past a reddie.

The day may come that he can no longer drive, but for now, he makes me laugh.

As we finished dinner with visiting family two Fridays ago, I saw my father speed up with his cane, huffing Rudolph-like. He was “rushing” to the car to make sure he got to the driver’s side before I did. He was panting for air and while it was comedic to watch his inner child at play, I also worried he might fall or faint from his two-step mad rush.

I called out, “Dad, you’re driving!”  He immediately slowed down, resuming his normal pace. It was a moment. 

Speaking of driving, visit the COPD’s Foundation Drive4COPD campaign and read NASCAR driver Danica Patrick’s story.

Follow Elizabeth's story on Twitter: @lizunga. 

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About the Author

Elizabeth cares for her mother, a diabetic, and for her father, who suffers from COPD.